Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Real World Graduation: Question 33

RealWorldGraduation_Question_33   <– PDF

“Lobbying” is the term used when a person or organization spends money and energy to influence legislators, administrations, and courts to adopt policies favorable to the person or organization. It has been estimated that a total of about $3 billion was spent by lobbyists in Washington in 2007, mostly in the course of influencing Congress.  Among the groups that have lobbying activities in Washington are finance, insurance, real estate, medical industry, unions, trade associations (such as construction, firemen, police, miners, plumbers, electricians), industrial associations (such as automotive, tobacco), and the various ethnic, civil rights, and conservation activist groups.  The influence of lobbyists has become so pervasive that often it is lobby groups that actually write the legislation that Congress votes on.  Generally, these legislative initiatives involve a change in tax conditions or status, or changes in the amount and type of regulation.  Congress is supposed to be working in the interests of the people, but most legislation is pushed through due to the activity and influence of lobbyists.   In what ways do lobbyists present a problem for the legislative function?

a) Congress opens itself up for legitimate criticism by accepting money, gifts, favors, and travel from lobbyists.

b) There is considerable risk that corporate interests will gain unfair tax advantages because they wrote the legislation for that purpose

c) There is some risk that insufficient regulations will be enacted due to lobbying influence, because the legislation was written by those who will benefit from the change in regulation.

d) There is some risk that unions will engage in unethical activities because they get favorable treatment under the law, which occurs because they wrote the legislation for that purpose.

e) A combination of a) , b), and c).

(The answer is on p. 2 of the PDF.)

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Real World Graduation: Question 14

RealWorldGraduation_Question_14   <– PDF

Consider the following fictional scenario.

Congressman A received a total of $161,000 from a consortium of oil and gas companies, consisting of $118,000 in direct campaign contributions and $43,000 to his Political Action Committee (PAC). Congressman B received a total of $68,000 from a legal lobbying group that supports expansion of civil lawsuits, consisting of $53,000 in campaign contributions and an additional $15,000 in contributions to his PAC. Congressman C received a total of $258,000 from an environmental lobbying group, consisting of $204,000 in campaign contributions and $54,000 to his PAC, which is another environmental lobbying group.  Congressman D received a total of $380,000 from a group devoted to increased regulation of “conservative talk radio”, consisting of $346,000 in campaign contributions and $34,000 to his PAC. All four of these Congressmen were lawyers before they ran for Congress.

A bill came before Congress which contained the following provisions:

  1. A reduction in natural resources leasing fees, which will save oil and gas companies $24,000,000. This is the outcome desired by Congressman A’s donors.
  2. An increase in the deductibility of rent and expenses for legal offices, which will result in a $138,600,000 savings to lawyers because they will pay less in income taxes. This is the outcome desired by Congressman B’s donors.
  3. An extension of the amount of federal land to be controlled and administered by environmental groups along with a federal grant of $102,700,000 to cover administration, lobbying, education, and other costs. This is the outcome desired by Congressman C’s donors.
  4. A provision in which a portion of the advertising revenue from certain talk radio shows (totaling $47,200,000) is to be turned over to a federal agency to investigate the political ideology and financial condition of talk radio hosts. This is the outcome desired by Congressman D’s donors.

All four of the Congressmen voted for the bill. Which Congressman’s actions constitute the worst examples of bribery?

a) Congressman A, because he seeks to protect the predatory for-profit oil and gas industry, which seeks to pollute the entire earth.

b) Congressman B, because the contributions he received constitutes a conflict of interest (he was a lawyer himself before he ran for Congress).

c) Congressman C, because the amount that was given to the environmental PAC will be devoted to lobbying, part of which will be probably be donated to Congressman C next year.

d) Congressman D, because his donors seek to reduce the free speech rights of conservative talk radio hosts.

e) All of them are equal offenders, because the principle involved, trading favors or creating laws for money, is immoral and illegal, not the exact amounts of money that changed hands.

