February 26, 2010



Lawmakers dance with the devil
by Jim Hightower

If you choose to dance with the devil, never flatter yourself that you're in the lead.

This is a fundamental rule that the Congressional Black Caucus apparently forgot. An important and effective group of lawmakers who're often the principled voice of progressive values in the U.S. House, the CBC has allowed itself to be swept into the ever-tighter embrace of lobbyists for tobacco giants, drug makers, insurance interests and other corporate powers that want legislative favors from the caucus.

To woo the CBC, these corporate devils have put on philanthropic cloaks are striding through a wide-open loophole in congressional ethics rules. While there are strict limits on lobbyists' donations to lawmakers, special-interest money going to nonprofit charities is largely unregulated. Thus, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which exists to provide educational programs for low-income African-Americans, has received more than $53 million in the past few years from the likes of AT&T, Altria, Eli Lilly, Lockheed-Martin, State Farm and Wal-Mart.

So what, sniffs a lobbyist for Lockheed, "Our charitable donations are charitable donations." How diabolically philanthropic of him!

He didn't mention that Lockheed's "charitable donation" bought it a seat on the CBC institute that develops the organization's formal legislative postions or that CBC's institute — Big Surprise! — recently took a specific position to help Lockheed win a big airport contract in Liberia. Now that's charity with a purpose.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the charitable dollars raised by CBC go not to the disadvantaged, but to finance lavish dinners, casino events, golf outings and other extravaganzas where the lobbyists get to schmooze with the lawmakers. And the devil keeps dancing faster and laughing louder.

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Copyright 2010 by Jim Hightower & Associates
Contact Laura Ehrlich (laura@jimhightower.com) for more information.