A coalition of 248 business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that over 10 days they will spend up to $10 million on ads aimed at putting the screws on members of Congress to vote against health care reform.
Living in these United States, there comes a point at which you throw your hands up in exasperation and despair and ask a fundamental question or two: How much excess profit does corporate America really need? How much bigger do executive salaries and bonuses have to be, how many houses or jets or artworks can be crammed into a life?
But since greed is not self-governing, hardly anyone raking in the dough ever stops to say, “That’s it. Enough’s enough!”
Look at the health care industry saying to hell with consumers and then hiking premiums — by as much as 39 percent in the case of Anthem Blue Cross in California.
This month, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance industry’s lobby, announced they’d be spending more than $1 million on new television ads justifying their costs.
Of course, a million is a mere bagatelle in the shadow of the $544 million that was spent on lobbying by the health sector last year, plus more than $200 million in advocacy ads. And a million’s just the curtain raiser to what will be spent in these final weeks of health care reform debate.
Employers for a Healthy Economy, a coalition of 248 business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — and including construction and manufacturing interests, as well as health insurance companies — said that over 10 days they will spend up to $10 million on ads aimed at putting the screws on members of Congress to vote against health care reform.
But beyond the health care fight, and perhaps far more significant in the long run, is what this represents: The Company has arrived, only it’s called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and it’s got its sights on anything that moves. During 2008, 86 percent of contributions from the chamber’s political action committee went to GOP candidates. The conservatives have found their Avatar, aka Frankenstein.
The chamber reports a membership of 3 million businesses, but tax records indicate that in 2008 a third of its contributions came from 19 companies paying between $1 million and $15.3 million. Don’t hold your breath: the chamber is not required to reveal who those 19 are.
With all that cash, the Times notes, “the chamber spent more than $144 million on lobbying and grass-roots organizing last year, a 60 percent increase over 2008, and well beyond the spending of individual labor unions or the Democratic or Republican national committees. The chamber is expected to substantially exceed that spending level in 2010.”
This elite organization of oligarchs has been emboldened by the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which now allows corporations to spend freely on political campaigns right up until Election Day, and by the chamber’s recent success contributing a million dollars for ads supporting Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
What’s more, writes the Los Angeles Times, “Using trade associations such as the chamber as the vehicle for spending corporate money on politics has an extra appeal: These groups can take large contributions from companies and wealthy individuals in ways that will probably avoid public disclosure requirements.”
So with the spring comes anonymous greed run rampant — as the sun sets on democracy.
No wonder demonstrators outside that health insurance meeting in Washington surrounded the hotel with yellow crime scene tape. The entire country is being mugged.
Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program “Bill Moyers Journal,” which airs Friday night on PBS.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily the newspaper's.