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I wrote this one for AFSC’s “Acting in Faith” blog.

Next time you hear the National Rifle Association referred to as a “gun owners” group, ask yourself if the news would have a different impact if the NRA were called a “gun sellers” group.  Or next time you read a story in which the NRA is called a “gun rights” group or “second amendment defenders,” consider what the impact would be if it were labeled a “lobby for firearms manufacturers.”  The fact that makers and peddlers of firearms are big dollar supporters of the NRA ought to be part of the story.

According to the Violence Policy Center’s 2013 report, Blood Money II: How Gun Industry Dollars Fund the NRA, the NRA’s “Corporate Partners Program” generates between $19.3 million and $60.2 million a year for the organization.  Included in the figure, the report says, are eight gun industry ‘corporate partners’ who have donate a million dollars or more a year.

“The NRA’s so-called ‘corporate partners’ in the gun industry are the nation’s top-selling manufacturers of firearms and accessories. One of the companies that has donated a million dollars or more to the NRA is Remington Outdoor Company (formerly Freedom Group), manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle used at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,” according to VPC.

The big donors, in the million-dollar-plus category, are Midway USA, Beretta, Brownells, Freedom Group, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, Springfield Armory, Smith & Wesson, and Strum Ruger.  Several firearm retailers (Cabella’s, Davidson’s, and Greg Martin Auctions) are in the $250,000 to $500,000 range.

“They are our voice” was how Smith & Wesson’s CEO, James Debney, put it in an NRA video. 

“In its early days, the National Rifle Association was a grassroots social club that prided itself on independence from corporate influence,” writes Walter Hickey in Business Insider.  Those days are gone.

“The bulk of the group’s money now comes in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, much of it originating from gun industry sources,” he writes, and adds, “The NRA also made $20.9 million — about 10 percent of its revenue — from selling advertising to industry companies marketing products in its many publications in 2010, according to the IRS Form 990.”

“Some companies donate portions of sales directly to the NRA,” Jarret Murphy reported several years ago on Alternet.  “Crimson Trace, which makes laser sights, donates 10 percent of each sale to the NRA. Taurus buys an NRA membership for everyone who buys one of their guns. Sturm Ruger gives $1 to the NRA for each gun sold, which amounts to millions. The NRA’s revenues are intrinsically linked to the success of the gun business.”

That the NRA’s own website is notably lacking in details about the organization’s finances and governance does make it hard to understand the powerful organization’s inner workings. CNN Money says the organization’s revenue grew to $350 million in the year after the Sandy Hook mass killings, with about half coming from the members.

The NRA still provides marksmanship training and sponsors educational programs, but its reputation is based on its political role, including more than $3 million a year in federal lobbying expenses and nearly $30 million in election-related projects during the last campaign cycle.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “the NRA’s influence is felt not only through campaign contributions, but through millions of dollars in off-the-books spending on issue ads.”   Its lobbying targets include members of Congress, but also the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The Center for Public Integrity puts it this way:  “The power of the gun lobby is rooted in multiple factors, among them the pure passion and single-mindedness of many gun owners, the NRA’s demonstrated ability to motivate its most fervent members to swarm their elected representatives, and the lobby’s ability to get out the vote on election day. But there’s little doubt that money, the political power it represents, and the fear of that power and money, which the NRA deftly exploits, have a lot to do with the group’s ability to repeatedly control the national debate about guns.”

The NRA is perhaps the key place where the culture of fear and the money-drenched political system have their closest correlation.  Fear of crime, which often carries a racial tinge.  Fear of immigrants, likewise.  Fear of government officials taking or outlawing guns.  Stoke those fears, and too many Americans rush to the local or online arms market for more guns and send money to the NRA.  The manufacturers and peddlers of firearms add to the NRA’s cache of cash. The NRA uses its millions to stoke more fear and the cycle goes on.

And that’s what I’m afraid of.

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This was first published yesterday by TruthOut, reprinted by permission.  For more perspective on the undue influence of the military industrial complex, visit Governing Under the Influence.

Wars and persecution have driven the number of refugees to record-breaking highs worldwide, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported in June 2015.

