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Gary Horton: A primer on lobbying influence

Posted: August 16, 2016 3:20 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2016 2:00 a.m.
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We’re a mostly fortunate bunch here in the SCV. We enjoy a tree-lined city, benefit from a multitude of good schools and parks and a couple of senior centers, and even a kick-ass community college/university center.

And soon we’ll have really gone the distance with a real movie theater playing actual intelligent movies!

More seriously than flicks, our city just received a special award for financial and governance transparency. Yes, we’re doing pretty darn well at governance.

Especially comparing ourselves to the abuse, misuse and chicanery that’s come to personify national politics — especially in big-money matters like war industry, energy, drugs and medical.

And nowhere are dark deals more dastardly done than the House of Representatives, sometimes more accurately called the House of Reprehensibles.

Those in the know have known for years that a frequent career path of many House operatives is to worm into a good committee, gain influence, bail out and join a consultancy to exploit the valuable connections made while taxpayers paid their congressional room and board — and firsthand schooling on exploiting our system for personal profit.

Oh, all along we’ve been sold on the honesty and integrity and values and flag lapel pins of Congress.

But evidence shows that as often as not, those we’ve trusted to pledge allegiance to the Unite States have confused their allegiance more toward corporate clients than to American citizens.

Some suggest many elected representatives get from their political connections much more than they gave during their service. I may be understating the true situation.

And so, as Bernie Sanders correctly pointed out, we will continue to have wars with no end, ridiculous military spending, busted budgets and outrageous medical expenditures far greater than in many other modern high-transparency counties.

The other day I received an email shedding light on how all this dealing works in the back rooms of American politics.

I’ve redacted and reduced the received letter to protect both the innocent and the guilty; however you may judge them:

ABC Lobbying Firm Adds Mr. X as Senior Director

Mr. X joined the ABC Firm on Aug. X as senior director after over a decade as professional staff on the House Appropriations Committee. During this time, Mr. X supported the Appropriations Committee providing funding and language recommendations, having served as a member of both the majority and minority staff. …

“The scope of his experience on the Appropriations Committee covered vital programs of national interest, including national security and intelligence community programs, renewable and nuclear energy initiatives.” Mr. X’s tenure… included overseeing the recommendation and execution of program funding provided by the Defense, Energy and Water Development, Homeland Security.…

…Mr. X will leverage his intimate knowledge of the federal budget process and how it feeds into the congressional appropriations and budget execution in order to benefit the ABC Firm’s clients.

Mr. X’s oversight of hundreds of billions of dollars for the committee over the years has given him extensive knowledge of the entire appropriations process, enabling him to develop a strategic “idea to implementation” plan for the ABC Firm’s clients.”

Now, I’m certain that just as sure as we’ve got 435 Congress members, we’ve also got nearly as many post-Congress members sending similar letters to corporate clients promising to drum up big dollars at the perpetually overflowing deficit and public tax-funded well.

Take particular note: Nowhere does this letter speak of representing “former constituents.” Nowhere does this letter suggest Mr. X was representing the American people.

No, it’s cash-in time, and this big announcement is about “idea to implementation plans” toward gaining legislation and appropriations passed to benefit ABC Firm’s clients’ financial interests – all paid for by you and me.

Many are OK with this kind of arm-wrestled, insider-deal government. I’m not.

Hell, they’ve got that in Argentina, Mexico and a host of other increasingly corrupt and failing countries that aren’t quite dead yet.

Do recall, we’re not too many miles, nor too many corrupt practices, from those failing countries, and if we keep “governing for companies” over “governing for people” we’ll be right there with them shortly.

Selling taxpayers’ interests out for a lobbied payout through government connections won’t end with this next election. Far from it. The best we can seem to do at this point is “status quo.”

Maybe Bernie was more right than wrong on this point. Still, I believe we can have a capitalist-based democracy that functions well - provided we develop strong rules to prevent corruption.

Yes, we can allow the nearly magical “invisible hand of capitalism” to do its thing. Our problem, however, as indicated in the letter above, is that we don’t have an invisible hand of capitalism — we have a “manipulated hand” – with backroom deals distributing taxpayer funds to private industry, all hidden from general public view.

One day we’ll enact strict reforms on lobbyist influence. One day we’ll get big money out of political campaigning.

One day we can hope for a national government as transparent as our own Santa Clarita. Until then, expect more of the same with little hope for drug price relief, military spending reduction, or positive actions benefiting ordinary Americans over giant corporate interests.

America needs to develop a strategic “idea to implementation” plan to limit lobbying interests and to benefit America’s hard-working, tax-paying citizens.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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