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Conflict of interest: Contractors and their political spending

Robert Reich

Tess Vigeland: President Obama met with Congressional Republicans at the White House today. The agenda: coming to an agreement on the government's ability to borrow. Yes, the debt ceiling. The big sticking point, of course, is whether spending cuts will be attached to that legislation.

But commentator Robert Reich wants another policy topic front and center. And he says, it too, has a lot to do with your taxpayer dollars.


Robert Reich: President Obama is mulling an executive order requiring that big government contractors disclose their political spending. He should stop their political spending altogether.

Take Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest contractor. The company has received nearly $20 billion in federal contracts so far this year. It's already spent more than $4 million lobbying Congress.

Lockheed has also been spending more than $3 million a year on political contributions to members of Congress that vote its way. And an undisclosed amount to the Aerospace Industries Association to lobby for a bigger Defense budget.

But wait a minute. You and I and other taxpayers are Lockheed's biggest customer. As such, we are financing this political activity. It's one of the most insidious conflicts of interest in American politics.

And Lockheed is hardly unique. The 10 biggest government contractors are all defense contractors. Every one of them gets most of its revenues from the federal government. And everyone uses a portion of that money to lobby for even more Defense contracts.

That's one reason the Defense procurement budget keeps growing like topsy. Next year's expected drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq was supposed to save money. But Lockheed and other giant defense contractors have made sure all anticipated savings will go to new weapons systems.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United -- extending First Amendment rights to corporations -- there's no limit on what Lockheed and other defense contractors can spend on politics.

This is nonsense. It's our money.

Over a half century ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the dangers of an unbridled military-industrial complex, as he called it. It's now a military-industrial-congressional complex. And after Citizens United, it's more unbridled than ever.

The president should issue his executive order requiring government contractors disclose their political contributions. But he should go further and ban political activities by all corporations getting more than half their revenues from the federal government.


Vigeland: Robert Reich served as secretary of labor under President Clinton. His most recent book is called Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. Next week, David Frum. Send us your comments -- click on the contact link.

About the author

Robert Reich is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.
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I little thought experiment, instead of Aerospace Industries Association, change it to the American Federation of Teachers. Both are special interest groups comprised of people on the public payroll. Would Mr. Reich write the same op-ed calling for the teacher's union to be dis-allowed free speech? There is a very old phrase that is apt in this context, "If it is good for the goose, it is good for the gander."

Bob, the facts are that we still live in the "Land of Opportunity" but our government is still chimpanzee class.

America's academics who were supposed to lead us up the path of evolution have failed to evolve themselves so it is no wonder that our political chimpanzees are screeching and biting each others butts in the congressional zoo.

Republicans are the cancer of American Democracy turning congress into a bedpan.

Meanwhile republican presidential candidates look like a scene from "Night of the Living Dead" with the zombie candidates staggering toward Washington.

If the Hon. Mr. Reich were in my economics class, I would have four assignements for him:
1) What does he think the government should pay for? (We already know this if you listen to his op-eds)
2) What does the Constitution say that the Federal Government should pay for?
3) What does the Fed guber'mint pay for that has direct and indirect correlation to the Constitutional mandates?
4) Reconcile question #1 with question #2. Show me what he wants to pay is in the constitution.

I am not a big fan of the Military Industrial Complex useing their profits to lobby congress. However the Constituion says provide for the common defense, raise and support and Army, build and maintain a Navy. Lobbying is one way that I see that tax dollars are spent were they are supposed to be, and not on social programs promoted by ivory tower professors.

Robert Reich, once number 11 on the list of presidential succession? After hearing his rant on Marketplace, I am embarrassed for him for saying it and NPR for airing it.

Legal entities, the very ones created by legislators and affirmed by the courts, seem to have caused Mr Reich to give us a view as to how presidential power should be exercised.

That is to ignore the Congress, and the Courts, and merely rule by Presidential Fiat. It is reassuring to note that once a good or service has been paid for and a value received, what the hell, it is still your money even after it is spent; and if all you've spent adds up to half the company's business, you get control of the other half for free!

I am certain President Eisenhower would enjoy knowing that his cautionary tale about the Military Industrial Complex has been transmogrified into a sophistry about launching into a full assault on the separation of powers, and a justification for rule by Presidential decree. It is clear that there is no Government monstrous enough to suit the likes of Robert Reich, even one with the physical prowess of millions of left arms; but no matter the size, it must at minimum be guided by the left wing of a loon to begin to satisfy Mr. Reich.

