Not only does corporate political money shout, scream, bellow, and bay in our elections, but afterwards it quietly slips into the back rooms of power to talk softly about payback.
Meet Exelon Corporation, America’s biggest electric utility, owner of our country’s largest array of nuclear power plants, and among the largest donors to Barack Obama’s political career. One Exelon board member alone has raised more than $500,000 for Obama and is tight enough with him to get into the occasional presidential basketball game. Also, Obama’s top political operative, David Axelrod, has been an Exelon consultant. Overall, Chicago-based Exelon is so connected that it boasts of being “the president’s utility.”
This is a story of how corporate cash buys long-term relationships that then produce quiet access to the inner chambers of government, resulting in corporate favors. Last year, for example, the EPA was developing a new rule affecting how nuclear plants use water. Exelon executives and lobbyists got extraordinary access to top White House officials — far more meetings and at a higher level than other utilities got, and certainly more attention than environmental groups received. Then in March 2011, just days after Exelon lobbyists met with their Oval Office buddies, the EPA official in charge of drafting the rule was called to the White House and instructed to rewrite major sections to fit Exelon’s needs. Since then, Obama’s regulatory review office has held eight meetings on the proposal, and Exelon was at four of them — again more than any other interest.
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This is not the slam-bam, Jack Abramoff-style of crass money corruption, but a sort of soft political pornography — a subtler, even genteel ethical degeneration. But soft is not better — whether corporate political money shouts or whispers, it still corrupts.
Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.