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3rd October 2011

How much does it cost to buy a US politican’s soul? $2 billion, apparently

The age of multi-billion dollar presidential campaigns has bred a generation of US politicians who are increasingly beholden to wealthy donors

It has long been known that money has played a highly influential role in politics, and nowhere more so than in the United States.

The current Republican presidential candidates have at times spouted some frankly terrifying statements (should we really abolish social security, Mr Perry?) but, as is often the case in politics, there have sometimes been ulterior motives at work. Specifically, the candidates’ strong views are often enunciated primarily to boost their appeal amongst wealthy GOP donors. Rick Perry, the swaggering former Governor of Texas – a place where the concept of ‘pay-to-play’ in politics is commonly understood – provides a perfect example of the role of dirty money in misdeeds which seem to have occurred purely to satisfy those who bankroll his campaign.

Perry has long been a vociferous opponent of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), describing it as “cemetery for jobs.” For a period, Texas violated the US Clean Air Act by allowing industrial plants to cap pollution at the whole plant, rather than at individual smokestacks as recommended. His vehement criticism of environmental regulation might seem reasonable given the high proportion of Texan jobs in environmentally hazardous industries, such as oil refineries. Indeed, Perry is an outspoken climate change sceptic, describing scientific analysis of climate change as “a contrived phony mess.” But we must surely question Perry’s principal motive for such fierce opposition when we learn that the oil and gas industry has so far contributed over $11 million to his various electoral campaigns.

This already unimpressive environmental record gets worse, not better. In the early 2000s, Perry imported enormous quantities of nuclear waste from 38 other states, despite the serious hazards such material brings. Could this decision have been taken because Perry’s second biggest all-time private donor ran a nuclear waste dump in Texas – and received revenue of over $2 billion as a result of the decision?

To pacify his most generous individual donor, Perry led strong-armed efforts to prevent certain species from being listed as endangered through suburban development – a tremendously lucrative move for the donor’s home building business. Meanwhile, in 2007 Perry passed an executive order that made the controversial cervical cancer vaccine HPV mandatory in the state of Texas. Previously, Texan pharmaceutical giant Merck had donated $380,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association, and at the time employed Perry’s former chief of staff as its’ chief lobbyist.

It’s a shocking insight into the murky world of campaign funding in the United States, begging the question of whether or not unlimited spending on electoral campaigns is actually beneficial. In an age of multi-billion dollar presidential campaigns, it seems increasingly likely that we will be hearing our political leaders’ views doctored by campaign funds.

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