The relationship that has formed between the money and power of America has become so intricate it appears impossible to have one without the other. President Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice all have extensive histories with some of the country’s largest corporations and most lucrative industries. President Bush has big oil, Cheney has Halliburton, Rumsfeld has Gilead Sciences Pharmaceuticals (the developers of Tamiflu) and Rice has Chevron. Corporate connections aren’t confined to the Bush Administration’s inner circle. Rather, they appear to be a prerequisite to power.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Rob Portman and Treasury Secretary John Snow all have corporate histories and influential connections. In fact, only 4 of the 14 appointed Bush Cabinet members don’t have direct corporate connections according to opensecrets.org.
Alberto Gonzales worked for Vinson & Elkins, a high-powered law firm based in Houston. Vinson & Elkins is one of the biggest political donors in the legal business and has supported President Bush throughout his career. The company has also been involved in an ongoing controversy due to its dealings with Enron.
Sam Bodman was the president of Fidelity Investments for 10 years as well as CEO of Cabot Corp. a chemical manufacturing company based in Boston. Norman Mineta’s corporate history includes ties to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Airlines, Greyhound, Union Pacific and Northwest Airlines. Joshua Bolten, the White House’s new Chief of Staff, was Executive Director of Legal and Governmental Affairs for Goldman Sachs International of London, a personal finance corporation, from 1994-1999.
Rob Portman, the new director of the OMB, formerly served as an Ohio republican congressman as well as a U.S. Trade Representative. Portman was also associate White House council for President Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, and he worked for two major law firms, Patton, Boggs, and Blow in Washington, and Graydon, Head, and Ritchey in Cincinnati.
Finally, Treasury Secretary Snow is the former CEO of the rail company CSX. He also held a leadership position within the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. corporations with more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenues.
The connections these officials have to the corporate world have shaped policy decisions publicly and privately, nationally and internationally. John Snow, whose former company CSX sold its assets in 2002 to Dubai Ports World, a United Arab Emirates owned company, was directly involved in the decision to sell managerial control of 6 British-owned U.S. ports to DP World for $6.8 billion earlier this year.
The deal fell through due to bi-partisan pressure in Congress but has been replaced by a nearly identical deal President Bush has signed off on. The new deal involves another British company, Doncasters Group, which operates U.S. manufacturing plants that make parts for U.S. military vehicles. According to the Associated Press the deal was completed in early May.
Recently, in another instance, a 1995 Chevron memo obtained by the Consumers Union has raised suspicion that oil executives deliberately reduced oil-refining capacity to boost profits. "If the U.S. petroleum industry doesn’t reduce it’s refining capacity, it will never see any substantial increase in refinery profits," states the memo. Condoleezza Rice was Director of Chevron from 1991 until 2001. In 1995 she had an oil tanker named after her.
Still, the influence of money and connections isn’t confined to the White House. Congress has been immersed in dirty dealings and influence peddling. From the indictment and subsequent resignation of Tom DeLay to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Republican lawmakers have presided over arguably the most thoroughly corrupt Congress in American history.
Despite their many obvious improprieties (maybe because of them), Republicans – both in the White House and Congress – have been able to maintain a tight grasp on the power that dominates American democracy. Their success has come in part from their ability to raise money. In today’s multi-million dollar elections money is often the key to victory. According to one estimate, presidential nominees spend an average of $70,000 a day during elections. George Bush and John Kerry each spent more than $300 million in the 2004 election.
The economic divide in America has allowed for greater accumulation of elitist wealth and the infringement of our constitutional rights with minimal public outrage. This ultimately equates to the dilution of democracy and an imminent threat to the future of the Republic.
The era of corruption and corporate dominance Lincoln foresaw in 1864 may have reached its pinnacle today. With the World’s premier companies merging to become international monoliths and government officials catering to corporate interests, the masses are consistently being neglected for the elite’s pursuit of money and power.
There are three main ways for "We the People" of America to take back the power we were rightly given in the Constitution. First, we have to vote. If the majority of lower and middle classes vote, the ability to influence the decisions of lawmakers will increase. Second, increased campaign finance laws need to be installed to level the playing field. Third, term limits need to be imposed upon congress to break up the ability of the sophisticated re-districting that nullifies competitiveness in congressional elections.
If we are able to accomplish these objectives we may be able to return America to the path of democracy, saving the Republic from the destruction Abraham Lincoln once feared.
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