Gallery I

Power In The Money

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Is Corruption In Washington Beyond Repair?

By James Donahue

Today we offer a lesson in political science for those who may have forgotten what they should have learned in high school. Our nation’s founders established three branches of government. They are Administrative, Legislative and Judicial. Written within the Constitution was a system of checks and balances within these three governmental branches designed to assure fairness and equality for everybody.

It is no secret that something has gone seriously wrong.

The way the Legislative Branch was supposed to work was that people divided the territory in which they lived into voting districts. They elected someone from each district to go to Washington and represent their interests. This way, everybody had an interest in the way an article of legislation was written before it became law. Just to keep everything on an even keel, there were two parts to the legislative branch; the House of Representatives and the Senate. Both the House and Senate had to agree on the language of every bill before it went to the President’s desk, or the Executive Branch, for final approval.

The President has the power to either sign the bill into law or veto it. If the President vetoes the bill, it isn’t necessarily lost. The document can be sent back to the Congress for reconsideration and possible change. Congress can also override a veto if members can muster a two-thirds majority vote.

A lot of that original framework remains in place. But over the years, new rules of operating have been added by legislators that have removed the simplicity of the way thing are done. They have created committees and sub-committees where proposed bills sometimes become buried, never to see the light of day. Rule changes are designed to give members of one party an advantage over another so that constituents at home are no longer getting fair representation. Senate rules give individual members the power to block action on important legislation without having to explain why.

The invention of the filibuster . . . the monopoly of the floor of the house by a single member that can continue for days . . .just for the purpose of stalling action on a proposed bill, is among the many tricks used in internal battles.

Then there are the lobbyists. These are slick professional salesmen representing big corporations, big banking interests, and powerful political groups like the American Medical Association and the American Rifle Association. Lobbyists are constantly active in the halls of the Capital. Their original job was to try to persuade elected legislators to vote on behalf of their employer. More recently they have resorted to paying elected legislators to vote in ways that favor their interests and not necessarily in the interests of the constituents.

The advent of cash payoffs or expensive gifts that include paid vacation trips and other favors that sometimes go to the extreme have helped corrupt the way our system of government works.  

The workings of the Executive Branch appear to remain mostly intact, except for the fact that the President’s appointed staff of advisers appears to be getting so large and cumbersome that some of the departments are falling over themselves. New presidents spend most of their first year in office just filling all of the appointments to the many agencies that have been created over the years. Also we notice that many of the President’s top advisors are former lobbyists or former top executives with some of the most powerful corporations and banking systems operating in the nation. 

The top tier of the Judicial Branch is the Supreme Court. It consists of the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. All are appointed by the President and confirmed by the majority vote of the Senate. Once seated, these Justices have life tenure. Their terms terminate upon death, resignation, retirement or impeachment.

It has always been impossible to keep politics out of this high court, since members are appointed by presidents and approved by senators with political viewpoints. Yet the court’s position as the final legal authority in the nation gives this judicial panel a significant amount of power. The court’s purpose has always been to examine and interpret the laws as drafted by the Legislative and Executive Branches of government. The court also examines the constitutionality of each law that comes before it.

Most legal cases are handled by Federal District Courts or the Federal Court of Appeals before they ever reach the U. S. Supreme Court. The high court must agree to hear a case before it goes before the bench. Decisions made by this court are final, and based on interpretation of law. The only way to change a Supreme Court decision is to get legislators to agree to rewrite the law.

If we go by the textbooks, all of this was the way the high court was supposed to operate. In recent years, however, something troublesome has been happening. The court has been handing down opinions that have had a dramatic impact on the way governments and police function all over the country. Under Chief Justice William Rehnquist the court by a 5-4 vote intervened in the close vote count between presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, interrupted a Florida vote count, and gave the presidency to Bush. That one ruling had an impact on America that changed the nation forever.

Bush’s appointment of conservatives John Roberts to the office of Chief Justice and Samuel Alito to a position of Associate Justice helped sway the court in a 5-4 landmark decision earlier this year that appears to have opened the door for private corporations to finance political campaigns. This had a major impact on the mid-term elections. Millions of dollars in secret money (some believe it came from foreign sources and moved through the Chamber of Commerce) were used to promote many of the candidates for legislative and even state gubernatorial campaigns.

Because of that Supreme Court decision people in local legislative districts no longer have true representation in Washington. To win office, candidates must be heavily backed by major corporations with big money if they have any chance of getting elected. This means their loyalty is to the corporations and big money interests, not the electorate.

It is clear that something has gone terribly wrong with the government system now operating in the United States. Many of the people we once trusted to go to Washington and our state capitals to make important decisions on our behalf have become victims of a need to gain heavy financial support to pay for the high cost of running a successful campaign. They have consequently been bought by a shadow government that exists behind the walls of the Federal Reserve, big world banking systems and corporate interests.

When we stand back and look at the slow progression of change that has occurred since America was founded over 200 years ago, and the way the Constitution and Bill of Rights has been distorted by the courts and legislative action, we find ourselves looking at a system of greed and corruption that runs so deep we wonder if it can ever be repaired.