Gazette editorial: Best government money can buy

The pharmaceutical industry has more Washington lobbyists than Congress has members. Last year, drug-makers averaged $272,000 in campaign donations per Congress member. In return, Congress forbade the government to bargain for lower drug prices for Medicare — which handed a $50 billion yearly gift to pharmaceutical firms. Their investment in Washington string-pulling paid off in spades.

That’s one example of how America is rigged to favor the powerful, to benefit rich corporate executives and owners at the expense of the public.

It’s the theme of a jolting new book, “Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It,” by two top Washington investigators — Wendell Potter of the Center for Public Integrity and Nick Penniman, former publisher of The Washington Monthly (a magazine founded by Charleston native Charlie Peters).

“The marriage of great wealth and intense political influence has rendered our country unable to address our most pressing problems,” a summary says. Legendary Washington reporter Hedrick Smith says the book shows “the nitty-gritty on how billionaires’ campaign contributions and corporate cash have captured both political parties and bought policies for the 1 percent.”

Average Americans sense that the deck is stacked against them. Nearly all rewards go to the tiny privileged elite at the top, while the middle class keeps slipping.

The Institute for Policy Studies found that the 20 richest Americans are worth more than the poorer half of the U.S. population, 160 million people. This supposed land of equality has become a lopsided plutocracy, a nation of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says awareness of the worsening gap is driving both extremes of politics: It’s impelling millions of young people to support socialist-Democrat Bernie Sanders, and also causing Tea Party radicals to reject conventional Washington leaders to support off-the-wall outsider conservatives.

We agree with Kristof’s conclusion:

“The historic question for 2016 is which direction the popular revolt among American voters will ultimately take. A President Trump or President Cruz would build walls and waterboard suspected terrorists; a President Clinton or President Sanders would raise the minimum wage and invest in at-risk children. It seems to me to make more sense to target solutions than scapegoats, but sense is often in short supply in politics.”

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