Monday, April 09, 2007

The Money Race: Politicians Win, You Lose

Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington
The Money Race: Politicians Win, You Lose

Money money money -- it's the talk of the political world right now. Who raised the most? Who had the most donors? Which party raised more?

The answer to the last one is the Democrats, who crushed the Republicans in fundraising for the first quarter of 2007. But allow me to interrupt the victory parade for a moment to point out that the raising of political money isn't the whole story.

It's what happens afterwards that should get our attention.

A perfect example: the $10 billion dollar giveaway to the oil industry made possible by an omission in the offshore drilling leases agreed to in 1998 and 1999.

The Bush administration's response has been exactly what you would expect: do nothing and let the oil companies keep the money. Inspector General Earl Devaney called the Interior Department's inaction on the mistake "shockingly cavalier."

The Democrats, on the other hand, pledged to fix the oversight as part of their "First 100 Hours" campaign. And, in fact, the House has already passed a bill to that effect.

But over in the Senate, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Diane Feinstein of California have suddenly gone all wobbly, and are leading an effort to water down the bill. Both of them, not coincidentally, are recipients of political donations from -- can you guess? -- oil companies. Bingaman actually gets more oil money than any other Senate Democrat. And here is the quid pro quo he gave to the oil industry:

"The way I would like to proceed," he said, "is to find something that the administration thinks will pass muster."

Really? If what passes muster with the administration is what passes muster with the American people, Bingaman would still be in the minority in the Senate.

Feinstein, meanwhile, has endorsed the version favored by the Bush administration, which is to ask the companies to renegotiate, and, in exchange, extend their current leases without bids.

Does anybody really believe that no-bid contracts for oil companies were what the American people voted for in November? If they wanted a Senate that opened the Treasury to the oil companies and pled helplessness when asked to exercise real oversight, the voters could have left the Republicans in charge.

This story offers us a glimpse into the other side of political money. The media often treat the money race like a contest in which the total raised is the end of the story. But it's only the beginning, and until more light is shone on the paybacks, the real loser will continue to be the American people.

For now we need to turn the searchlight on Senators Bingaman and Feinstein. Otherwise, we'll have to rubberneck at yet another wreck piled up at the intersection of money and influence.