Currently 59.5 million people – nearly 1 percent of the world’s population – are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced. Half of them are children.

This crisis has everyone talking about the proper response, but very few are talking about who is profiting from this tragic situation.

The reality is that wars, including the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, fuel migration and extremism. Wars also fuel arms industry profits, which boost the industry’s capacity to influence public policy and generate more sales. For example, the US Air Force has already fired so many (more than 20,000) missiles and bombs at ISIS positions that it is on the verge of running out, USA Lockheed_Martin_Hellfire_IIToday reported on December 3, 2015. That has to be good news for Lockheed Martin, which makes the Hellfire missile.

Geopolitical tensions are causing nations worldwide to ramp up their defense capabilities, according to the investment research website Zacks.com. “Increasing threats … have pushed up demand for US weapons,” according to a post on the site. “This is in turn benefiting the US defense manufacturers.”

Military-industrial-complex executives have assured the titans of global finance that more war means more markets for their products. Lockheed Martin chief financial officer Bruce Tanner told a Credit Suisse conference that war in the Middle East would give his firm “an intangible lift,” and enhanced demand for F-22s and the new F-35 jets. At the same meeting, The Intercept reported, Oshkosh president Wilson Jones asserted his confidence that a growing ISIS threat will create more demand for the company’s armored vehicles.

Meanwhile, Gulf states are already supplying weapons manufactured in the United States to rebels in Syria, according to the Daily Mail, which quoted an executive from a US-based weapons firm as saying that the war in Syria is “a huge growth area for us.”

It is no coincidence that stock values in such companies as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman all rose steeply the day after the Paris attacks, according to The Intercept’s analysis.

International arms sales are trending upward, with the United States holding onto its position as the world leader. “The volume of transfers of major weapons in 2010-14 was 16 percent higher than in 2005-2009,” reports the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. For the United States, arms sales were up 23 percent. “More than any other supplier, the USA delivered major weapons to at least 94 recipients in 2010-14,” SIPRI’s research found. The arms were spread throughout the world, but the Middle East received one-third of US weapons exports.

Arms sold to US allies such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia don’t stay in one place. “[ISIS] fighters are using arms, mainly looted from Iraqi military stocks, which were manufactured and designed in more than two dozen countries, including Russia, China, the USA and EU states,” according to Amnesty International. “The quantity and range of [ISIS] stocks of arms and ammunition ultimately reflect decades of irresponsible arms transfers to Iraq and multiple failures by the US-led occupation administration to manage arms deliveries and stocks securely, as well as endemic corruption in Iraq itself,” Amnesty said in a new report, “Taking Stock: Arming Islamic State.”

Conflict Armament Research, a London-based group which analyzed the ISIS arsenal, found that “the Islamic State’s relatively newly-formed force has had little difficulty tapping into the huge pool of armaments fueling the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, supplied not only by the world’s big powers but also by up-and-coming exporters such as Sudan,” according to a summary from the Center for Public Integrity. One of the ammunition suppliers is a factory in Lake City, Missouri, run by Alliant Techsystems, which spent $1.35 million on lobbyists in 2014.

The cycle goes on. The military-industrial complex uses its lobbying clout and PACWe_Pay_For_M-I-C contributions to win contracts for weapons production. Weapons used overseas drive people from their homes and create more enemies. Enemies capture weapons and turn them against US targets. Desperate migrants seeking safety provoke heightened waves of xenophobia, leading to more violence at home, especially against immigrants. More fear and more violence create more markets for weapons makers. More sales provide more funds to spend on lobbyists, election campaigns and pro-war think tanks.

We can break this cycle by ending wars, welcoming refugees and interrupting the unwarranted influence of those who profit from violence. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had it right 54 years ago when he warned about the “acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together,” Eisenhower emphasized. It is long past time to answer his plea.

Copyright, Truthout.

 

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This article was first published in the Concord Monitor on November 27, 2016.

$1 trillion for nuclear weapons

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress and recently signed by President Obama, includes in its 1,320 pages plans for an entire new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. It’s a big – and expensive – step in the wrong direction.

