Mark Twain could have been addressing the new House Majority Leader Congressman John Boehner when he wrote: “Don’t reform any more. It’s not an improvement.”
The election of Rep. John Boehner, self-proclaimed reformer, as Republican Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives is proof enough that corporate money and influence has washed over and submerged Capitol Hill.
During Boehner’s recent campaign for Republican leader, he said this to his House colleagues: “Those of you who have arrived here in the last ten years probably don’t know that I cut my teeth on being a reformer.” Indeed, and at least one of Boehner’s reforms has all but eliminated the people’s trust in our elected representatives and senators.
Boehner was first elected to the House in 1990 and for several years, during Democratic majorities, he and I served on the same education committee. As a policy adversary, John was smart, cunning and hardworking. However, a reformer he is not; unless by congressional reform one means the contemporary practice of relinquishing significant legislative authority to powerful corporate lobbyists; a practice initiated by Boehner a decade ago.
Led by John Boehner, a small group of congressional Republicans helped engineer the 1995 political takeover by Newt Gingrich. Following 40 years of Democratic majorities, the change may well have been overdue. However, once installed as Speaker of the House, Gingrich appointed Boehner to a high leadership post, Chair of the Republican Conference, from which he created and nurtured the sordid relationship between corporate lobbyists and Congress that now, ten years later, has scandalized Capitol Hill. The resulting money, ethics, and moral scandals have since toppled Gingrich, Delay and sent Republicans such as Duke Cunningham scurrying off in shame or to prison.
In 1995 Boehner began meetings with corporate lobbyists each Tuesday in a room just off the House floor. At those meetings the nation’s most moneyed and powerful lobbyists met with the new Republican House leadership.
The ideas for legislation, amendments, appointments, regulations, and often the actual writing of legislation was dispensed to these corporate money changers. Imagine it, a weekly meeting under the Capitol Dome during which the very essence of our Republic, the writing of law, was bartered away to lobbyists representing companies whose businesses ranged from pharmaceuticals, energy and banking to mining and tobacco.
Boehner was in charge and the quid pro quo was quietly understood by all.
In exchange for this unprecedented access to the inner workings and the power of Congress, lobbyists would provide financial help, by the hundreds of millions of dollars, to elect and re-elect their conservative Republican co-conspirators.
The evidence is stunning, including the summer day in 1995 when Boehner was caught handing out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to members of Congress right on the floor of the House!The illicit web would grow and strengthen as favors and money from the corporate consultant world of Washington, D.C., spread its labyrinth over Capitol Hill capturing Republicans and, to a lesser but nonetheless critical way, Democrats as well.
For more than a decade now, the majority has institutionalize the web, the insidious matrix that has seriously corrupted Republicans and, for a time at least, has rendered Democrats almost impotent, unable to reclaim their historic tradition of helping small business, small farms and working stiffs.
For a relative pittance compared to the amounts Republicans have received, Democrats have foolishly bought into the charge, “They all do it.” A cheap bargain indeed for American’s biggest corporate interests, which for every ten dollars they give to Republicans give one to Democrats…who were, frankly, nuts to have ever accepted anything from those corrupting corporate influence peddlers.The latest act in this sordid drama is that House Republicans, in a breathtaking act of irony, have elected Boehner as “the reform candidate.”
Many members of Congress, both current and former, who know John recognize the simple but harsh truth in the words of Boehner’s home state newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the national newspaper, USA Today. The Plain Dealer: “Boehner loves to golf with corporate contributors at some of the country’s best courses from California to Virginia. He enjoys dining at Washington’s fine restaurants, often in the company of lobbyists.” USA Today: “In the past five years, special interests have paid for 31 out of 36 of Boehner’s domestic and international trips. The average cost of those trips was $4,000.”
The corrupting cycle of corporate payoff continues in the highest levels of American government.
PAT WILLIAMS served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at The University of Montana where he also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.