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The special interest trough leads to corrupted politics

By Frank Salvato
web posted January 9, 2006

The issue of money in politics is always one that leaves the American people feeling as though there is corruption running rampant through our government. Visions of fat-cat, glad-handing, multi-term, cigar-chomping politicians come to mind whenever the term lobbyist is used. And while I will make no excuses for politicians who are proven to be unethical in their financial dealings, I will suggest that the focused eye of condemnation be cast at the individuals and organizations who find it so easy to "augment" our system of government with the allure of easy money.

With the upcoming aria to be sung by über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff the American public will witness the unbridled arrogance of power. Abramoff, a highly successful Washington influence peddler right up to the nanosecond of his plea-bargain, doled out more complicated political bribery than the UN Oil-for-Food program, and he did it on both sides of the aisle.

While Democrats and the "progressive" left were quick in trying to brand the Abramoff scandal as a "Republican scandal," the facts indicate that this declaration is just another attempt by political opportunists at misdirection. In fact, Democrats do a great job at feeding off the special interest trough.

According to Internal Revenue Service records, and substantiated by the Campaign Finance Analysis Project, forty of the forty-five members of the Democrat Senate Caucus took money from Jack Abramoff, his associates, and their Indian tribe clients. These recipients include: Charles Schumer ($29,550), Harry Reid ($68,941), Patty Murray ($78,991), Mary Landrieu ($28,000), John Kerry ($98,550), Ted Kennedy ($3,300), Tom Harkin ($45,750), Dick Durbin ($14,000), Barbara Boxer ($20,250), Hillary Clinton ($12,950) and Byron Dorgan ($79,300).

When tallied, Senate Democrats and their national committees accepted $3.1 million from Abramoff, his associates and clients, compared with $4.3 million in contributions to Republicans. So, the statement that this is exclusively a "Republican scandal" is simply not true.

The Abramoff scandal will no doubt bring about the final chapters in a few political careers. Those exposed as money swilling, privilege-addicted ego cases, ignoring their constituents as they grasp at the irresistible brass ring of political greed deserve to be "frog-marched" out of elected office.

Equally disturbing, offensive and dramatically less publicized is the fact that special interest groups in the form of compulsory trade unions like the National Education Association essentially extort money from their union members so their leadership can dole out contributions to "friendly causes."

A recent Opinion Journal editorial pointed out that the NEA gave $65 million to left-leaning groups last year.

"The NEA is spending the mandatory dues paid by members who are told their money will be used to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions. According to the latest filing, member dues accounted for $295 million of the NEA's $341 million in total receipts last year. But the union spent $25 million of that on "political activities and lobbying" and another $65.5 million on "contributions, gifts and grants" that seemed designed to further those hyper-liberal political goals."

That's quite a bit more than Jack Abramoff gave to anyone for anything.

Included in the list of "progressive" special interest groups who received money from the NEA last year are: the Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies for "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights," the National Women's Law Center, whose website currently features literature opposing Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito and the Fund to Protect Social Security, an organization created to defeat personal investment accounts.

The key words here are "mandatory dues." While a few states allow for teachers to opt-out of the teacher's union, the process for attaining independence from the grip of the NEA is far from simply checking a box on a form. It is much more complicated than that, so much so that many teachers simply acquiesce. Further, many of those who opt-out are most often required to appropriate a percentage of what they would have paid in dues to a charity or acceptable non-profit organization while still paying a "fee" to the NEA for its efforts in collective bargaining negotiations.

Aside from the obvious question – why is an organization chartered to negotiate employment contracts involved in supporting special interest groups lobbying social issues on Capitol Hill – one has to wonder if the political actions of the NEA leadership are even more despicable than those of soon-to-be-felon Abramoff.

Jack Abramoff may have pled guilty to conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud but when he pulled out his checkbook to manipulate the mean streets of Washington, he did so with money from those who agreed with his basic political ideology. The NEA wields the same influence – maybe more – by extorting mandatory union dues from many who completely disagree with its chosen special interest philanthropy.

When one looks at both issues side-by-side one has to wonder which is more criminal.

Frank Salvato is the managing editor for The New Media Journal.us. He serves at the Executive Director of the Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan, socio-political education project. His pieces are regularly featured in Townhall.com. He has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor and numerous radio shows. His pieces have been recognized by the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention and are featured in national and international publications. He can be contacted at oped@newmediajournal.us Copyright © 2006 Frank Salvato

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