Letter: At the Mercy of Big Money

To the Editor:

It’s official: Our elected representatives in Washington acknowledge being at the mercy of big-money donors. Consider the Senate Finance Committee, the group charged with reforming the tax code using a “blank slate” approach, i.e., removing all the loopholes and tax breaks in the current system, then adding back those deemed truly necessary. Committee members are to make “suggestions” as to which tax breaks to preserve. Sounds reasonable, but get this: The identities of senators offering particular suggestions will be kept secret for 50 years. That’s right — until 2064.

There are two ways to look at this. First there’s the rationale that committee leaders Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, put forth: Anonymity allows senators to prune wasteful provisions from the code without fear of reprisal from the powerful interests currently benefitting from them. Fear of reprisal is warranted; since the Citizens United v. FEC decision allowing corporations and individuals to spend unlimited amounts on elections, television smear campaigns have become commonplace.

An alternative rationale is that anonymity allows senators to secretly add provisions to the code that benefit special interests — provisions that voters find utterly indefensible — thus ensuring hefty campaign support from industry without fear of reprisal from the electorate.

Either way, the Finance Committee’s insistence on anonymity is proof positive of the overwhelming influence of big money in American politics.

If, like me, you find this state of affairs discouraging, you may want to attend the upcoming presentation by Larry Lessig, Harvard law professor, author and articulate advocate for campaign finance reform. Some of you may remember Lessig’s outstanding talk kicking off the 2011 ILEAD summer lecture series on corruption.

“Lasagna and Larry Lessig” is sponsored by the Coalition for Open Democracy, a nonpartisan Concord-based group dedicated to carrying on the legacy of legendary reformer Doris “Granny D” Haddock. It will take place beginning at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 at the IBEW Hall, 48 Airport Road, Concord. Your $30 ticket will help the coalition continue its work (and includes lasagna). Tickets and more information are available online at coalitionforopendemocracy.org/news-and-events or by calling (603) 661-8621.

Rick Bourdon