An old joke is that America has the best government that money can buy. Sadly, this joke becomes less and less funny as it becomes more and more true. The undeniable trend is that lobbyists with big bucks are buying politicians, and bidding them to ignore the concerns of most Americans.
The issue of immigration is a perfect example. Two years ago, the notorious “Gang of Eight” senators proposed legislation to increase sharply our already record-breaking level of legal immigration while granting amnesty and a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal aliens. At the time there was no groundswell of public support for these steps, and indeed a great deal of opposition.
So what prompted these eight Senate gangsters (as some called them) to act? Providing a good explanation is a recent article in The Hill by Ian Smith, an investigative associate with the Immigration Reform Law Institute. He notes, “Perhaps no other area is so thoroughly dominated by such a juggernaut of special interests as immigration. From the corporate lobbyists like the Chamber of Commerce … to the religious and ethnic lobbies, it’s little wonder the gap between what the American people want versus what they get on immigration policy is wide enough to drive a truck through.”
Smith cites a report from the Sunlight Foundation to underscore his point. Using data from the Federal Elections Commission, this report reveals that between 2008 and 2012 corporate interests spent $1.5 billion to persuade Congress to support pro-immigration legislation. It appears they were firing this intense barrage of money in preparation for the big legislative assault in 2013, i.e., the Gang of Eight legislation.
They had every reason to expect success because their lavish spending has generally prevented effective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, while maintaining flood-tide levels of legal immigration. This spending, notes Harvard economist George Borjas, is a significant bit of evidence that these interests promote immigration to obtain cheap labor, and profits derived from it. Borjas has produced a great deal of research showing how immigration depresses the wages of workers in the U.S. With regard to corporate lobbying, he asks, “Why would employers tend to go to Washington and expend their resources lobbying for something that doesn’t benefit them?”
It is easy for citizens to become cynical and even embittered by the travesty that special interest money is making of representative government. Some feel like giving up – but they shouldn’t. One good reason is that for all the money spent to pass the Gang of Eight bill, it was unable to purchase victory. Popular outrage and opposition defeated it, even though most commentators claimed at first that it was a done deal. Also, the same thing happened to “certain-to-pass” amnesty legislation in 2006 and 2007.
Representative government is not in a healthy state today, but it is by no means on its death bed. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Americans rose against special-interest government through the Populist, Labor and Progressive movements. It’s time for Americans to recall that history as the 21st century unfolds. If we take action, government of and by the people need not perish from America.
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