The NDAA establishes policy and spending guidelines for actual appropriations. It calls explicitly for the United States to redesign our nuclear weapons and “modernize or replace” the submarines, missiles, and bombers designed to deliver them to targets all over the world. The price tag for the whole package is estimated to be in the vicinity of $1 trillion dollars over 3 decades.

How such commitments get made, at a time when our president received the Nobel Peace Prize because he pledged to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, shows that what a previous President, Dwight Eisenhower, called the “military industrial complex” is as powerful as ever.

Take the Long Range Strike Bomber as an example. The Air Force has just awarded a $21 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to build 21 of nuclear-capable plane. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “Lobbyists and officials at Northrop Grumman have spent years greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill to ensure congressional support for the program and for the firm’s central role in it.”

Since 2010, individuals associated with the Virginia-based corporation have contributed $4.6 million to 224 members of Congress who sit on key committees, such as Armed Services and Appropriations. The company has laid out another $85 million for a troop of 100 lobbyists, among them five former members of Congress.

Another program would design and build a new submarine, generally known as the “Ohio-class replacement,” or SSBN(x). The Navy wants 12 of them, at a cost estimated at $100 billion. Each sub will be able to launch 16 missiles, each missile with up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each warhead ranging from 100 kilotons (or nearly 8 times the size of the bomb that demolished Hiroshima) to 475 kilotons (more than 36 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb).

In other words, we are talking about a range of 12,000 to 55,000 Hiroshimas.

Unsure where they would get the money for this nuclear overkill capacity, Navy officials hatched an idea called the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” a budget gimmick which enables the Defense Department to shift money from other accounts into the submarine construction budget. The plan had an ally in a key position to help.

“The Navy’s effort to find non-Navy offsets to pay for its new ballistic missile submarines was thought a hopeless cause when it began last year, Breaking Defense reported. “But with the help of House Armed Services Committee seapower subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA), the Navy has so effectively lobbied Congress that the plan received a strong vote of support earlier this year on the House floor and made it through conference unscathed.” Breaking Defense called the funding mechanism “a naked budget grab at the expense of sister services.”

Congressman Forbes’ district, in southeastern Virginia, sits next to the Norfolk Naval Station, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Huntington Ingalls’ shipyard in Newport News. OpenSecrets.org lists “Miscellaneous Defense” and “Defense Aerospace” as the two business sectors most devoted to his election campaigns. Among Forbes’ most faithful donors over his 13-year Congressional career are shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, as well as Lockheed Martin, which builds the Trident missiles (at a cost of $37 million each). Other Forbes backers include Leidos, Honeywell, Northrup Grumman, and BAE.

In addition to the new bomber and new submarines, the NDAA also includes funds for new missiles and “modernized” nuclear warheads to be built by companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others, all with PACs and teams of lobbyists working hard to win access to the taxpayers’ money.

Eisenhower Warned Us

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” President Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech in 1961. He could not have been more prophetic when he added, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

There is no presidential power more awesome than authority over the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. For the chief executive, there is no responsibility greater than the need to prevent global nuclear holocaust. Yet the topic rarely comes up on the presidential campaign trail.

That can change if voters and reporters pay heed. Candidates for president should be asked how they will make sure the military industrial complex does not have unwarranted influence over our foreign and military policy. As Eisenhower said, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

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This is also posted at Governing under the Influence.

The $604 billion Defense Authorization bill passed by the House of Representatives last week includes $1.4 billion for the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” also known as the funding mechanism for the “Ohio-class Submarine Replacement Program,” also known as a new fleet of submarines carrying enough nuclear warheads to destroy life on the planet.

The fleet of 14 Ohio-class submarines, also known as “Tridents” for the names of the missiles they carry, are slated to be replaced as part of a trillion dollar overhaul of the nation’s nuclear warheads and the ships, missiles, and bombers designed to deliver them to targets.   The 12 new submarines are expected to cost almost $100 billion assuming no major cost overruns. 

