Since 1976, when the Supreme Court first articulated an equivalence between political donations and constitutionally protected free speech, we have seen the growth of a corporate state in which those who have the most money to throw at politicians find that their speech is more highly valued than the speech of those of us with less money. Consequently, the biggest congressional funders, namely the corporations,  are able to protect their interests at the expense of everyone else.

Nowhere is this discrepancy in influence more evident than in the current debate over health care reform. One of the most illuminating examples of the bias inherent in the system was illustrated in an NPR report yesterday which looked at the big bucks raked in by Max Baucus of Montana who is the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, making him one of the most important players in shaping the reform process. According to NPR:

When Baucus ran for his sixth term last year, his campaign raised $11.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Nearly half of the funds came from out-of-state donors, including millions from health care and other industries overseen by Finance and Baucus’ other committees.

Just 13 percent of Baucus’ re-election funds came from Montana donors.

Guess what?  A big chunk of that money comes from the health sector.  According to the Sunlight Foundation:

The overall health and insurance sectors haven’t just been kind to Baucus’ staffers, but they’ve also aided his campaigns handsomely over the years, especially in his barely contested 2008 reelection campaign. In 2008, Baucus received $1,148,775 from the health sector and $285,850 from the insurance sector. For his career he has received $2,797,381 from the health sector and $1,170,313 from the insurance sector.

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) does the numbers and finds that Baucus makes more off the health sector than all but three other congress people–including members of both the House and the Senate.  

So what do we have here?  An individual with enormous power to affect the health-care reform process is completely in hock to the industries that stand to lose the most if such health care reform is realized.

And what happens?  It is becoming increasingly difficult not to conclude that Baucus is giving value for value received.  Just today, there are reports that fellow Democrats on the Finance Committee are beginning to grumble that Baucus may be trying to throw a monkey wrench into the process:

Also troubling Democrats: the growing realization among some that Baucus may simply be trying to run out the clock.

I shouldn’t, however,  give the impression that Baucus is the only offender.  Health sector money has been raining on Congress for a long time.  The same CRP report that shows how much Baucus has pulled in, also shows how big the haul has been for the entire congress..  But, it is still telling that, along with Baucus, the Blue-Dog Coalition, Baucus’ fellow Democratic health-care obstructionists, have been experiencing a windfall from the health industry lobbyists.

But don’t worry.  None of this is conflict of interest.  Its just freedom of speech, and you (and our politicians) can take that to the bank.