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William Cannon #24

Summary-Critique Paper
Philip Stern is the author of (Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy). It was
published in 1992 and appears to cater more to a more popular democratic audience.
Stern wrote this in order to bring awareness and start a discussion about corporate
influence in politics. The objective would be to bring change to the issues facing the
current political system in regards to elite domination of the legislature. Chapter eight of
Sterns book is titled Campaign Contribution or Bribe? A Hairlines Difference. His
prevailing statement speaks to the shady nature of companies campaign contributions. He
states that campaign contributions and bribery have more similarities than differences.
Stern provides many factual instances of where it is difficult to discern the difference
between contributions to public representatives and bribery.
First, Stern asserts that it is very hard to distinguish the difference between a bribe
and a contribution from a corporation to a politician. He even argues that it is so difficult
in fact that even politicians have trouble understanding exactly where their actions fall in
terms of influence. He states that many aspects of the campaign contribution system lead
to instances in which representatives and their interactions with wealthy companies come
far too close to bribery. He believes that U.S. election laws allow for activity much too
similar to corruption of political officials. This view is best expressed in his example of
the Oshkosh Truck Company and the House of Armed Services Committee. In this
instance, Oshkosh held a breakfast for the committee and paid the members the
maximum $2000 dollar honorarium. That same day, after the breakfast, the committee
met and voted to make the U.S. military purchase five hundred trucks more than they
wanted to from Oshkosh. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this is that it was all

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technically legal. Wealthy companies, through these meetings and exchanges, easily
acquire favor and influence over politicians. The Oshkosh vice president even stated, It
looks kind of funny, doesnt it? It appears to be a clear case of a corporation influencing
politicians with money in the form of campaign contributions in order to promote their
interests. This sort of legal bribery is vastly detrimental to the political process because it
ensures that the wealthy have much more power over politicians. This power is achieved
through their maximum contributions that ordinary citizens cannot afford in order to
persuade them to promote their interests. The working class does not have the
organizations or funds necessary to buy time with or influence over politicians so
therefore their concerns are not voiced let alone addressed by politicians. Stern implores
the reader to question if it matters whether we call instances such as this example bribery
or not. He wants us to be upset about these actions regardless of their legality.
The example presented by Stern occurred in 1987 may lead some hopeful citizens
to believe that we do not experiences instances like this today because laws have
progressed to oppose such business practices. These people would unfortunately be
wrong. For example, in 2010 Utahs transportation department (UDOT) awarded a billion
dollar contract to a company that was not the top bidder. It was later revealed that said
company was a big contributor to Utah Governor Gary Herberts reelection campaign.
The same company also paid thirteen million dollars to a losing bidder in exchange for
their silence. The end result of a seemingly obvious case of corruption was the
termination of Denice Graham, a mid- level manager in UDOT. Two years after her
termination it was ruled by an administrative judge that her termination was unjustified as
she played no role in the bidding process and as such had no control over the unethical

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actions that unfolded. She eventually got her job back and UDOT is now trying to forget
the incident altogether. The only difference from Sterns 1987 example is that the public
learned of this occurring and reacted. Unfortunately not much came of it and U.S. laws
are still allowing such activity that is not discernable from bribery or inequity.
Stern does not see these instances of political and economic elites trading
favors as a solely financial and representative concern. In his next point he describes how
corporations influencing politicians can lead to loss of life. His example of this is the
Arctic Alaska Company and their influence over Congressman John Miller. Miller, who
was a member of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, received
contributions from Arctic Alaska totaling ten thousand dollars. His campaign also
received three thousand four hundred dollars from Arctics PAC in exchange for his
efforts to promote their interests. This led to Arctic sending Miller a memorandum that he
signed and sent to a Coast Guard admiral expressing his belief that Arctic should be
exempt from a U.S. Coast Guard load line law. The Coast Guard listened and in 1990 one
of Arctics ships sank taking the lives of nine crewmembers. If the ship had been made to
follow the U.S. load line laws the Coast Guard inspection would have prevented the
issues that resulted in the ships sinking. This example illustrates Sterns point that this
type of corporate welfare is not just detrimental to the political process but it can also
take lives.
Millers interaction with Arctic exemplifies the issue of campaign contribution
laws and their leniency in regards to wealthy corporations and their power to have their
voices heard over others. If a wealthy corporation sees profit in removing safety
regulations and they have the means to buy time with politicians that can influence the