I can't wait to hear what Mr. Reich might say about a President Palin exercising those same techniques for ridding the nation of things conservatives are want to have changed, but cannot make a cogent enough argument to persuade the other two thirds of the Government to act on. What kind of calculus would Mr Reich resort to that would explain the stoichiometry of his specious arguments? It doesn't matter really. As far as I know there is no technique or mathematical formula that exists to translate the sound of a squealing pig into otherwise meaningful numbers or letters.

This isn't quite up to NPR's usual standards of outrageous comedy of course. Nothing to date tops NPR's revelation about Juan Williams. Without NPR's help I would have never realized the Mr. Williams was a sheet wearing racist, and only appeared black because, just like the Blazing Saddles' Sherriff, played by the late great Cleavon Little, Mr Williams never cleaned up properly after a cross burning; or was it being on Fox News? In any case Mr. Little's character as Sheriff said it best about NPR in general. "And they are so *dumb*!"

Keep it up! Guys (and Gals) at NPR generally, and yes even on Marketplace, always keep me in stitches!

I don't much respect any corrupting influences on governing, but it's particularly egregious for a corporation, which is sworn above all to maximize profit. I'd like to see us outlaw ALL political contributions and restrict the entire election process by statute to a few weeks, publicly funded. Oh, but that's European, and therefore heathen weirdness. Americans just don't do that, regardless of the benefit.
I'd like to see almost any reform that would run some shills and demagogues out of office, and replace them with persons of a bit more integrity. Rather in the mold of John Adams, perhaps?

I couldn't agree with Robert Reich more, but I wouldn't stop at 50% or with government contractors. Why should any fictitious entity existing by privilege of the state be allowed to have any say in our politics whatsoever? Or, for that matter, on any topic or issue in our society?

Right On Robert!

Indeed, Ike just keeps being proven righter and righter all along, warning us loudly and clearly in his 1961 Farewell Address, and the saddest consequence is that both politicians and intellectuals have marginalized even Ike ever since. Ike was America's last great president and leader that no one has come close to equaling since, truly having the same genius that our Founding Fathers had.

The tragic consequence of our overwhelming cultural failures is that our institutional leaders today are ignoring climate changes at our increasing peril because they are making too much money being greedy with hardly any effort at all because Washington is indentured to serving their special interest masters that you keep documenting.

We need a new culture of leadership with the same genius as America's Founding Fathers, but it looks like the new culture has got to be women because we men have failed more than any group in history to take advantage of the Golden Age legacy passed on by sacrifices of WWII heroes and patriots.

Thus we need an new Declaration of Independence v.21C,, this time to force all of our institutions to adapt the new imperative for life by protecting the environment for all future generations, especially from the failures in leadership you have been documenting.

Vote For Women Leaders In All Institutions, or males shall destroy humanity in this century the way things are going so far.

The cry to limit public employee's bargaining and political activity is not new, remember Wisconsin, Indiana, and New Jersey. What Sec Reich proposes is limiting the playing field for government contractors, too. Will the Independence Institute and Club for Growth be consistent and honest and follow Reich's call to action?

ROBERT REICH: President Obama is mulling an executive order requiring that public sector unions disclose their political spending. He should stop their political spending altogether. Take AFSME, the nation's largest public sector union. The union has received nearly $xxx billion in federal and state payroll checks so far this year. It's already spent more than $87.5 million lobbying Congress. AFSME has also been spending more than $20 million a year on political contributions to members of Congress that vote its way. But wait a minute. You and I and other taxpayers are AFSME�s biggest funder. As such, we are financing this political activity. It's one of the most insidious conflicts of interest in American politics. And AFSME is hardly unique, but is one of several strong public sector unions. Every one of them gets most 100% of its revenues from the federal government. And everyone uses a portion of that money to lobby for even more salary and benefits. That's one reason the public budget keeps growing like topsy. Next year's expected drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq was supposed to save money. But AFSME and other giant public sector unions have made sure all anticipated savings will go to new pension plans and health benefit for its members. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United -- extending First Amendment rights to unions -- there's no limit on what AFSME and other public sector unions can spend on politics. This is nonsense. It's our money. The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don�t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. F.D.R. considered this �unthinkable and intolerable.� The president should issue his executive order requiring government unions to disclose their political contributions. But he should go further and ban political activities by all public sector unions getting more than half their revenues from the federal government.

Interesting idea. I might even support it. But I wonder would Mr. Reich support a ban on political contributions from unions whose members get more than half their salaries from government. It seems the same reasoning would apply.

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