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(DV) Sullivan: The Congressional Millionaires Club







The Congressional Millionaires Club
by Charles Sullivan
November 21, 2005

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There is little reason for anyone to be confused by the events leading up to the unraveling of America. All one has to do is ignore the rhetoric and simply follow the money to reveal the hidden mechanisms that are operating the American government.

In what can realistically only be described as a form of legalized bribery, it is well known that wealth buys access to power. In a nutshell: those with money have access to power that those without money do not. In a society divided by socioeconomic class, the result is that the average American working family has little representation in government. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (November 2004), the mean annual income across all occupations in the United States is $37,440. Contrast this figure with the income of the people elected to serve in Congress. There are 435 members in the House of Representatives. Of that number 123 had at least $1 million incomes. As bad as this is, the disparity in the Senate is far greater.

Here’s an example. Republican Senate Majority leader Bill Frist recently reported an income of $45 million. Ironically, Frist’s counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, was among the least wealthy elected officials.

Congressional wealth, however, is bipartisan. In 2002, 43% of incoming freshmen had annual incomes of at least $1 million. By contrast, only one percent of the public has incomes of $1 million or more. On the Democratic side of the isle are names including Kennedy and Rockefeller, whose ill-gotten fortunes boggle the mind of ordinary working people.

The income chasm between members of Congress and that of ordinary Americans is a primary reason why so many working class people have dropped out of the political process. They know that the ‘appearance’ of choice in political races is little more than an illusion of choice. So vast are the sums of money needed to run a major political campaign today that only the wealthiest people can afford to run. This leaves 99% percent of the population out in the cold. The situation underscores why we need to get the special interest money out of politics. The playing field can be leveled and integrity restored to the process through publicly financed campaigns. By publicly funding political campaigns all of the candidates would have equal funding. The wealthy would have no special advantage. Working class Americans could reenter the political process and have a real chance of winning elections and thus gaining representation.

The result of having too many wealthy people in office is having calamitous impacts on America’s working class families -- the backbone of our society. It has resulted in the breakdown of the family unit. Wealthy people are likely to look out for their own financial interests rather than the welfare of society, especially the poor. This form of government excludes the vast majority of the citizenry from the process and leaves them utterly without representation. It leaves them alone and vulnerable to predation by the rich.  

Owing to the huge sums of money needed to run viable political campaigns, the wealthy are heavily recruited to run for office. The wealthy can afford to self finance their campaigns -- the poor cannot. Thus they enjoy enormous advantages over those without money.

The influence of corporate money in politics has made a mockery of the whole political process. The result is that we have big business regulating itself -- to the detriment of public health. To call this form of corporatism democracy is beyond absurd. It is a slap in the face of working class people and an assault upon their dignity. Industry has placed its own in the highest offices of every governmental regulatory agency. Thus it writes the legislation that it is supposed to follow -- and to hell with concerns about fairness and public safety. It is the bottom line that owns the day; and it is working class people and the poor who incur the cost. Foxes left to guard the hen house are bad news for the hens.

Funded by huge contributions from the banking industry, Congress recently passed legislation that makes it extremely difficult for private citizens to declare bankruptcy -- to make a new beginning. This is happening even while the world’s largest and wealthiest corporations continue to receive massive public subsides, while reaping obscene profits. Corporations like Wal-Mart are being subsidized by the public dollar, while Wal-Mart employees cannot earn a living wage and have few or unaffordable health benefits.

Multinational corporations are receiving massive corporate welfare to subsidize their enormous profits, while working families are being forced onto public assistance -- public assistance whose funds are being drained by massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate welfare. This is a gross injustice exacted upon working class families who are being preyed upon by corporate America, and the millionaires club serving the corporate interest in Congress. Political corruption and unadulterated greed is tearing the social fabric of American society asunder and making a mockery of representative government.

Of the national treasury collected through taxes, only 10% come from corporations. Some of the wealthiest corporations pay no taxes at all. View this against the backdrop of record-breaking profits being raked in by the oil companies. Exxon-Mobil, the largest oil company in the world, had after tax profits last year that increased 52% over its profits from the previous year. Chevron-Texaco realized an increase in profits of 85% percent in 2004. Shell Oil’s profits increased 48%. Under this fraudulent system of non-representative government, the fat cats are making out just fine, while working families are barely able to scrape by.

A particularly blatant example of how the millionaires in Congress are bleeding the American people is revealed by the severe predatory behavior of the banking and credit card industry. A high proportion of working class families are carrying crippling debt loads. While Congress enacted new bankruptcy laws forcing millions of working class families into debt slavery, the credit card industry has recently doubled the minimum payment requirements to card holders. It little matters to the millionaires serving the banking industry in Congress that these families are already stretched to the limit. What are these people supposed to do? What recourse do they have? The banking industry is draining their life blood and Congress is enabling them.

By now it should be painfully obvious who the majority of the members of Congress serve. Representative government in America, as envisioned by the founding fathers, is dead. Democracy is dead. Welcome to the New World Order!

But as bleak as things are: we are not without hope. Eighty years ago one of organized labor’s shining luminaries, Joe Hill, was executed by a firing squad in Utah. Joe Hill was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW. Hill was a Wobbly. As a member of the working class, I continue to believe that the Wobblies hold the key to justice for working class people. The idea is to form One Big Union -- a global union -- of working class people from all walks of life. Unless we organize as a class on a global scale, the wealthy will bleed us to death. We are already dangerously anemic. We need to grow a revolution and we must do it quickly. Working class people must organize. A good place to begin would be to throw all of the millionaires out of Congress and replace them with people like us.  

Charles Sullivan is a furniture maker, photographer, and freelance writer residing in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at: 

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