Pillars of democracy

Dear Editor:There are a several things I found troubling about Thomas A. Schatz's opinion piece in last week's Patriot, in which he scorned the president's executive order requiring political donors to supply a list of prior donations if they want to earn government contracts. ("Transparency Measure is Ripe for Abuse," 7/7/11) They begin with his naivete, or else his misreading of history. In a perfect and just world, as argued by Schatz and cited in the Constitution's design toward "a more perfect union," government contracts should be awarded on merit alone. Who could dispute that? And he's right when he says, "...when the GOP takes the White House again" [a big if] "that administration could turn around and practice the same kind of discrimination against Democrat-friendly contractors." It's already happened with the GOP. It happened when a lobbyist for a major insurance firm wrote insurance legislation in Newt Gingrich's office when Gingrich was House Speaker. It happened when Dick Cheney's Halliburton Corporation (Cheney is former CEO) rushed numerous no-bid contracts into the war in Iraq while Cheney was Vice President. Halliburton has paid millions without a fight in fines for malfeasance and incompetence (does anyone remember the soldier who was electrocuted taking a shower that was too close to a Halliburton rigged electric line?) because the billions it earned makes peanuts of the penalties. These are only two of countless incidents that have circumvented the law and sentenced Majority Leader Tom DeLay to jail. I won't say any more about the highly irregular meeting between Cheney, when he was in office, and execs from companies like Enron, to hammer out a U.S. energy policy--details of which we still don't know, except that they bypassed the democratic process and have squeezed the U.S. economy while earning the oil companies gazillions. Schatz argues that the executive order is a response to the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision, in which people in office or running for office don't have to give the names and affiliations of their deep pocket (as in corporate) donors. This has turned out to be a bad decision in the eyes of many, not only because it's another proof that the court has become more of a political player and less of an independent judiciary, but because it means that politicians don't have to reveal whose payroll they're on beyond the one they're supposed to be on--that of the American people. It's possible, even likely, that knowledge of a donor's activities could save a politician of any stripe a lot of grief if that donor had criminal ties, or at least fishy sources of revenue that could come back to damage or even ruin that politician's reputation. We've seen it happen (does anyone remember President Reagan's wrongfully accused Labor Secretary, Ray Donovan?). What bothers me most about Schatz's piece is his objection to transparency. He calls it discriminatory. I would call it critical to the function of democracy. Since when is accountability a bad idea? Mark Twain once said, "We have the best politicians money can buy," but he wasn't around when the wholesale price of government, including the sale of a politician's soul, was as generous as it is now. Before the U.S economy tanked in 2009, pundits were saying that as long as the system enjoyed consumer confidence, it would pull through. Now that consumer confidence is battered. But the mounting despair isn't just economic. It comes from the growing suspicion that the fix is in, that elected officials are answerable to the moneyed power elite and not the people who put them in office to represent them. If the sovereign people of America are denied knowledge of who paid what to whom in their government, one of the pillars of democracy, trust, begins to crumble. -- Lawrence Christon, Downey

********** Published: July 21, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 14