The Most Important Street
There is much talk on the airwaves and blogosphere about the relative importance of Wall Street and Main Street. So, which is the most important street in America? Well, there is little doubt that Wall Street is gobbling up the discussion about the economy. After all, that’s where the banks and brokerages reside. It is where the money circulating in the private economy of our nation goes back and forth. Main Street, on the other hand, is the place where we live. It actually is Main Street here in Houston, but it may have a different name where you live. In England it is called High Street in most cities. But whatever its name, it is the street of local commerce in our cities.
A lot of argument is going on about where to put the stimulus moneys from the Federal Government: Main Street or Wall Street? It has developed into a class war of sorts pitting big business against small business and individual citizens. But all of that noise is a distraction from the truth. There is only one street where power resides in our nation. It is located in Washington, D.C. So is it Pennsylvania Avenue? Guess again. You have heard it mentioned from time to time if you are a political news junkie like I am, but it doesn’t get the kind of attention it deserves. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the answer is: K Street.
“What is this K Street, and what makes it so powerful?” you ask. It is the street in Washington D.C. where the lobbyists have their offices. It is where the money comes into Washington from all those influential fat cats that most of us don’t even know about. Why don’t we know about them? Because the news media, both print and broadcast, largely turns a blind eye to their activities. We are rarely informed of who is pumping all those non-tax dollars into Washington, and when I say Washington, I mean Capitol Hill and, yes, even the White House. This is not a partisan issue and should not be treated as one, no matter how you may feel about one side or the other. Both Democrats and Republicans who have been elected to the highest offices in our land are beholden to the folks over on K Street for their victories in the past and future.
Here’s how it works. Lobbyists are usually former elected officials or federal agency officials who have left government for whatever reason. But while they were there, they made a lot of very powerful friends. I mean a lot! These guys can get in to see Congressmen and Senators, and yes even the President of the United States or one of his top advisors simply by picking up the phone and making an appointment. You, too, can usually get in to see your Congressman or Senator by calling for an appointment, but not the President. But what carrot do you, a mere citizen of Timbuktu, have to offer the powerful men and women who make the decisions that affect your daily life? What you have is your single vote come next election. But these folks over on K Street have a lot more to offer when they make their little trips to The Hill or the White House. What they have is access to cash come the next election. Now, they are not allowed to actually hand over cash to one of our elected officials. That practice was stopped a while back, But they know where the money is buried, so to speak. And where is that money buried? In a legal little tool called a PAC.
What is a PAC? PAC stands for political action committee. These are funds set up by all kinds of entities to funnel election contributions to politicians. You may even be part of a PAC and not know it. We are all bombarded by junk mail that asks us to contribute to this, that, or the other cause. Often those funds go into a PAC which can be used as a political arm of whatever organization it represents. It may be a liberal cause such as climate control, animal rights, or civil rights; it may be a conservative cause such as right to life, gun rights or anti-gay activities. Most people are unaware of where the money they contribute goes. Some of it will go to pay lobbyists, some into PACs, but most of it ends up in an election campaign coffer somewhere. And like it or not, no one could afford to run for office if it weren’t for those political contributions. To win election in even the most remote Congressional District is very expensive!. There are print ads to buy in the local newspapers, and even more expensive television spots to pay for. This is why the fine “journalists” of our nation are not particularly “interested” in following the money in this story. It’s where their paychecks come from: advertising.
Big corporations can only make limited direct contributions to candidates now, but they have PACs that they use to bundle contributions from “employees” and the like. What they can do, though, is hire a lobbyist. There’s no illegality there. And sadly, every time there has been an effort to stop this practice, the Federal Courts have ruled that limiting lobbying is an abridgement of the right to speak. So it just goes on and on. So “the golden rule” applies to our “democracy.” He who has the gold, rules! It always comes down to that, no matter how much it is denied. Big business, especially big insurance and big pharmaceuticals have held back any serious efforts at healthcare reform for decades. Big banks and big brokerage houses and now we find out big insurance kept regulations at bay until they fried our financial system with their greed. And we rarely talk about the biggest hog at the trough, defense contractors. They have used the fear of outside aggression to become the sacred cow of our budgetary process.
A couple of days ago I wrote about the differences between ancient Athens and Sparta. I received an insightful comment from my friend over at MoreLightThanHeat. She correctly pointed out another tactic Defense Contractors have employed to keep getting the money they want, whether the weapons system they manufacture is necessary or not, or maybe even relevant in modern warfare or not. We are beginning to hear the baying of Republican wolves over an attempt by the Obama Administration, in the person of Secretary of Defense Gates, to cut some of the excess spending from the Pentagon. MoreLightThanHeat revealed in her comment that big defense contractors have “spread” their plants and operations all over the nation, sprinkling some into each and every one of the 50 states. This move on their parts has given cover to any Congressman/woman or Senator to give a “good reason” for seeing things their way, thus distracting our attention from the amount of access these companies have gained through political contributions as illustrated above.
Many years ago I was disappointed to personally learn the intricacies of the lobbying/PAC system when I was elected to the Board of Directors of the Texas Shorthand Reporters Association. What I really wanted to accomplish upon my arrival in reporter politics was to end our participation in that process. Sadly, upon my arrival, I learned that it was a matter of survival for my profession. We were beset by powerful lobbying efforts on behalf of people who were trying to replace us with tape recorders. I won’t bore you with the details of why tape recorders aren’t an adequate or even more cost-efficient replacement for a well-trained stenographic reporter in the courts of our land, but I can still explain it in detail. Long story short, I learned that without a good lobbyist and a PAC, we were doomed to lose our jobs. The whole thing was extremely expensive, but we had no choice but to fight. Five years later I helmed TSRA and fought the battle of my life to keep our jobs, and by golly, we won! But as much as I would like to take credit for the win due to my excellent public debating skills on the issue, we would have lost the battle long before we had a chance to debate it had we not participated in the lobbying/PAC system that I still hate to this day.
There was a Republican President that warned us of the impending dangers we face today. It was Dwight David Eisenhower, who, in his farewell address warned the citizens of our nation to beware of the Military-Industrial Complex. His warnings went unheeded, so today we find ourselves at the mercy of big corporate interests who have all the money they need to manipulate our system of government to get what they want no matter what the cost to the taxpayers may be. Can we stop this? It’s hard to know at this point. But while we sharpen our pitchforks and head for Wall Street, let’s not forget their toadies over on K Street who are the ones who made all of this possible in the first place.