By Joseph P. Batory
Published in the Concerned Center City Citizens Review February, 2017
At the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in December (2016), Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig characterized the United States Congress as the most corrupt representative body in all of the Western world. Lessig stressed that the corrupter is MONEY! He contends that members of Congress spend too much time working for the benefit of the 1% of the financially powerful people who have supported their campaigns. The prime focus of these elected leaders is on payback in support of the agendas of their political backers.
Consider for example the nomination by the president of millionaire Betty DeVos for Secretary of Education. An alleged reformer, DeVos had spent millions of dollars to support charter schools in Detroit. But this was hardly some noble achievement. Douglas Harris, writing in the New York Times, says that Betsy DeVos “is partly responsible for what even charter [school] advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” Harris writes: “She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed.”
When interviewed by the Senate vetting committee, DeVos demonstrated appalling ignorance about the programs administered by the Department of Education, about federal laws regulating education, and about public education in general.
Worse yet, the former ethics counsels to Presidents Obama and George W. Bush offered this appraisal: “Seldom have we seen a worse cabinet-level ethics mess than that presented by Betsy DeVos. Her extensive financial holdings present significant—and unresolved—conflict of interest issues. She also failed to provide the Senate with accurate information about her involvement with outside organizations. We have regretfully come to the conclusion that these concerns disqualify DeVos for that cabinet position.”
So how could DeVos possibly have been approved by the Senate for the Secretary Education cabinet position? Consider this: Eleven sitting Republican senators have received a total of $115,000 from Betsy DeVos herself, and more than $950,000 from the full DeVos clan since 1980. In the past two election cycles alone, her family has donated $8.3 million to Republican Party super PACs.
Senator Bernie Sanders in the Senate hearings asked: “Do you think, if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not given millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?”
Ironically, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was dismissed by many as “lunacy.” Yet Sanders is hardly crazy. The United States clearly continues to move more and more toward an oligarchy, a system where all economic and political power is in the hands of a very few.
All of this echoes the following commentary a few years ago by the respected journalist Bill Moyers: The egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is mocked in all but name…The wealthy governing elites in America today—corporate executives, wealthy contributors, and the elected officials who have been bankrolled into office—possess a degree of power and separation befitting a true ruling class…”
At best, many elected officials in Washington have become amoral. At worst, they are immoral betrayers of the very basis of American government because the priorities of corporations, vested interests and the wealthy have replaced integrity, fairness and pursuit of the common good for the nation’s citizens.
Joseph Batory is the author of three books and has been widely published on politics and education.