Congress's Secret Weapons

Most of us are familiar with mobster movies where they extort the business owner by offering him protection at a cost, or else. The technical definition of a “protection racket” implies it taking place “outside the confines of the law”. Sadly, our Congress has adopted similar coercive extraction methods as a way to force unwilling donors to finance their campaigns, and it goes right over the heads of the justice system and surpasses public oversight, whereby if the laymen were to be caught using these same tactics of intimidation they’d be indicted on felony charges and likely do jail time.

Since 1948, when we started recording Congressional records, the 112th and 113th Congresses has been by far the laziest we’ve seen yet. The 112th passed 283 laws, while the 113th passed 296. Mind you, about 50 of those laws the 113th enacted went to approval of names for post offices and other federal buildings. So the ‘quality’ of their lawmaking is also at question. But of course this is not necessarily a bad thing, doesn't fewer paper laws mean fewer regulations, less cronyism, and less favoritism? Sadly that is a half-truth. There is an abundance of data on how money has corrupted politics, but rarely do we hear how politics has corrupted money. Since money now, to a greater degree, dictates who will be our representatives, our public officials have concocted some clever weapons to not only reign in the dough, but also to enhance their influence by fear.

One of the tricks up their sleeves is referred to as a ‘tollbooth’. According to author Peter Schweizer, John Boehner is the foremost expert on it. “You pay money at a tollbooth in order to use a road or bridge,” writes Schweizer. “The process in Washington is similar: if someone wants a bill passed, charge them money to allow the bill to move down the legislature.” The first instance of the tollbooth being used was during legislation for the Wireless Tax Fairness Act. Its biggest sponsors were Verizon and AT&T. The dynamics of the tollbooth strategy are quite simple: let an important legislation sit and rot in the drawers of congressional desks until the day of its vote arrives, and through this deliberate idleness money will start pouring in.  The day before the vote, Boehner collected thirty-three checks from wireless industry executives in the total amount of $40,000.                                                     

There are two more instances of Boehner pulling off this extortionate maneuver -- the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act (H.R. 2940) and the Small Company Capital Formation Act (H.R. 1070). Both were designed to soften regulations on gaining access to capital from stock offerings. Again, Boehner used the wait-and-they-shall-come scheme until he has the proponents of the bill on their knees with checks in their hands. Within 48 hours, he collected a total of roughly $170,000. Another tool within the legislatures laboratory is the ‘milker bill’, sometimes called a ‘juicer’, where a politician is able to ‘milk’ or ‘squeeze’ an industry or special interest for donations out of fear a bill might not pass. But then there is the milker bill’s big brother, much meaner and out for the kill, it’s known as the “double milker”.

The mechanics of a double milker is to artificially stir up a conflict of interest between two industries. Both Obama and Biden used this during legislation for the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. Silicon Valley was against the bills, while Hollywood was in support of them. It essentially created a perfect platform to start a “fundraising arms race”. According to Schweizer, in the first half of 2011, Silicon Valley had chipped in only $1.7 million to Mr. Obama’s political campaign. The president announced that he would “probably” sign antipiracy legislation -- a stance that pleased Hollywood and incensed Silicon Valley. The tech industry then poured millions into Mr. Obama’s coffers in the second half of 2011. By January of 2012, Hollywood had donated $4.1 million to Mr. Obama. Then suddenly, on Jan. 14, 2012, the White House announced that it had problems with the antipiracy bills and neither passed. “He didn’t just throw us under the bus,” one film executive and longtime supporter of Mr. Obama anonymously told the Financial Times, “he ran us down, reversed the bus and ran over us again.”

A few proposals laid out by some authors includes not allowing Congress to be in session when they are fundraising. If sincere supporters of candidates would like to provide financial help, then they will do so regardless whether their representative is in session or not

Additionally, there exist proposals to make the wording of bills much simpler and less wordy -- two pages maximum that outline entire proposals. Bills are typically filled with technical jargon that nobody, including the congressmen, understands -- and therefore they don’t even take the time to read it and just pass it, in spite of what exactly is at stake or what it’s calling for.  Only time will tell what we can expect from our current Republican-dominated Congress, but the public should be paying close attention to assure they deliver on their promises.