Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington, once said money was the mother’s milk of politics. If this is true, based on recent happenings in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, voters are about to see “Big Momma” in action.
Republican candidates, members of Congress and the conservative Supreme Court justices have expressed the belief more than once that corporations are citizens. I’m still having a hard time with this because you can’t put corporations in jail. As of yet, they can’t get married and, in short, do not have the same accountability as living, breathing, human citizens.
Unfortunately, the net result of the Republican effort to humanize corporations is the very real possibility of having our elections purchased by the highest bidder. What’s even worse is that corporations apparently do not have to seek the approval of all of their shareholders before managers spend untold amounts of money on whichever candidate they deem appropriate. That money belongs to their shareholders,.
Super PACs spent more than $10 million on campaign ads in Iowa, which is a state with a smaller population than Harris County, Texas. More than $7 million has already been spent by only two of the candidates in New Hampshire, and similar amounts, if not more, are being spent today in South Carolina. The relationship between money and electability has been so accepted that Rick Perry’s primary reason for staying in the race, after being embarrassed by his showing in the polls, during debates and in the New Hampshire primary, is that he has money he can spend — more than other candidates.
In previous columns, I have pointed out one of the main reasons we citizens in America pay more for our prescription drugs than members of any other country in the world is the billions of dollars and the army of lobbyists at work in Washington, D.C., to assure that money flowing to drug manufacturers remains the same. With the amounts already spent in three of our lesser populated states, I can only imagine what the big corporations, by funding super PACs, are willing to spend in the race for the election of the president of the United States.
The prohibition against corporate money being spent on politics arose many years ago when citizens were concerned about the railroad fortunes being spent to purchase the elections and thwart the will of the people. Since that time, banks and insurance carriers have replaced railroads as the big spenders in our world. If you believe government can’t be bought, simply look around here in Texas. The average cost for a homeowner’s policy throughout the United States is about $700. In all probability, the state that has the same type of coast and associated problems as Texas would be Florida. Florida’s rate, with all of their hurricanes, is $500 less than we pay here in Texas. Our rate is about $1,500 per year for the average home in Texas, as opposed to $1,000 paid by Floridians.
Further evidence of the insurance industry’s ownership of Texas is the dismal record of our Texas Supreme Court. It is 100 percent Republican. In cases where they have a choice between individual rights and big-money interests like insurance carriers, 90 percent of their rulings have favored the insurance industry. In spite of the phony claim that lawyers and frivolous lawsuits have driven up the cost of insurance in Texas, rates continue to skyrocket in Texas, and profits for insurance carriers remain at a level higher than most other states. This is in spite of the fact the Texas Legislature has almost closed the door to individuals who seek recompense for injury or abuse. The most recent example of our legislature turning a deaf ear to consumers was the sorry spectacle of how the issues related to the virtual criminal behavior of those running our state funded hurricane insurance were handled. Instead of following up and punishing those who delayed, chiseled and outright denied valid claims, the legislature chose to make it harder for abused homeowners to collect for their losses so they could rebuild their lives.
If someone in Congress does not propose a national constitutional amendment to be ratified by the states to pronounce that corporations are not citizens and stop the unlimited flow of money, ordinary citizens will be left out in the cold. The phrase “We the people” in our founding documents will continue to have a hollow ring.
Carl Parker has practiced law in Port Arthur since 1958. He is a 1958 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and the Senate in 1976, Parker continued to practice law while writing and sponsoring hundreds of bills that became laws relating to every aspect of life in Texas, including many regarding consumer safety.