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decision of whether or not regulations are applicable then the average employees safety
is what is risked. This allows for a lack of accountability for any company with enough
money to get access to their desired politicians. Many corporations today have much
more than the wealth needed to purchase access to politicians. While the laws may have
changed in order to prevent such blatant examples of corruption, such as restrictions on
gifts and more investigations into conflicts of interest, wealth still speaks volumes in
comparison to the average citizens concerns.
Sterns final assertion is that we need laws and regulations on campaign financing
that prevent the wealthy to have far greater access to politicians than the public. Near the
end of the chapter he questions whether the examples he gave are definitive resemblances
of bribery or not. To this he states that not only do we as citizens lack the ability to say
for certain what previous corporate and political interaction should be considered illegal
because we do not know the exact nature of said interactions, but that politicians do not
know as well because the laws are unclear and corporations do not blatantly state their
motives. Contributors form wealthy corporations will not explicitly briber politicians but
if the politicians know their business, and they give said politicians large sums of money
they are bound to be able to come to their own conclusions. This is problematic because
campaigns, today more than ever, rely on funding from wealthy corporations and
economic elites in order to have a chance of winning through media representation. The
campaign contribution system as a whole makes it much easier for politicians to cater to
their wealthy constituencies in exchange for large sums of money that help them keep
their positions of power. Because of this need to listen to wealthy constituencies

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politicians dont even dare to ask campaign contributors if they are proposing a bribe
when they seem to be doing just that.
This is a fairly valid argument about the problems that come with wealth and its
overplayed role in politics. When politicians can get away with actions far too close to
bribery no one can be sure where the line is supposed to be drawn. The responsibility to
improve regulations on campaign contributions falls on politicians, and if they are
incapable the duty ultimately belongs to citizens to elect representative that will better
promote public interest. As Stern expresses in the last paragraph, politicians must have a
notion as to the interests behind large contributions from a corporation that would be
affected by legislation they are voting on. Politicians should be held accountable by the
laws and in the eyes of the public for their decisions and their rationalizations for them.
In his life Philip Stern was an outspoken advocate in the fight against the status
quo. He founded numerous foundations that encouraged change in government, such as
Citizens Against PACs and the Government Accountability Project. True to his beliefs,
Stern sent a copy of (The Best Congress Money Can Buy) to each member of the House
and Senate in 1988 with one-dollar bills as bookmarkers (SourceWatch). In this book
Stern sought to speak out against the all-too-powerful role corporate welfare plays in
political influence. More specifically, in this chapter Stern describes instances that sound
like legally sanctioned bribery. He discusses the issues brought on by a system that
allows for this to occur and questions where the line between bribery and campaign
contributions falls. The illustration and commentary provided by Stern is a powerful
message for the working class to seek campaign contribution reform and to demand that
their interests are promoted.

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Works Cited
Ethington, Eric. "New UDOT Boss Needs To Erase Memories of Scandal | Utah
Political Capitol." Utah Political Capitol | Utah Political News that Affects You.
Utah Political Capitol, 6 May 2013. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
<http://utahpoliticalcapitol.com/2013/05/06/new-udot-boss-needs-to-erasememories-of-scandal/#>.
"Philip M. Stern." SourceWatch. N.p., 7 Jan. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
<http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Philip_M._Stern>.
Stern, Philip M. Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy. Washington: Regnery
Gateway, 1992. Print.