Over the past month corporate media have focused much of their attention on what they call the “civil war within the Democratic Party,” the internal disagreement about the size and scope of President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion human infrastructure plan. But apart from two U.S. senators and four representatives in the House, Democrats are mostly united in support of the president’s Build Back Better plan.
While polling finds that virtually all measures in the human infrastructure plan are very popular, corporate lobbyists with buckets of campaign cash are doing their best to peel away the critical votes Democrats will need to pass their bill through the reconciliation process that bypasses a GOP filibuster.
Illustrating the point is Arizona’s Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema who campaigned for office in 2018 in support of permitting the government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. But after Sinema accepted more than $500,000 from executives and PACs in the pharmaceutical and health products industries, she is now an opponent of a provision in the infrastructure bill that would lower drug prices. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of the group End Citizens United. Here she discusses the role played by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates of unlimited and unaccountable campaign cash in U.S. politics, impacting virtually all legislative proposals.
TIFFANY MULLER: I think the examples that we’re seeing right now with the policy fights that are happening on Capitol Hill with the Build Back Better agenda and the infrastructure bill are really good ones to take a look at and see how special interests — corporate special interests — have really frankly, captured our congressional system. So let’s pull back for just a minute and look at some overall numbers. Right now, there are more than 4,000 lobbyists working day in and day out on these two bills. Four thousand. That’s more than seven lobbyists for every single member of Congress. And 10 industries have spent more than $700 million this year alone lobbying. And the Chamber of Commerce leads the pack on those, which has spent over $30 million on lobbying to undermine the Build Back Better agenda. And while they had previously been in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, they now have come out against it in an effort to further undermine the Build Back Better agenda.
And this is really all about the fact that they want to continue to make sure that their taxes aren’t going to go up because one of the revenue raisers in the Build Back Better agenda is to actually raise the corporate tax rate. As your listeners may remember, they all got a $2 trillion corporate tax handout in 2017 when the Republicans were in charge in Congress. They want to make sure that that regulations stay low, they don’t want the climate change agenda to go into effect. And so they’ve been one of the top spenders against this and the U.S. Chamber has really utilized money in politics since the Citizens United decision to do all kinds of damage, to hurt American families. Last year, they stalled COVID relief packages for months because they wanted to make sure that businesses couldn’t be held liable for not protecting their employees from getting sick and putting in the proper safeguards.
In 2017, they vowed that they would campaign against any Republican who didn’t vote for the corporate tax handout that I was just talking about. And, of course, we all know that they lobbied hard against the Affordable Care Act and tried for years to get it replaced with a Republican version instead.
And then let’s take one more example. Let’s talk about Pharma right now in the Build Back Better agenda. There is the opportunity to make sure that we finally address the rising cost of prescription drugs in this country, and that we actually are able to bring down those costs for our American families, that we let Medicare one of the largest providers in this country be able to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs. Well, Big Pharma hates this. It would eat into their profit line, even though it would help the American people.
And so they have alone — the pharma lobby has 1,500 lobbyists on Capitol Hill. They’ve spent $85 million right now on lobbying and they’re running ads all over the country to attack Democrats to try to . Them to not vote for this provision. And so you can see how — just in those two examples — how these big corporate special interests flood the system with money with lobbyists, with campaign dollars, with dark money ads on TV, and basically they corrupt the policy-making process so that it no longer is reflective of what’s best for the American people and is rather about who can write the biggest check.
Look, here’s the thing we have to do. We have to break that tie between money and policy outcomes. And the only way we’re going to do that is to begin to end the dominance of Big Money in politics, and to make sure any amount of money that is spent is fully disclosed and transparent.
And what we know right now is there’s only one party trying to do that. The Democrats in Congress have actually stood up to try to do something about changing the system and the anti-corruption and voting rights legislation that would take on that money in politics. What was called the For the People Act, is now called the Freedom to Vote Act, and was voted for by every single Democratic member of the House and every single Democratic member of the Senate, including Sens. Manchin and Sinema.
One of the things we know we need to do is we actually need to not just address these one-off person to person, but we actually have to change the system. Otherwise we’re gonna continue to get outcomes that only help corporate special interests.
SCOTT HARRIS: I wonder if you’d say a bit more about the Freedom to Vote Act the successor to the For the People Act. What do we know about the lobbyists trying to overturn those bills, which includes, as you said, a pushback against dark money in politics here in the country.
TIFFANY MULLER: The Freedom to Vote Act takes on that dark money. And it says if you’re going to spend money in our elections, it has to be fully disclosed and transparent, which is something that you would think we could all agree on. And as a matter of fact, frankly, is something all Americans — whether they’re Republican, Democrats or independents — do agree on. So this should be a no-brainer, but it turns out that groups like the Chamber of Commerce, they’re fighting this bill very hard.
For more information, visit End Citizens United at endcitizensunited.org.