Lawmakers For Sale

The solar bill before the state legislature has revealed three disgusting truths about how Kentucky laws are made.

1. It takes money to be heard, and the more money you have, the better your views will be represented.

2. Companies and special interests spend millions of dollars on lobbying because it works.

3. A bill has to be really bad — as is the case with the solar bill — if money can’t even buy its passage.

You may be saying “Thank you Mr. Obvious.” But with unusual candor recently, politicians and special interests talked publicly about the obscenities of lobbying around this bill.

A story by Courier Journal reporter Tom Loftus last week on Senate Bill 100 brought these three truths to the forefront. Essentially, the bill would change the way people who generate solar power for their homes and businesses would be paid if they sell extra energy back to utilities. Essentially, it would do away with the one-to-one payment for new generators, opening the payment to negotiations as dictated by a state board.

The bill is bouncing between the House and Senate as lawmakers struggle with public outrage and… well, pressure from monied lobbyists. As Loftus reported, PACs for four major utility companies contributed over $320,000 to politicians in the most recent election cycle, 90 percent of which went to Republicans.

By comparison, only $6,500 was contributed by a pro-solar PAC.

Sure, it is hardly news that corporations spend so much.

The surprising part is their honesty in the CJ story about why they donate so much money to, primarily, Republicans, who control the House and Senate.

“In our current system, contributions are part of the way to help you discuss your issues with the politicians … to help them understand your positions,” said Melissa McHenry, spokeswoman for the Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power. “… It’s a question of communicating with politicians and having access to share our viewpoint.”

What Ms. McHenry is saying is that money is access, a profound admission that corporations buy political access.

So, no money, no access, right?

Richard Beliles, chairman of the watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky, told Loftus that the utilities give money to politicians because, well, it works. “The big, established PACs give because they know it helps. In some situations like this solar bill, there are not many people within the universe of donors on the other side,” he said.

Of course, politicians say the money does not sway their votes.

That is what House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, told Loftus: “I think that generally PACs give to people of like mind. I don’t think it’s about specific legislation … I believe they give because they want people here that support their way of thinking, policies in general — the same reason education groups give to education-minded people.”

Mr. Speaker, why do you think baseball players took steroids? Because they work.

Corporations (and those with the means to pay for “access”) spend thousands of dollars lobbying and supporting politicians because it works. For a business, lobbying funds are purely an investment… an investment on which a return is expected.

And, by the way, the American Electric Power spokesperson is telling you that the money was not donated because the PAC agrees with all of you in the legislature. Rather, it was donated so it could buy your ear.

So, what does it say about SB 100 that it’s still struggling to get through the legislature? It means the four utility companies are so wrong that they can’t even find majority support from a group on this bill — a group that was paid to hear about it.

Sponsor of SB 100, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, claimed that the bill’s difficulties in passing proved that corporate money doesn’t buy votes. “They really didn’t do so well with their money, because the bill didn’t fly out of here like people thought it was going to do,” he told the newspaper.

No, I say it just means the bill is indefensible, even if it is delivered on a $300,000 platter.

Outspending opponents 50 to one, in this case, is the difference between taking legislators “of like mind”on Air Force One to play golf at Mar-a-Lago… and taking them to Peddlers Mall in a used 2008 Toyota Prius. •