12 submarines X 16 missiles X 8 warheads = 1536 total warheads

Each sub will be able to launch 16 missiles, each missile with up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each warhead ranging from 100 kilotons (or nearly 8 times the size of the bomb that demolished Hiroshima) to 475 kilotons (more than 36 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb).  In other words, we are talking about a range of 12,000 to 55,000 Hiroshimas.  There is no conceivable justification for such levels of destruction. 

Except politics.  And money.  But perhaps that is a redundancy.

“The Navy’s effort to find non-Navy offsets to pay for its new ballistic missile submarines was thought a hopeless cause when it began last year. But with the help of House Armed Services Committee seapower subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA), the Navy has so effectively lobbied Congress that the plan received a strong vote of support earlier this year on the House floor and made it through conference unscathed,” reports Breaking Defense.

Congressman Forbes’ district, in southeastern Virginia, sits next to the Norfolk Naval Station, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Huntington Ingalls’ shipyard in Newport News.  OpenSecrets.org lists “Miscellaneous Defense” and “Defense Aerospace” as the two business sectors most devoted to his election campaigns.  Among Forbes’ most faithful donors over his 13-year Congressional career are shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, as well as Lockheed Martin, which builds the Trident missiles (at a cost of $37 million each).  Other Forbes backers include Leidos, Honeywell, Northrup Grumman, and BAE. 

The overall package, which still has to be approved by the Senate and is likely to be vetoed by President Obama, contains $515 billion in regular funding plus another $89 billion for “overseas contingency operations,” a euphemism for wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The NDAA gives explicit endorsement to plans for a massive overhaul of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which in addition to the new fleet of submarines includes a new bomber, new cruise missiles, new land-based missiles, and “modernized” nuclear warheads.  The project is expected to cost about a trillion dollars.  

Also buried in the thousands of pages of policies and budget items is an explicit prohibition on the use of funds to take land-based missiles off hair trigger alert, unless it must be done to comply with the New START Treaty.   

“Except as provided by subsection (b), none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2016 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to reduce, or prepare to reduce, the responsiveness or alert level of the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the United States.”

In other words, it is the “sense of Congress” [emphasis added] that U.S. nuclear missiles should remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to wipe out large swathes of humanity if a hot-headed Commander-in-Chief or perhaps a faulty computer believes we are about to be attacked.

The military spending bill is likely to pass the Senate and be vetoed by President Obama, who apparently objects to the use of the “overseas contingency operations” spending to evade budget caps.  Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said he supports the veto, and accused Congress of trying “to evade responsibility with the so-called OCO gimmick.”  But according to Breaking Defense, an online publication, “when this bill eventually receives his signature later this year or early next year, it will be—for all practical purposes—a near-exact version as to what is now public.”

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I wrote this for the Governing under the Influence project, where it was published on Hiroshima Day.

With the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world learned that humans now had the ability to extinguish life on the planet. Seven decades later, the nuclear threat continues to loom over humanity. And instead of making comprehensive efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the United States and other nuclear power are building up their arsenals.

In fact, the Obama administration is backing a plan to spend upwards of a trillion dollars on new nuclear weapons, some of which are designed for first-strike attacks. But while the use of nuclear weapons would be a disaster for the planet, their production means big bucks for the military-industrial-complex.

Most of trillion dollars would go to the corporations that would produce a new generation of missiles, bombers, and submarines designed to carry nuclear weapons. The “modernization” plan also calls for a new generation of nuclear warheads, to be designed and built in a complex of federal labs whose management has been outsourced by the Department of Energy to the private sector. Those corporations are using their resources – much of which comes from the taxpayers – to support candidates favorable to their business plans and to lobby for policies that will produce more contracts.

The specific components of the nuclear upgrade include

· New land and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs and ICBMs); new bombers; new submarines; and new air-launched cruise missiles

· Re-designed warheads to be mounted on cruise and ballistic missiles and to be launched from aircraft

· New facilities at the DOE-owned by privately-run weapons labs; and

· New command, control, and communications systems.

The list of firms likely to get contracts for nuclear weapons production includes familiar players from the military industrial complex.

