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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 01:44 am

Breaking lobbyists’ stranglehold on democracy


Jack Abramoff, the infamous Washington super-lobbyist who slipped on his own sleaze, was sentenced recently to four years in prison for corruption. How appropriate that his denouement came on the very day that John McCain was nominated by Republicans to be their presidential standard-bearer, and only one week after the Democratic Party convention.

The timing is appropriate because it puts the corrupting power of corporate lobbyists back in the news, even as both parties were chanting that they will be the agents of "change" in Washington.

In St. Paul and Denver, Republicans and Democrats alike were posing as ethical purists who would take on the special interests. Yet, out of camera view, those very interests were honored guests at both gatherings!

What neither party wants you to know is that their presidential nominating conventions were paid for by the latter-day Jack Abramoffs, who were sipping cocktails and schmoozing with elected officials in those corporate suites. More than 100 corporations, from AFLAC to Xerox, pumped in about $1 million each to finance the shows below, including some 25 corporate swingers that sponsored both events.

Last year, when Democrats took charge of Congress, there was a loud pledge by the new House leaders to reform the culture of corruption that had become pervasive under GOP leader Tom DeLay. Sure enough, in the Democrats' first month, such crass practices as letting lobbyists pay for members' junkets and rides on corporate jets were banned. But there's a loophole. While a lobbyist can no longer put a key Congress-critter on a client's jet and pay for a golfing getaway in Bermuda, the lobbyist can simply give $5,000 or so to the critter's campaign fund, so he or she can "pay their own way."

As Lily Tomlin puts it, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

To learn more, including how you can help bring this reform to your state and to Congress, go to www.publiccampaign.org.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.

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