by: Michael Winship
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
01 August 2009
As we marvel over the depths of hypocrisy and greed
currently plumbed in the health care reform debate,
it may help to remember that even Honest Abe Lincoln
had his share of tainted colleagues, one of the most
notorious of whom was his first Secretary of War Simon Cameron.
According to Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of
Thaddeus Stevens how corrupt Cameron was, Stevens
paused and replied, "I don't think he would steal a
red hot stove." When Cameron objected, Stevens
allowed that maybe he was wrong - implying that the
cabinet secretary would steal a hot stove.
Cameron resigned after less than a year in office,
plagued by allegations of war profiteering and
overall ineptitude. He's largely forgotten now, but
something he supposedly said is immortalized in the
lexicon of famous sayings about money and
government. "An honest politician," he declared, "is
one who when he is bought, stays bought."
The giants of the health care industry fighting
legitimate reform will soon discover whether all the
money they've spent on lobbying has worked yet again
and which of the politicians they have showered with
campaign contributions will toe the line and stay
bought, thwarting the desires of the majority of the American people.
This week, the Center for Responsive Politics
reported that in the second quarter of this year
alone, the pharmaceuticals and health product
industries spent $67,959,095 on lobbying, and the
insurance industry $39,760,477. Another $25,552,088
was spent by lobbyists for hospitals and nursing
homes. That's a total of $133,271,660 in just three
months, and that's not even counting the lobbying
money spent to fight health care reform by
professional associations like the
Just to further roil your ire, comes news from
McAllen, Texas, reported in the July 30
Times: "One of the largest sources of campaign
contributions to Senate Democrats during this year's
health care debate is a physician-owned hospital in
one of the country's poorest regions that has sought
to soften measures that could choke its rapid
growth. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
collected nearly $500,000 at a reception here on
March 30, mostly from physicians and others
financial disclosure records show."
A June article in The New Yorker magazine painted a
devastating portrait of the sky-high costs of
physician-owned hospitals in the
President Obama has cited it often. But money talks,
and the Times notes, "Thus far, physician-owned
hospitals have been insulated from some of the most
onerous potential restrictions in the health care
legislation moving through Congress."
Business as usual amongst the dough-driven denizens
the national anthem with Randy Newman's "It's Money
that I Love," and pay to play is the sport of kings.
Anything and anybody are up for sale in the capital.
You'll recall the story in early July about the
intimate dinner party
Katharine Weymouth was planning. Her soiree would
have brought the paper's reporters and editors
covering health care reform together with officials
from the White House and members of Congress.
But she also invited CEO's and lobbyists - at
$25,000 a pop, or a quarter of a million if they
wanted to underwrite a series of these intimate
salons. The invitation offered, "An exclusive
opportunity to participate in the health care reform
debate among the select few who will actually get it done."
The dinner was scrapped when The
invitation leaked to the press. But such exclusive
events where the elite meet to eat - for a price -
are standard operating procedure in DC. The
Economist magazine and The Wall Street Journal have
hosted intimate salons. Atlantic Media, publisher of
The Atlantic magazine and National Journal, among
other publications, has been holding off-the-record,
get-togethers for the last six years, with such
corporate sponsors as Microsoft, General Electric,
Citigroup, Allstate Insurance and the health care giant AstraZeneca.
Atlantic Media is now taking it one step further,
moving their exclusive party to the Internet, where
National Journal has announced a new "policy-
oriented" web site called 3121, named after the
phone extension for the
exclusively for members of Congress and their
staffs. Well, almost exclusively.
I can't log onto it - and neither can you, assuming
you're not a senator, representative, or somebody
who works for one. But guess what? If you're a
lobbyist, you can buy your way in. The web site's
marketing kit promises that you'll be able to "build
connections and start a valuable conversation with a
targeted group of some of the most powerful people
in the political world."
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, for a mere $295,000, you
can be 3121's "Premier Promotional" sponsor. That
means you get, quote, "exclusive rights to all
advertising on 3121 from site launch in September"
through the end of the year. You'll also be invited
to the web site's launch party and what they're
calling "Innovation Happy Hours," so order your hats and noisemakers now.
What's that you say? You can't afford nearly
$300,000? Tell you what I'm gonna do. For a mere
$95,000 you can buy what they're calling a "Research
and Education" package that gives you a sneak
preview of 3121 and access to Capitol Hill insiders
helping out with the web design and learning how to use it.
At least if you buy into 3121 you know the web site
stays bought, like Simon Cameron's definition of an
honest politician. For sheer, unmitigated chutzpah,
I give you the American Conservative
prostituting its vaunted philosophical purity in
pursuit of filthy lucre.
It seems FedEx, the package delivery
megacorporation, is facing a change in law that may
hurt its competitive advantage over United Parcel
Service. Legislation pending in Congress would level
the playing field.
As columnist Thomas Frank explained in The Wall
Street Journal, "Employees of UPS are covered by one
labor law - the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
- while employees of FedEx are governed by a
different one, a law that makes it much harder for
them to organize a union. Lots of UPS's employees
are organized; few of FedEx's are."
As Frank wrote, the idea that Congress might give
FedEx employees "more of a chance to have a say
about work conditions" ruffled the company's
feathers. Enter the American Conservative
which seeks to be "the conservative voice in
said it would back FedEx's opposition to the
legislation with direct mail, email and phone
campaigns, radio ads and the creation of op-ed and
other articles by ACU president David Keene and
members of its board.
The ACU said it would only charge FedEx, oh, say,
somewhere between two and three million dollars,
maybe up to $3.4 million, for its services. FedEx
refused to sign for the package. So without batting
an eye, the ACU switched its allegiance to UPS,
accusing FedEx of fighting dirty. How brave, how
principled. How corrupt.
Summer is no time to be in
humidity so oppressive that someone once described
the sensation as akin to living inside the mouth of
a very large dog. But it's not the heat creating the
rancid aroma rising from the city. It's the panting
exhaust created by the pursuit of money, regardless
of country or party or philosophy. It's money that
they love, and nothing will change until we disable
the ka-ching of the giant
and use the money to buy the pay to players a one-
way bus ticket out of town.