Executive Director Reports

Influence buying tilts the playing field

According to recent national polls more than 70 percent of all voters are against cutting Medicare or Social Security.

An almost equal number, 69 percent, favor raising taxes on household incomes over $250,000 annually.

Here in Illinois a Peter Hart poll found that 60 percent of voters who heard both sides of  the argument opposed cutting public employees' pension benefits.

Despite such clear will of the people, a lot of politicians in both Washington and Springfield still march to the beat of a different drummer.

You can rest assured that the Republicans in Congress who voted in lockstep with their caucus leaders to cut Medicare weren't responding to an outcry from voters to dismantle the program. Nor have House Speaker Mike Madigan and Minority Leader Tom Cross, who are cooking up a bipartisan plan to slash public pension benefits, been besieged by angry constituents demanding action to undo our retirement security.

To the contrary we know state legislators have been deluged with calls from firefighters, teachers, correctional officers and other public servants demanding that they keep their hands off our pensions.

Politics isn't supposed to work this way. In school we were taught that democracy is a great thing because people have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.

Yet despite the overwhelming sentiment against cuts in vital health-care and retirement programs, politicians on both sides of the political aisle persist in going a different direction from the voters they purport to represent.

What explains the divide between the way things are supposed to work and what actually occurs?

The answer is clear and simple -  the undue influence of wealthy, powerful business interests, pulling the strings of the politicians whose troughs they fill.

Of course, politicians never admit that they dance to the corporate tune in return for campaign cash. Nor would the high-minded business elite ever concede that they're acting to line their own pockets.

No, the storyline is "We need to improve the ‘business climate,'" as though corporations haven't already been shipping jobs to Mississippi, Bangladesh or wherever else there's cheap labor that increases their bottom lines.

The narrative that anything benefiting working families places terrible obstacles in business's path to profits also conflicts with the reality of the situation. Last year U.S. corporations made record profits in the fourth quarter - an annualized $1.68 trillion. CEO pay in 2010 was up 24 percent from 2009.

Despite claims to the contrary, things aren't so bad for Illinois corporate moguls either. According to Crain's Chicago Business, the Chicago region ranked No. 1 in corporate expansion last year. Chicago's business climate ranked third nationally and seventh globally. Illinois is outpacing every other Midwestern state when it comes to job creation.

Yet the bigwigs cry poor and the Springfield politicians bend over backward to please their corporate masters. That's why this year's badly needed tax increase raised tax rates on individuals by 66.7 percent, but only raised the corporate rate by 45.8 percent.

And please note that, thanks to a tax code written with business in mind, a majority of Illinois corporations pay no state income tax at all!

The more wealth and power become unevenly distributed, the more democracy is undermined.

In Chicago, the new mayor's campaign was largely underwritten by folks with very deep pockets. And both parties in Springfield benefit handsomely from corporate largesse.

The problem only feeds on itself as we get laws that disempower working folks (like the virtual elimination of public-employee collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Ohio), resulting in even more wealth flowing to the top.

It's important not to be deceived into thinking we've got to sacrifice so that business can thrive and create jobs. To the contrary what creates jobs and has driven the American economy is money in the hands of working people, whose purchasing power grows the economy.

If their prescription worked, we wouldn't have such a sick economy. If helping rich people get richer were the answer to our problems, we wouldn't have 9 percent unemployment, record numbers of home foreclosures and the myriad problems that confront every day Americans.

When your representative tells you he wants to improve the business climate, tell him you do, too, not by holding wages down, but by increasing middle-class purchasing power.

Let's send a strong message to every elected official: Their corporate friends may be gluttons for profits, but we are not gluttons for punishment. The heat they will feel if they continue on their current course will not be from  global warming but from the justified outrage we feel over their deference to a business class that is ruining America.