Despite a disturbing right-wing bias, “Extortion” is an eye-opening disclosure of the ways that money flows in Washington, D.C., as well as how the principles of Democracy are subverted and perverted by members of the “permanent political class.” Because writer Peter Schweizer is a right-wing nut job whose fawning and boot-licking of the putrid memory of Ronald Reagan is thoroughly disgusting, it is a shock to discover a number of excellent ideas in his book, “Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets” (ISBN-10: 0544103343).
We should all be happy whenever someone points out the morally bankrupt actions of the denizens of Washington, D.C., but it would have been better if a more reputable author had produced this book. Still, it is valuable to have an expose of the greedy shenanigans of the “Permanent Political Class” as Schweizer calls the elected officials who are comfortably parked face-down in the money trough.
At this moment in history, our country is reeling from the Supreme Court’s scurrilous “Citizens United” decision that turned political races into an LSD-fueled, steroid-enhanced version of “Dialing for Dollars.” And the immorality of Congress in giving tax breaks to corporations is becoming more widely known. Considering the size of these “gifts,” the information should be on every newscast and every web site: $700,000,000 to Chevron, $600,000,000 to ExxonMobil, $600,000,000 to ConocoPhillips, $300,000,000 to BP, $200,000,000 to Shell, just to name a few of the biggies. (Neither the treachery of the Supreme Court nor the ridiculous corporate giveaways are mentioned in “Extortion” because, well, as was mentioned, the author is a RWNJ.)
Coupled with those disasters is the constant lobbying of legislators and the flow of cash to all members of Congress. Conventional wisdom has it that lobbyist contributions are simply a form of bribery but Schweizer suggests a different view. What if we have it exactly backwards — what if the legislators have found vaguely legal ways of mining a great deal of that money without actually accomplishing much in the way of legislation?
What if the problem is not bribery… but extortion? What if the Permanent Political Class in Washington, made up of individuals from both political parties, is using its coercive public power to not only stay in office but to threaten others and to extract wealth, and in the bargain pick up private benefits for themselves, their friends, and their families?
Schweizer makes the case that “the very conditions that are so maddening for most Americans — gridlock, problems being ignored, hyperpartisanship — are the very conditions that are most lucrative for the Permanent Political Class” (PPC). You might be reminded of a line from the Blake Edwards film, “Operation Petticoat,” in which the scrounger character is overheard saying “In confusion there is profit.” That applies to Washington, D.C. to an overwhelming degree.
By drafting legislation that is befuddling and convoluted, Senators and Representatives put themselves in position to collect campaign and Political Action Committee donations, sometimes from both sides of the issue because no one is sure which way the vote might go. So, corporations that might benefit or suffer from the legislation will begin contributing money. Not to buy votes — of course not! No, it’s just to, well, exert some influence on the outcome — how much influence depends on how big the contribution. (As an aside, the slow nature of Congress also works in favor of the PPC because the longer the time until a vote, the more time there is to be raking in the cash.)
Consider the financial opportunities for Washington politicos when a new bill is proposed:
Democratic lobbyists could be hired by large firms that want to “talk down” the bill’s sponsors from proceeding… Republicans, on the other side, might denounce the bill as a terrible idea that is destructive to the economy, but the threat of its passage is a moneymaking opportunity for them too… John Hofmeister [former president of Shell Oil] calls this practice “legalized corruption where the corrupters (elected members) have assumed the legal authority to set in motion the policies and practices that manipulate the corruptees (vulnerable donors).”
Best of all for the PPC, the legislation doesn’t have to pass because that way it can be re-introduced year after year to start the contribution cash-flow all over again. And even if the legislation does pass, “There is money to be made in creating complex rules and laws that nobody can understand.” Relatives of the Senators and Representatives can then accept extremely lucrative gigs “interpreting” the language of the bill and “consulting” on ways to cope with — or get around — the law. Politicians who lose an election or are termed out can themselves become the consultants or lobbyists.
A lot is handled in a brief manner in the book, such as some nice observations about loopholes and exemptions (pages 124-25), quick discussions of SOPA and PIPA (pages 80-87), and an eyebrow-raising story of how a lobbyist managed to pull off the PAC stunt of collecting fees from corporations on both sides of an issue (pages 90-91).
“Politics in Washington is a lot like professional wrestling,” Schweizer writes. “What seems like vicious combat to the uninitiated is actually choreographed acting… No matter who wins the match, everyone gets paid.”
Agreed. But that’s just one of a few similes in the book. A far larger one is Schweizer’s equating Washington and The Mob. That comparison emerges a few times in the work. Out of 180 pages of text, the association of political money-gathering practices with those of The Mafia occurs overtly on pages 1, 3, 11, 12, 19, 21, 28, 38, 39, 57, 101, 111, 127, 149, 151-55, 170, 175, and probably a few I’ve missed.