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The biggest player is probably Lockheed Martin, the nation’s number one Pentagon contractor and operator of the Sandia Lab. Lockheed employs 82 lobbyists, including at least one former US Senator and two former US Representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of the other Lockheed lobbyists, 70% are former federal employees, what the Center calls “revolvers” in reference to the “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and the lobbying industry. Sometimes the lobbyists cross the line into activities prohibited by federal law.

According to a report by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Lockheed hired a lobbying firm headed by Heather Wilson, a former Congresswoman from New Mexico, where Sandia is located. To secure Sandia’s contracts, Wilson’s firm advised, “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile.” Implementation of the “low profile” plan involved Sandia employees, whose positions were funded by the corporation’s existing federal contracts.

“We recognize that LMC [Lockheed Martin Corporation], as a for-profit entity, has a corporate interest in the future of the Sandia Corporation contract,” the DOE Inspector General stated. “However, the use of Federal funds to advance that interest through actions designed to result in a noncompetitive contract extension was, in our view, prohibited by Sandia Corporation’s contract and Federal law and regulations.”

It’s a classic case of GUI, Governing under the Influence, except in this case it was illegal. In most cases, GUI is fully protected by the law and the US Supreme Court. The ten corporations we see as key players in the nuclear weapons industry reported spending nearly $71 million on lobbying in 2014, and another $24 million on Congressional candidates in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And that’s not the whole list of nuclear weapons producers; Don’t Bank on the Bomb identifies 20 more.

As we remember the hundreds of thousands of people – mostly civilians – who perished in the atomic bombs 70 years ago, and consider what steps we need to take to make sure nuclear weapons are never again used by anyone, let’s also set aside time to discuss the need for nuclear weapons abolition with the candidates for president. Ask them about plans to spend a trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and find out what steps they will take to make sure the military industrial complex is not leading the way to another nuclear holocaust.

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Stamp Stampede, an organization founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, held a rally at the State House in Concord on July 30 to bolster efforts to "stamp money out of politics."  I was one of the speakers.  The following is based on my prepared remarks.  Click here for a video of what I actually said.

Quakers say no one has all the truth and everyone has a piece of the truth, soP7300025

we need to look for truth in unusual places.  It’s interesting that one of the prophets we look to now is Dwight Eisenhower, a 5-star general, who warned about “the acquisition of unwarranted power by the military industrial complex.”

Pentagon contractors invested $27 million in candidates for Congress in the 2012 election cycle.

Just the top ten Pentagon contractors spent $23 Million on politics.  For that they received $202 billion in contracts last year.   Not a bad return on investment.

The Pentagon contractors spend $128 million a year spent on lobbying, conducted in many cases by former members of Congress, former Pentagon officials, former high-level Congressional staff members.  This is what we call the “revolving door.”

They hold job fairs for retiring generals and admirals looking for lucrative careers selling weapons back to their former colleagues. 

 

They sponsor trade groups, such as the Aerospace Industries Association, the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, the Submarine Industrial Base Council, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (the trade group for drone makers), the Shipbuilders Council of America, the Surface Navy Association, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and more.

They sponsor “think tanks.”

They sponsor the media, for example Politico’s “Morning Defense” newsletter, brought to me each day by Northrup Grumman.

They even donate to the pet charitable projects of spouses of members of the Congressional armed service committees.

P7300029This is a classic case of what we call “governing under the influence,” or GUI.

And it’s not just the military industrial complex:

It’s the Wall Street industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industrial complex, and more,

They are all practicing GUI to corrupt the political process and serve private interest at the public’s expense.

If DUI is a hazard to the people on our roads and sidewalks, GUI is a hazard to democracy.

If DUI needs to be approached as a public health problem of great importance, GUI needs to be seen as a political health problem of the greatest importance.

But while DUI is a crime, GUI is entirely legal.  And it’s gotten more legal due to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions which further opened the gates for floods of cash to flow into the political system from billionaires aP7300017nd corporations. 

The rich are getting richer.

The mega-rich are getting mega- richer.

The giga-rich are getting giga-richer.

