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04 September, 2009

Why the Wars Roll on

Why the Wars Roll on: Ban Campaign Money From Outside the District

As public opinion tips against the US military presence in Afghanistan, and Congress talks about "doubling down," as the pullout from Iraq is accompanied by steadily increasing violence, and talk turns to slowing or halting the pull-out, the question the anti-war public must ask itself is: What now? War funding for Iraq continues despite two consecutive Democratic majorities elected expressly to stop it. Obama's high-stakes 2008 Super Bowl ad blared "Getting Us Out of Iraq," and it worked. He was elected. But the cold hard fact seems to be emerging that, regardless of public opinion, the wars will roll on.

The occasional heroic Congress member or senator will call for a timetable, an exit plan or a halt to war funding, but despite lots of heat generated in the debate, the war bills seem to pass at the end of the day. This is because incumbents' real constituents are no longer the people who live in the district. The real power, the money which pays for television ad blitzes and the all-important donations to the local Little League, comes from far away.

Very few people know that on average 80 percent of their Congress members' and senators' campaign funds come from outside the district, and largely from outside the state. They come from industries like defense, telecommunications and financial services. What do they get for these contributions, even in cases when the Congress member votes against those contributors' positions on certain bills?

The 1976 US Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which equated money with "free speech," affirmed your right to buy your own congressman. But it did not explicitly affirm your right to buy mine. Since that decision, the amount of money in politics has skyrocketed and is at all-time highs. Also at record-breaking highs are the pay-offs, like bailouts for the auto and financial services industries.

The savings and loan bailout of the nineties, at $200 billion, was chump change compared to the $700 billion TARP slush fund of today, which rewards financial services companies for the subprime mortgage fiasco. In searching for an answer to how the $3 trillion Iraq war can drag on despite three years of Democratic majorities in Congress elected to end it, follow the money.

The citizen's watchdog group has found that congressmen who voted for TARP, the "Troubled Assets Relief Program," received nearly 50 percent more in campaign contributions from the financial services industry (an average of about $149,000) than congressmen who voted no. Legislators who voted for the automobile industry bailout in 2009 received an average of 40 percent more in "contributions" from that industry (the less politic call them "bribes") than those who voted against it. And House Energy and Commerce Committee members who voted yes on an amendment in 2009 favored by the forest products industry, to allow heavier cutting of trees, received an average of $25,745 from the forestry and paper products industry. This was ten times as much as was received by each member voting no. This pattern repeats itself over and over.

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