I wrote this for the Governing Under the Influence blog.
In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in these days of rising escalating economic inequality, unlimited campaign spending, and a multibillion-dollar lobbying industry mostly devoted to corporate interests, the consent of the governed often seems irrelevant in the corridors of power.
“Governing under the Influence” or “GUI.” That’s what we call the interconnected web of campaign spending, lobbying, and revolving doors between Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, think tanks, and the Pentagon that feed private interests at the expense of public good.
Governing under the Influence can be seen at work in how public officials spend our taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at U.S. military spending, for example. Since President Eisenhower coined the phrase, the “military-industrial complex” has grown to include outsourcing of government surveillance, transforming the U.S.-Mexico border into a war zone, converting police into paramilitary forces, and turning over the military’s own core functions to private contractors.
Lockheed Martin is a prime example of corporate influence on public policy. The corporation is the Pentagon’s top contractor. It spends over $14 million a year on lobbying, and its employee PAC (political action committee) raises another $4 million for campaign contributions. Lockheed’s 71 registered lobbyists include a former US Senator and 2 former US Representatives, one of whom chaired the committee which oversees the DOE’s nuclear weapons budget.
Norman Augustine, the corporation’s former CEO, is now co-chair of a government panel on nuclear weapons that has called for relaxed oversight of weapons labs and more lucrative contracts for private companies, such as Lockheed, that run them. (See “Nuclear Weapons Complex: Foxes Guard Chickens.”) The current CEO, Marillyn Hewson, sits on the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to the military and foreign policy elite.
What does Lockheed Martin get from its investment and connections? More than $25 billion in government contracts every year. Lockheed is the primary contractor on the F-35 fighter plane, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, and it also runs the Sandia nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico. According a report of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, released last November, Lockheed has illegally used funds from nuclear weapons contracts to lobby for more contracts. (See “Nuclear weapons lab used taxpayer funds to obtain more taxpayer funds” from the Center for Public Integrity for details.)
This may be business as usual in Washington, and sometimes it’s easier to shrug our shoulders and give in to the thinking that this system will never change.
But something is bubbling up in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests for the 2016 presidential nominations will take place. There, the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project is reminding candidates that the interests of the people must come first.
With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, we’ve already trained more than 500 volunteers to “bird dog” candidates about the excessive corporate influence that drives our country toward more wars, more prisons, and more violence. Our team of volunteers is at town halls, fairgrounds, living rooms, TV studios, city sidewalks—anywhere candidates appear—to ensure these issues get the attention they deserve.
The GUI project isn’t partisan; it’s not about ranking the candidates or telling anyone how they should vote. It’s about shifting the political discourse by exposing forces that steer us in the wrong direction. And we’ve already seen results, drawing out responses from close to 20 candidates and garnering attention from media outlets like the Boston Globe, Fox News, and Huffington Post.
This Fourth of July, join us in declaring independence from corporate rule. If “just powers” come from the consent of the governed, the GUI project may be just the thing to bring about change.