And it is easy for them to recycle their wealth into the political system to generate policies that generate more wealth for themselves, leading to higher inequality, less democracy.   

Eisenhower said only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing” of industrial might with democracy’s needs.

Article 10 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights says:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.

We say people power can be stronger than corporate power and we say today we have not yet exhausted all other means of redress.  

We are calling on the candidates to tell us what they will do to end the GUI system.

We are asking:

What will they do to make sure the corporations that profit from building weapons of mass destruction are not determining our foreign policy?

What will they do to make sure corporations that own and manage prisons are not running our immigration and corrections policies?

What will they do to make sure our police departments don’t become just another profit center for the military industrial complex?

What will they do to make sure our political system is based on the principle of one person one vote, not the principle of one dollar one vote?

So far we have trained more than 500 people in NH and a couple hundred more in Iowa.  The GUI project is putting the candidates on the spot and documenting their responses.

The GUI system is strong, but not invulnerable.  It has a crack that opens in NH and Iowa.

We have a little over six months to make sure the candidates hear from us.

End GUI.

Stamp money out of politics.

P7300048

Ben Cohen, founder of Stamp Stampede

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I wrote this for the Governing Under the Influence blog.

In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in these days of rising escalating economic inequality, unlimited campaign spending, and a multibillion-dollar lobbying industry mostly devoted to corporate interests, the consent of the governed often seems irrelevant in the corridors of power. 

"Governing under the Influence" or “GUI.”  That’s what we call the interconnected web of campaign spending, lobbying, and revolving doors between Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, think tanks, and the Pentagon that feed private interests at the expense of public good.

Governing under the Influence can be seen at work in how public officials spend our taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at U.S. military spending, for example. Since President Eisenhower coined the phrase, the “military-industrial complex” has grown to include outsourcing of government surveillance, transforming the U.S.-Mexico border into a war zone, converting police into paramilitary forces, and turning over the military’s own core functions to private contractors.  

Lockheed Martin is a prime example of corporate influence on public policy. The corporation is the Pentagon’s top contractor. It spends over $14 million a year on lobbying, and its employee PAC (political action committee) raises another $4 million for campaign contributions. Lockheed’s 71 registered lobbyists include a former US Senator and 2 former US Representatives, one of whom chaired the committee which oversees the DOE’s nuclear weapons budget.

Norman Augustine, the corporation’s former CEO, is now co-chair of a government panel on nuclear weapons that has called for relaxed oversight of weapons labs and more lucrative contracts for private companies, such as Lockheed, that run them.   (See “Nuclear Weapons Complex: Foxes Guard Chickens.”)  The current CEO, Marillyn Hewson, sits on the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to the military and foreign policy elite.    

What does Lockheed Martin get from its investment and connections? More than $25 billion in government contracts every year. Lockheed is the primary contractor on the F-35 fighter plane, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, and it also runs the Sandia nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.  According a report of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, released last November, Lockheed has illegally used funds from nuclear weapons contracts to lobby for more contracts.  (See “Nuclear weapons lab used taxpayer funds to obtain more taxpayer funds” from the Center for Public Integrity for details.)

This may be business as usual in Washington, and sometimes it’s easier to shrug our shoulders and give in to the thinking that this system will never change.

But something is bubbling up in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests for the 2016 presidential nominations will take place. There, the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project is reminding candidates that the interests of the people must come first.

With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, we’ve already trained more than 500 volunteers to “bird dog” candidates about the excessive corporate influence that drives our country toward more wars, more prisons, and more violence. Our team of volunteers is at town halls, fairgrounds, living rooms, TV studios, city sidewalks—anywhere candidates appear—to ensure these issues get the attention they deserve. 

The GUI project isn’t partisan; it’s not about ranking the candidates or telling anyone how they should vote. It’s about shifting the political discourse by exposing forces that steer us in the wrong direction. And we’ve already seen results, drawing out responses from close to 20 candidates and garnering attention from media outlets like the Boston Globe, Fox News, and Huffington Post.

This Fourth of July, join us in declaring independence from corporate rule.  If “just powers” come from the consent of the governed, the GUI project may be just the thing to bring about change.

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