 

(See answer on p. 2 of the PDF).)

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Senator Harry Reid and Other People’s Taxes

SenHarryReidAndOtherPeoplesTaxes   <  PDF version

During the Presidential campaign of 2012, when former Governor Mitt Romney was running against President Barack “I lied, period” Obama, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), then the Majority Leader of the U. S. Senate, made a speech on the Senate floor 31 Jul 2012 in which he announced, based on confidential sources, that Romney had not paid income taxes for over ten years.  Reid said, “Let him [Romney] prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn’t”.

In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on 30 Mar 2015, Reid was asked about those comments and admitted that he knew they were false when he said it.  Reid’s justification to Bash was, “Romney didn’t win, did he?”

This is known as “good old-fashioned Democratic hardball politics”.  But it is more than the blatant hypocrisy or more evidence of the high level of partisanship or the “anything to win is justified” attitude that is most damaging to political discourse in America.  The most damaging thing to America is that this episode is one more piece of evidence reinforcing the opinion that “all politicians are lying about everything all the time”.  The Republicans have done similar things, although not quite as blatantly. If that’s the kind of America the two main political parties want, by all means they shall have it.  But we the people better not hear any whimpering from politicians or their hacks about the public’s general lack of trust in government; or more accurately, the public’s active level of suspicion and distrust in everything said and done by any elected official.

The politicians and their hacks will have created it, lock, stock, and barrel.  And they will enjoy it.

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On the President’s Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws

PresidentsDutyToFaithfullyExecuteLaws  <– PDF version

President Barack “I lied, period” Obama recently issued an Executive Order that exempted many illegal aliens from deportation if they met certain nebulous requirements.  It is alleged by His Most High Incompetence that this order would affect only about 5 million people, but there is no reason to believe that figure in favor of any higher number.  Many have claimed that Obama’s particular Executive Order is illegal, since, by waiving a part of immigration law, he is failing to faithfully execute the laws per his oath of office as required by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.  So far, 25 states have joined in a lawsuit seeking to have the order overruled, and the next Congress has claimed it will do the same (probably by endorsing and expanding it).

But the real question is: where does a President and his Justice Department toadies get the arrogance to ignore their oaths of office?  That has already been answered by St. George Tucker, an early expositor of the Constitution [1] in a series of essays published in 1803:

Lastly; it is the duty of the president to take care that the laws be faithfully executed; and, in the words of his oath, “to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States.”

The obligation of oaths upon the consciences of ambitious men has always been very slight, as the general history of mankind but too clearly evinces.  Among the Romans, indeed, they were held in great sanctity during the purer ages of the republic, but began to be disregarded as the nation approached to a state of debasement, that fitted them for slavery.  Among Christian princes, they seem only to have been calculated for the worst, instead of the best purposes: monarchs having long exercised, and seeming to claim, not less than the successors of St. Peter, a kind of dispensing power on this subject, in all cases affecting themselves.  A due sense of religion must not only be wanting in such cases, but the moral character of the man must be wholly debased, and corrupted.  Whilst these remain unsullied, in the United States, oaths may operate in support of the constitution they have adopted, but no longer.  After that period an oath of office will serve merely to designate its duties, and not to secure the faithful performance of them; or, to restrain those who are disposed to violate them.

Why does this kind of arrogance prevail?  Because the officers of the government have adopted corruption and immorality as their mode of operation: what matters to them is the political expediency of the moment without regard for what is right, wrong, or important in the long term.  It is not actually a legal matter: no court ruling will affect the basic corruption.  Left unchecked, this level of corruption will eventually cause the republic to degenerate into tyranny.  Montesquieu [2] notes:

When once a republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils, but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil.

We can only hope that the American people will be more discerning at the next presidential election.

[1] St. George Tucker, A View of the Constitution of the United States, Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, p. 282, (1999).  The original was published in 1803.

[2] Charles de Secondat, (Baron de Montesquieu), The Spirit of Laws, Book VIII, chapter 12.

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