Remember the big speech that Donald Trump gave at the frantic height of the 2016 presidential campaign, the one where he revealed to anxious and angry voters in Wisconsin that the core of scheme to Make America Great Again was a plan to let big, powerful corporations take information about what internet sites you visit and sell them to the highest bidder?
But this week's vote in Congress to strip Obama-era internet privacy protections struck a new low in the not-at-all-draining-the-swamp politics have ruled the day since Trump and the ultra-conservative 115th Congress went to work on behalf of their corporate masters this January.
Apparently when Trump promised America that his administration would be dedicated to "the forgotten men and women of this country," he forgot to add that they'd be remembered for the lurid websites they visited -- or maybe for living near once pristine local streams that Big Coal companies are now allowed to pollute, or for their naivety in believing that Trump would take on Wall Street instead of hiring its leaders.
Here's the reality that we're learning almost 10 weeks into our Trumpian dystopia about how this is going to work. Our president is not a detail guy -- which was pretty obvious in watching the health care debacle cash and burn like the Hindenburg. But there is still much that he can delegate: Bannon and Trump's cabinet push banally evil stuff like the travel ban or brutal ICE tactics, while the GOP majority in Congress -- whose support is critical for the president as the Russia scandal unravels -- is following the path of least resistance, which is passing the bills drafted by corporate lobbyists.
And no industry has its hooks in the American body politic deeper than large telecom and cable companies including Philadelphia-based Comcast -- the nation's largest internet service provider, or ISP, with more than half of America's broadband customers.
Comcast spends millions of dollars on both lobbying and on campaign contributions -- from its political-action committees, or PACS, and from its top employees -- to the leaders of both parties. In the most recent election cycle, 2015-16, Comcast spent a whopping $30.01 million on lobbying -- that's 12th among all the various corporations and special interests in Washington -- and was responsible for more than $7 million in donations to politicians. That's according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
How much did they give during the 2016 election cycle to the 266 Republican politicians -- 215 House members, 50 senators, and Trump -- who teamed up to take away internet privacy protections? I did the math (and it took a while!). According to the CRP, Comcast employees and PACs gave them just under $1.5 million -- $1,492,544, to be exact. That doesn't include donations to other causes -- so-called "leadership PACs, or party committees -- that also benefit the 266 non-swamp-drainers inside the Beltway. It also doesn't include the millions more they received in past election cycles.
The company stands to make many millions more than that selling your browsing history to advertisers, etc. I believe that's called ROI -- or Return on Investment, if I'm not mistaken.
Local politicians who voted for this monstrosity of a bill made out very well for themselves. Rep. Pat Meehan, whose district sprawls across Philadelphia's western suburbs and exurbs like a wounded butterfly, received $33,600 in Comcast-related donations for his 2016 re-election, and the only House Republican who got more was powerful House Speaker Paul Ryan ($46,301). In the other chamber, Sen. Pat Toomey may be hard to find for his constituents but Comcast knows where to deliver the checks, with $33,200, the second most for GOP senators behind Missouri's Roy Blount.
Other local congressmen who have a 2018 political target on their backs because they represent districts won by Hillary Clinton in last November's presidential election also sucked at the giant cable teat -- including the Philadelphia region's Ryan Costello ($17,200) and Brian Fitzpatrick ($11,700). And remember, Comcast is only one of the telecom giants with an interest in this bill; you can follow all of their money here.
The bottom line is that the president signed a bill into law this afternoon that has the backing of somewhere on the order of zero percent of the American public. Indeed, support for internet privacy is one of the few things left that unite liberals, conservatives, centrists, Trotskyites, practitioners of Zoroastrianism...you name it. Even commenters on Breitbart News, the pro-Trump website recently controlled by top aide Steve Bannon, are enraged.
It just goes to show that in our current American kleptocracy, a fistful of dollars can so easily overcome the will of our distracted people. How many voters were clamoring for making it easier for coal companies to pollute streams or for oil companies to bribe foreign governments, which were the first two laws passed by this Congress and signed by Trump?
And while we're fighting over the big stuff like Obamacare, distracted (and understandably so) by the bombshells about Team Trump's ties to Russia, and chortling over Trump's 35 percent approval rating, Republicans are still using executive orders and small-bore legislation to make America safe for polluters and corporate hegemony. And the damage is going to take years to undo, even if 2018 is a "wave" election for Democrats.
It's a reminder of how important it is to at least try to block the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch, who has a record of supporting few if any checks on corporate power, and is unlikely to overturn or undermine the Citizens United ruling that allowed for the flood of big money into our elections. The last thing this country needs is for our politics to get even more Comcastic in the decades to come.