23-Jan-2012

Law-Making In The Richest Democracy


I quickly learned that our elected officials are not demigods solely focused on the collective good — they’re just people. To inflate them into anything else trivializes their real accomplishments at best, and blinds us from the reality of Congress at worst. Lawmakers may have their own parochial interests or lofty causes, but first and foremost they're always looking for votes. To get votes, they need attention and money -- something that corporate lobbyists can dish out in abundance. The end product of this system is lawmaking that's less about making good public policy and more about appeasing the hands that feed — as a result, powerful corporations with deep pockets gain unparalleled access to members of Congress, and they help set the agenda. That agenda is why bills like SOPA and PIPA gain such traction — they were delivered to Congress in return for money and votes.
You don't even have to dig deep into the history of SOPA and PIPA to find blatant conflicts of interest: According to Politico, Allison Halatei, former Deputy Chief of Staff to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, and Lauren Pastarnack, a Senate Judiciary Committee Senior Aide, just accepted jobs with two of the lobbying firms backing SOPA and PIPA. Halatei and Pastarnack helped write the bills. Halataei is now the National Music Publisher's Association chief liaison to Congress, and Pasternak is now the director of government relations for the MPAA.
It gets worse: Chris Dodd, who served as a senator for thirty years, is now the Chairman and CEO of the MPAA. As a senator, Dodd swore he'd never take money from lobbyists, but he now reaps a $1.5 million base salary and a $100 million lobbying budget. Lobbying is one art form the entertainment industry doesn’t mind investing heavily in: SOPA’s 32 co-sponsors received four times more in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry than from the tech industry. We shouldn’t be surprised that SOPA is as bad as it is; we should be surprised it’s not worse.
No wonder policy/law-making is likened to sausage-making - you really don't want to know how it is done.

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