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Monday, January 4, 2010

Adding Injury to Injury

It is well known that lobbyists from the big pharmaceutical companies, the Insurance Companies, the for profit Hospital chains, and any rich stakeholder in the health care business are busy influencing legislators, pouring money into their campaign chests, and making sure that the forthcoming legislation reflects their interests.

Left out of the influential lobbies are the people who are actually paying for them: the ordinary people of America. Every time we buy an over the counter medicine, every time we fill a prescription, every time we pay a hospital bill, a tiny fraction of what we pay is allocated for lobbying by the businesses we patronize. Aggregated over hundreds of millions of transactions, that small fraction becomes the flood of corporate cash that finds itself in legislator's pockets.

Through our purchases, we are buying a health care bill that is flawed.

Just as in some jurisdictions union members have to ask that political contributions be deducted from their wages, as a customer or consumer I would like the right to withhold that fraction of my payment that goes to lobbying. If I had my way I would redirect it to charity.

At least then I would not be contributing to my own distress.

Sent to New York Times

I sent a more detailed letter to the Times later that week

The past six months have, in case we did not know already, demonstrated the malignant influence that corporate lobbying has had on legislation. It is time to call a halt.

Lobbyists are the cancers on the body politic; ordinary people cannot outspend them, but perhaps we can restrict their life blood but cutting the flow of money to them. This money comes from us, every penny of it. Every over-the-counter drug we buy, every prescription we fill, every hospital bill we pay has a fraction of a cent (a micro-cent) allocated by the companies to the lobbyists who have almost destroyed health care reform. Similarly every time we buy a gallon of gasoline we pay for the lobbyists who are impeding climate control. A micro-cent of every banking transaction we engage in goes to lobbyists who are destroying any chance we have of preventing the next big crash through sensible financial regulation. Over millions of people engaging in millions of transaction, the aggregation of these micro-cents turn into a flood of corporate cash that goes to the lobbyist and eventually. Ends up in the legislators' pockets. We pay them to advance their interests rather than ours.

In some jurisdictions, for Unions to raise funds for political purposes each individual member must specify that the money is to go for political purposes, otherwise an equivalent amount is given to charity. I propose that we insist that companies treat our micro-cents the same way.

I suggest an ongoing campaign to starve lobbyists of money. I intend to write to the companies with whom I do business that they divert the micro-cents from my purchases that would go to lobbyists to charity instead. After all, we are major stakeholders in their businesses; we have the upper hand; and we can go elsewhere if they refuse to comply.

Yes it is a quixotic and seemingly hopeless quest, but with the help of others, we can starve the lobbyists.

Remember that in 1971 Dr. Judah Folkman introduced the bizarre idea that cancer tumor growth could be inhibited by reducing the flow of blood to the cancerous tumor. Over the next 36 years he pursued the dream of curing cancer through the restriction of blood flow. He persevered despite skepticism from his colleagues. Finally in 2004 the FDA approved the use of cancer reducing drugs based on his research. So too, if others follow my example, we can starve the lobbyists of their life blood; let us hope it does not take 36 years.

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