BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Remember Gary Hart? How ’bout Donna Rice? I reckon if you were of voting age back in ’87, you probably do. If not, here’s a quick refresher. Gary was a married, really smart, good-looking, charismatic, two-term U.S. Senator from Colorado and making his second run at the Democrat Party’s Presidential nomination. Donna was a young, really, really smart (Magna Cum Laude/Phi Beta Kappa grad of the University of South Carolina), and really, really good-looking (Miss South Carolina). Well, as fate would have it and what with one thing leading to another and what with the media and the opposition being, well, the media and the opposition, and, well, using your imagination you can probably pretty much figure out how the story ends as far as Hart’s “elected” political career was concerned. It’s worth noting, however, that he subsequently earned a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford. Like I said, disregarding common sense, he was/is a really smart guy.
I mention that bit of background because it was Gary’s recent appearance plugging his extremely well received new book “The Republic of Conscience” on Morning Joe (MSNBC) that prompted me to scribble this rant. In it he laments how America has become a “vast and cancerous network” of corruptive lobbyists and policymakers uniformly entwining special interest groups with partisan legislation. It spurred me to re-think the ease with which elected and appointed federal phonies, hypocrites and outright thieves evacuate themselves from their “public” environs and insert themselves into far greener “private” pastures on a regular basis. Most of us who follow politics are only too familiar with such adulterous resourcefulness, but I think we tend to overlook or at least impart far too little significance thereto. As with nearly all of the moral, ethical and “elimination of the appearance of impropriety” restrictions placed upon themselves by these soon-to-be government deserters, those limiting the time period after which, and the manner in which, they can attach their “fully-scholarship-ed” government-workings expertise to their heretofore campaign funders’ but soon-to-be bosses’ ongoing and forthcoming governmental dealings are precisely what you’d expect from a bunch of accomplished modern-day Benedict Arnolds.
You see, back in 2007 Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. That was followed by a 2008 Obama Executive Order on Standards of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees. The combination was heralded by both the executive and legislative branches as a final thickening and heightening of the wall between “public” representation and “private” profitization to impregnable proportions … but, of course, as good ole American governing would have it, a funny thing happened on the way to honesty, openness and ethicality.
As a medical condition it’s referred to as “scarcity of principles disorder,” but to us laypeople it’s more readily recognizable as common, ordinary, plain old, everyday, garden variety CORRUPTION and GREED! Yep, it was only a matter of time before said ex-public servants were able to find a way around both the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act and Obama’s Executive Order and line up at the corporate feeding trough. As indicated, the act and the executive order merely encouraged elected representatives and staffers in both branches to dig deeper into their “loophole” grab bags. To their astonishment, beating the system turned out to be easier than either had ever imagined. Voila! came a shout from among the would-be defectors. Why don’t we just stop registering as lobbyists at all, he exclaimed?! That fellow had just discovered that in the original and subsequent legislative acts concerning the matter of publicly funded soul-selling, the definitions of “lobbyist” and “lobbying” contained what any determined double-dealer might well recognize as some serious escape mechanisms.
To be formally considered a lobbyist, for example, an ex-legislator or -appointee must be engaged in lobbying activities for 20% or more of his or her time for an individual client. So, by spreading their services among many clients, or by providing “strategic advice” rather than “lobbying services,” any ex-lawmaker or -officeholder can easily circumvent the restrictions. What could be simpler? Gee, it’s almost like they’d planned it that way. P.S. They haven’t bothered to fill in the loophole. Surprising, huh? Right.
If you’re a manufacturer, assembler or just plain old supplier of product(s) and/or service(s) that the government needs or may come to need (or you can convince or anticipate that it does or is going to), inside knowledge of how, when, where and with whom to make contact within the government’s dizzying manifold of bureaucracies is an extremely valuable commodity. The right kind of knowledge regarding the ins and outs of discerning and navigating this behemoth can mean really big bucks to both “inside information” buyers and “inside information” sellers! With some $500 billion+ (in 2012 dollars) in government contracts awarded annually, is it any wonder that there are bales of payola available to entice so many of the previously proclaimed pious not to allow morals, ethics or even the “appearance of impropriety” smack them in the ass as they push their way through the revolving door.
Ah, but the door revolves counter clockwise as well. I think I’ll let this excerpt from Ken Eade’s novel, An Involuntary Spy, do its excellent job of explaining the machinations: “I think you know how it works, Senator. The big chemical companies fill the coffers of one of your colleagues who is a lawmaker from an agricultural state such as, well, let’s take Iowa, for example, and the lawmaker recommends the President to install industry executives in high positions, such as the head of the FDA or the EPA, and, this way, the industry can approve its own products without safety testing.” I’m pretty sure you can see how the gist of this scenario plays out in other regulatory agencies throughout the government such as the SEC, FTC, FCC, and ICC as well as Cabinet and lower level Secretaries positions to keep this bi-directional merry-go-round in motion.
I realize that all of this doesn’t completely explain the corruption and deceit that pervades the American political system, but hopefully it will contribute to an understanding of the whys and wherefores of much of America’s political “endgamesmanship.” From my perspective, the well-respected sociologist, David A. Niber, summed up the matter about as succinctly and acutely as possible: “The wealthy exert a commanding influence over the state through virtually unlimited political campaign contributions, armies of lobbyists, the revolving door that shuffles former government officials into corporate jobs as consultants and lobbyists (and moves bankers into positions in financial regulatory agencies), and the aforementioned control of news and media outlets that defines both the subjects of public discourse and the range of acceptable opinion.” The question is whether, from an ethics or conscience standpoint, anyone in a position to right this floundering ship of state is willing to suffer the slings, arrows and political rip currents necessary to get the job done. Current politicians and Wall Streeters needn’t apply.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.