Capital can compromise public policy

Private enterprise often hurts us when it’s in our democracy

Riley Gombis, Opinion Editor

For as long as I have followed national politics, the conflicts between the spheres of public policy and private enterprise have dominated the peripheries of the news I consume.


On Oct. 3, Garance Burke and Martha Mendoza, both writers for the Associated Press, reported on a story concerning the detainment of undocumented minors entitled “Private sector seeks to profit by detaining migrant kids.” 


While the maltreatment of not only minors, but immigrants as a whole, reflects poorly on the current administration, it brought to mind the ways in which private interests influence public policy through financial means. 


While I agree that entrepreneurs should be rewarded for ingenuity, there must be a point where we consider providing utilities and services for the public good. We need to have a serious national conversation about corporate influence in our lives. 


It’s difficult to ignore the widespread nature of private lobbies and corporate interests when observing politics. Companies we see on television commercials every day such as USAA, Aflac and T-Mobile contribute hundreds of millions of dollars every year to various members of Congress on both sides of the aisle with the intention of influencing policy aimed at their respective economies to benefit themselves. 


In the modern history of the United States, anyone who has kept tabs on American institutions knows how frequently capitalism has overridden the interests of the public in favor of profit. The private healthcare industry is one of the key players in enacting economic violence on Americans trying to fulfill health-related needs.


Progressives have called for national health care measures since the beginning of the 20th century. Since the 1960s, conservatives have drawn on the claim that “socialized medicine,” harkening to Communist regimes, is a threat to the free market. However, due to private lobbies backed by health insurance providers pushing these narratives, it has been harder than ever to create bipartisan legislation aimed at making health care more affordable. 


Lobbies certainly don’t stop at health insurance. Over the past few decades, conversation over the federal incarceration economy has grown to become a national electoral issue. Companies like the Corrections Corporation of America and Comprehensive Health Services Inc. seek to profit from government funding within the sphere of incarceration. 


Five years ago, private prisons and incarceration services grew to become a 4.8 billion dollar industry. 


The rift between public and private interests has affected consumers as well. Last year in 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), headed by former Verizon executive Ajit Pai, successfully lobbied Congress to kill “net neutrality,” a requirement that internet service providers (ISPs)  treat all data equally. By gutting this rule, the FCC ultimately degraded the democratic spirit of the internet and limited access to Americans as a whole.


Clear conflicts of interest were noted, such as Pai’s obvious association with one of the biggest ISPs in the country, as well as massive lobbying efforts on the part of Comcast and T-Mobile — among other corporations. In the end, the whole political debacle ended up costing consumers and the public as a whole; with telecom corporations able to charge consumers more for basic services, the average American’s communication is ultimately hindered.


Just last year, the healthcare insurance industry spent north of $158 million lobbying in the House and Senate, all to sway votes for favorable economic policy. When net neutrality was a hot button issue, Comcast alone spent over $15 million, with the telecom industry total coming close to $100 million. 


Corporate lobbies in our state and federal legislatures are hurting the way that we interact with our government and it shows through this repeated abuse of economic power. It’s hard for average Americans to gain the kind of representation these industries do due to the sheer financial force of these industries.


Although there’s a world of a difference between being the CEO of a telecom company and owning a privately owned prison, the fact is that there are powerful people and groups profiting not only off of the benefits that lobbying gives them through policy, but also the political gridlock that follows.


I and millions of other Americans want to see practical legislation aimed at breaking the bond between private enterprise and our political system. The more opportunities that private interests have at influencing public policy, the less motivation the representatives in government will have in delivering solid reform. This means eradicating, or at least limiting, the presence of lobbies in government as well as enforcing more oversight on what companies are contracted by the government. 


The more accountability the government has to the American people as a public institution, the more our democracy will flourish.