So the big news continues to be the FIFA scandal: high ranking officials within the organization accused of allegedly taking money to vote for particular host countries and/or give certain companies rights to market and advertise at FIFA sponsored events. It’s long been suspected that corruption was rife within the worldwide soccer organization; good on newly-appointed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for finally doing something about it.
What we might consider, however, is why the same charges aren’t brought against politicians in the United States? In every election, our politicians raise money to fund their campaigns—largely from super rich people and giant corporations—and then turn around and pass laws (or don’t pass laws) that benefit those same, for lack of a better term, clients. And once they get elected, they’re assaulted by a three-plus billion dollar industry of corporate lobbyists, who are again, all too often rewarded with legislation that’s good for them, even if it’s not so good for ordinary Americans. And this doesn’t just happen in the federal government—it happens in every state capitol and major American city too. Make no mistake: in modern America, democracy is for sale.
The examples are endless. In the 2014 election, the Koch brothers spent at least $100 million to support Republican candidates. The new GOP majority they helped elect then turned around and immediately voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a project designed to bring oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the gulf where it can be exported for profit. The Koch’s happen to own 1.1 million acres of those tar sands, making their financial stake in the project substantial.
Or take Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for President. Walker took $1.5 million from John Menard Jr., a hardware store magnate in Wisconsin, then turned around and awarded Menard’s company more than $1.8 million in special tax credits. Indeed, Walker’s record of political favors and shady dealing is impressive, but so far, he’s escaped consequences. Of course, it always helps when you can buy judges.
And while Democrats are less apt to deal dirty than Republicans because of ideological differences (a Democrat who acknowledges the importance of the environment, the interests of ordinary working people, healthcare, and a strong social safety net is simply less likely to find common cause with moneyed interests vs. a Republican who believes in trickle-down economics, less taxation and regulation, and the idea that corporations are people, money is speech, etc.), they are in no way immune to the corrupting force of money. Recently, Robert Menendez (NJ-D) was indicted for “using his Senate office to push the business interests of a friend and donor in exchange for gifts?, according to the Justice Department.” And over the course of his career, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has taken almost $80,000 from Nike and almost $65,000 from Intel, which in no small way explains his support for the TPP, even though the vast majority of Democrats and Americans oppose the trade legislation for a number of very good reasons.
I could go on—that politicians are sometimes tempted into graft and corruption isn’t news to anyone—but why is cheating in sports so unacceptable to our society that the we spend weeks and months talking about slightly deflated footballs, and yet when it comes to politics, people are happy to look the other way, willing to ignore blatant corruption if it means that their “team” (party) will win?
Take the FIFA scandal—it’s dominated the headlines for the past few days and will probably continue to do so until a trial date is set and it’s all sorted out. But we almost never hear about conflicts of interest regarding our politicians and their interactions with lobbyists and campaign donors—certainly not as much as we’ve heard about Tom Brady’s balls—and that’s not just on ESPN and sports talk radio; we’re talking NPR, NBC, CBS, ABC, and all the major cable stations, not to mention newspapers and other print media.
And that, of course, is the root of the problem. There’s no political fallout for the press to worry about when a story comes out regarding an athlete behaving badly, a team cheating, or graft and corruption in a league or athletic organization. But this isn’t true when a politician peddles his office for profit, or takes money from business interests that have an interest in his chairmanship on a certain committee, because the reaction is inherently political, with everyone on the side of the accused cries “foul, bias, lies.” So to avoid blowback, media organizations shy away from spotlighting malfeasance in government in the first place, fearing to lose consumers and advertisers. Like I’ve said in previous posts, if the media actually reported how badly the Republican Party has behaved in Congress during the Obama Presidency, it would reveal a record so disgusting, the press would appear to have a clear bias (though that’s partially their fault for not accurately reporting the news for so long now).
Needless to say, it’s not the job of the media to appear unbiased—it’s their job to actually be unbiased. But if you hadn’t heard, the freedom of the press has been sold; every word, every report, every broadcast, and every pundit—everything the mainstream media does, is done for the almighty dollar.
Oh, and if pandering to viewers, listeners, and readers to make money isn’t enough, there’s the inherent conflict of interest advertising creates, especially political advertising. Because many of the people paying politicians for favors in Washington and your state capitol are the same people advertising on the nightly news, in newspapers and magazines, and online. Think the CBS evening news is going to run a story on how a major advertiser is lobbying Congress for a tax exemption or some other sweetheart deal? Probably not.
Political advertising is even worse. Consider that in the 2016 election cycle, presidential candidates alone are expected to spend over $5 billion dollars. Add to that all of the money all the other candidates will spend running for every office from school board to Senator, and we’re talking tens of billions.
The media gets that money. All of it. Which is why most media coverage of politics is artificially balanced, horserace coverage. The press wants a close race in which candidates and outside groups spend as much money as possible. That’s why we don’t hear journalists confront candidates or political parties about policy failures, like trickle-down economics, because that might tilt the scales too far in one direction or offend a potential client. It’s also why the press treats bad ideas as if they have validity, lies as if they’re plausible, and vacant candidates like Sarah Palin seriously. Again, these are potential clients—if they don’t have a chance to win, they won’t spend money.
And that’s why we don’t hear much about the U.S. politicians that are every bit as corrupt as the accused FIFA officials. That’s why we don’t hear about all the money Wall Street pours into the Republican Party’s coffers. That’s why most Americans don’t know about ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Counsel), a lobbying organization sponsored by business interests that’s active in nearly every state legislature, responsible for enacting some awful laws that would never get passed if representatives were actually looking out for the best interests of their constituents. Because the “news” isn’t about delivering news anymore—it’s about entertaining people and making money.
Beyond, too many Americans view politics as just another sport, rooting for the home team with blind allegiance, every foul or penalty a product of the referee’s bias, every win transcendent, no matter how it had to be won. It’s a willful, stubborn brand of ignorance that is idiotically embraced, in particular, by Republicans. Kansas, you’ve got to be a special kind of stupid to vote for Sam Brownback—enjoying those school shutdowns and budget crises? Don’t worry, Kentucky’s right there with you (cough: Mitch McConnell, the most corrupt, evil liar on the planet)… so’s Wisconsin, Louisiana, New Jersey, Maine—it’s really astounding how bad people want their lives to be on purpose.
But I digress. The takeaway is that the bribery and corruption at FIFA isn’t a revelation. This is how the entire U.S. political system functions. Democracy is for sale. And as a final point, let’s remember this: the Republican Party wants it this way. The five conservative judges on the Supreme Court are responsible for Citizen’s United, and the Republican Party has consistently blocked legislation to address money in politics, most noticeably the DISCLOSE Act, which would simply force tax-exempt political organizations to make public the names of donors who give more than $10,000.
Make no mistake: getting money out of politics is critical, but if we’re ever going to do that, we have to elect Democrats or third-party candidates. Remember, Republicans think that corporations are people, and that money is speech.