“There’s a lexicon for modern political extortion,” Schweizer states. Proposed legislation may be developed as “milker bills” or “juicer bills” or “fetcher bills” because they exist primarily to suck funds from the coffers of firms who will gain or lose as the result of the voting. “The politicians are not necessarily interested in having the bill pass. Often these bills are very narrow in focus and would do little to benefit their constituents.”
There’s also the matter of tax credits and the “tax extender” bills that keep coming up session after session. “Tax extenders cause chaos for companies that constantly need to decide whether certain tax deductions will still be available to them the following year. But for the Permanent Political Class, tax extenders work perfectly.” In other words, something is in the tax code for a certain period of time but Congress has to keep voting to keep it in place or to end it.
Tax extenders are essentially the Washington, D.C., version of the “mob tax”: paying members of Congress to do something that they are supposed to be doing in the first place. Those who wonder why the American tax code is so complex, convoluted, and constantly changing fail to appreciate what a wonderful tool it is for extortion. When you start seeing it as a source of enrichment for the Permanent Political Class, you will realize why we have the tax system we have.
Raising money for one’s own party is a private form of taxation. Consider how members of Congress buy their way onto influential committees:
We want to believe that committee assignments are based on knowledge, expertise, and background. But a member of Congress will end up on a powerful committee like the House Ways and Means Committee or Financial Services Committee only if he or she can raise money. The more powerful their committee assignments, the more money members are expected to extract from the industries they have oversight over or regulate.
Setting aside the awkwardness of “have oversight over,” it is nice to see someone covering these topics.
Schweizer also succinctly explains how members of Congress can make money off their own campaign funds. Basically, you loan money to your campaign but never ask for repayment; instead, you collect a high rate of interest on the loan, sometimes for the next couple of decades. “The FEC doesn’t enforce requirements about interest rates or put caps on how long loans can be kept in place.”
Or how about this: “During the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, eighty-two members of Congress had their family members on the campaign payroll or hired them as ‘consultants.'” There are many examples of this on pages 74-78, including Ron Paul keeping “six different relatives on his campaign payroll, for a total of $304,599.”
There is a handy chart on page 26 that displays the “Donations to Speaker Boehner from AT&T” but for every page exposing the perfidy of members of the treason party there are two that attack Democrats, not to mention a sordid eleven-page hatchet job on Harry Reid and his family. Overall, the book is much fairer than the typical GOP approach to “reporting,” but let’s face it, Schweizer is still quite the douchebag.
There are 36 pages of footnotes but there is a lot of fooling and pretending going on there. For example, when taking a shot at Attorney General Eric Holder on page 147, there is no footnote, making it more of a potshot. Some citations are just made-up crap from disreputable RWNJs — for example, five of the first twelve notes are from something called “Regulation” out of the Cato Institute, a fake think tank funded by the odious Koch brothers. Some of the entries are just silly, like this one: “See Chris Anderson’s LinkedIn profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/chris-anderson/1a/bb5/42a .”
Plus, there are ridiculous entries like this:
“MF Global Bankruptcy: Commodity Customer Coalition,” discussion on LinkedIn (subscription and group membership required), linkedin-com/groupItem?view=&gid=4166821&type=member&item=180381682&trk=group_search_item_list-0-b-cmr&goback=.fps_PBCK_lisa+timmerman_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*2_Y_*1_*1_*1_false_1_R_and right here I must confess that I am giving up on typing because it carries on for another 4-5 lines of this nonsense.
Fine as Far as it Goes
The book concludes with Schweizer recommending seven reforms, which he cleverly numbers from one to five: (1) No campaign contributions while Congress is in session. (2) No contributions or solicitations involving lobbyists or government contractors. (3) Removal of the ability to make money from campaign funds. (4) No “money laundering” operations such as Leadership PACs. (5a) No family members of Congress people may be lobbyists. (5b) Only one topic per each piece of legislation. (5c) Members of Congress should be required to actually read the bills on which they vote.
A lot of great stuff is here. Were it not for the disturbing right-wing bias, this would be an excellent work — in other words, real journalists should be tackling these topics.
More information on the book at publisher’s website: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/Extortion/9780544103344 .
This original review is Copr. © 2013 by John Scott G and originally published on PublishersNewswire.com – all commercial, republication online, and reprint rights reserved. No fee or other consideration was paid to the reviewer, this site or its publisher by any third party for this unbiased article. Editorial illustration based on book jacket created by Christopher L. Simmons. Reproduction or republication in whole or in part without express permission is prohibited except under fair use provisions of international copyright law.