In 2004, the Center for Public Integrity disclosed the findings of an investigation into Big Oil. Among other disclosures, the Center revealed that the oil and gas industry had spent more than $440 million dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying since 1998 and that US gas and oil companies had 882 subsidiaries in tax haven countries. David Brancaccio sits down with the Center’s executive director Charles Lewis, to talk about Thursday’s report, the first in a series expected to be released throughout the year to identify the size and scope of the international oil and gas industry and measure its influence in the halls of government worldwide.
In Mississippi, as many as 65,000 people were bracing for the deepest cuts any state had ever made in Medicaid eligibility for senior citizens and the disabled. The cuts were so severe, critics say, that many of the state’s most vulnerable were facing an unthinkable choice between buying food and buying medicine. Bill Moyers goes inside the Mississippi Medicaid crisis and examines the cutbacks championed by the state’s Republican Governor Haley Barbour. Are tough cuts necessary, as Barbour argues, to save the program for the future, or are other viable options being overlooked?
Is there a clash of cultures in America? From prayer in schools to censorship to abortion — the values debate was dividing America in the 2004 political season. But is there only one source of morality and values? And what role should government play in the religious life of Americans? To get his take on what America’s thinking and his thoughts on such hotly debated cultural issues as gay marriage, Bill Moyers talks with Cal Thomas, the country’s most widely syndicated columnist and host of FOX News’ AFTER HOURS WITH CAL THOMAS. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. We begin with something that may have escaped your attention in a week heavy with coverage of the culture war in Congress, the ongoing war in Iraq, and the political war between George W. Bush and John Kerry.
We’re going to take a look at what’s on a lot of people’s minds — health care. Our story is about the skyrocketing cost of Medicaid.
MOYERS: Medicaid is the program that provides the poorest and weakest among us with health care. The cost of the program is shared by both the states and the federal government. But with budget deficits squeezing the states, they say they can’t keep up.
Just last week, Tennessee put a limit on doctor visits and prescriptions for the poor. The governor, a Democrat, said it’s the only way to save the system altogether. In nearby Mississippi, the Republican governor — one of President Bush’s strongest supporters — wants to follow suit with even more draconian measures. We’ve been tracking this story because we think what’s happening in the state might be a big issue in the fall elections. Producer Bryan Myers prepared our report.
Meet Natalie Stone. She’s come to this town meeting in Tupelo, Mississippi, to make a desperate plea.
STONE: I suffer from Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, and I’m like the rest of you all. I do not know how I am going to afford my medication.
MOYERS: She’s afraid because the state has made big cuts in health care for the poor. Like Natalie Stone, many of these people depend on help from the state for their medical care. And there are hundreds of thousands like them throughout Mississippi.
HOLLAND: These are the people that lived through the Depression, that worked in the garment plants in Mississippi, and logged and farmed and eked out a living and supported a family and provided a lot of the bedrock of stability and growth for this state over the years. And then they retired. And unfortunately, on very limited incomes.
The bottom line is: We’re at a crossroads folks. Now we can forget about what happened and focus on what we’re going to do.
MOYERS: Democrat Steve Holland is a state representative from Tupelo. Tupelo is a small manufacturing city, located in the second poorest state in the nation. In some ways, not much has changed here since Tupelo’s most famous son was born at the height of the Great Depression. One in five Mississippians lives below the poverty line. One in four looks to Medicaid to meet their health costs.
HOLLAND: We have an inordinate percentage of our population that’s on Medicaid in this state. It’s the very foundation of health care and medical care in the State of Mississippi.
MOYERS: Medicaid is a joint federal & state program that provides basic health care for the poor. Now, Mississippi has enacted the deepest cuts any state has ever made to Medicaid benefits for the elderly and disabled. Almost everyone at this town meeting in Tupelo is getting thrown off the rolls, or knows someone who is. So they’ve come to plead for a change of heart by Governor Haley Barbour.
STONE: Governor Barbour, he needs to stop and put himself in our shoes.
MOYERS: Governor Haley Barbour led the campaign in Mississippi to cut Medicaid. In the 1990’s, Barbour got rich as a wheeler-dealer in Washington, DC, lobbying for some of the country’s biggest companies like Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, and drug makers Glaxo-Wellcome and Bristol Myers Squibb.
BARBOUR: Hi, I’m Haley Barbour and I apologize for interrupting.
MOYERS: Last year, he came home to his native state to run for governor.
Like other states, Mississippi was having budget problems, and Barbour said he knew how to fix them.
BARBOUR: We’re not in the worst financial mess in the history of our state because we tax too little. It’s because we spend too much.
MOYERS: During the campaign, Barbour singled out Medicaid as one of the main reasons for Mississippi’s budget troubles. The state’s share of the program is around $700 million a year.
BARBOUR: Medicaid spending has gone up 21% on average the last five years. 104% in five years. We can’t sustain that.
MOYERS: But few anticipated how far he would go. Once in office, he set out to eliminate thousands of the sick and elderly from the Medicaid rolls.
BARBOUR: I sign this bill—
MOYERS: When Barbour signed the cuts into law earlier this year, he complained about the state having to pay for “health care for people who can work and take care of themselves and just choose not to.” Among those cut were cancer victims, kidney dialysis patients, even the mentally ill— and all of them poor. Frightened recipients turned out at the state capitol in desperation.
WOMAN AT PROTEST: This is the bag of medicine I gotta take every day. How can I pay for this? My mother, she’s 79. She’s so scared she’s gonna get a letter!
MOYERS: You’re looking at the most dreaded piece of mail in Mississippi today — a form letter from the state saying you’ve lost your Medicaid coverage. The state began mailing it out almost immediately after Governor Barbour signed the cuts into law in May. 65,000 people have received it.
BARBOUR: This is a reform that is not only needed, it’s exactly the right kind of reform—
MOYERS: Under the old Medicaid rules, an elderly or disabled person couldn’t have an income above $12,600 a year. Under the new rules, the limit will be around $6,800 a year. In other words, if you make more than $564 a month, you’re out of luck.
We asked Governor Barbour for an interview, he declined. Republican State Senator Alan Nunnelee is an ally of the governor.
NUNNELEE: Any time there are changes, they’re confused and afraid.
MOYERS: Like Democrat Steve Holland, Nunnelee’s from Tupelo.
NUNNELEE: We’ve seen the amount that we’ve had to spend for Medicaid double in the last five years. We put over $100 million dollars more to fund Medicaid this year than we did last year. It is a program that’s very important, but it’s growing at a rate that it cannot sustain itself.
MOYERS: Nunnelee says making tough cuts now will help save the program for others in the future. Besides, he says, Governor Barbour had no choice; under Mississippi law, the government must balance its budget.
NUNNELEE: Our attorney general said not only does the Governor have the right to make cuts to fit the budget, the Governor has the quote, “responsibility and obligation” to make those cuts.
MOYERS: Democrats put another option on the table: raise the cigarette tax to make up the Medicaid shortfall. In Mississippi, the cigarette tax is 18 cents a pack; the national average is 72 cents a pack. But Governor Barbour, whose clients as a lobbyist included almost all the big tobacco companies, said no— and no to any tax increase at all.
HOLLAND: He doesn’t understand it. He tries to tell me he grew up poor, and I don’t know anything about that, but if he grew up poor, he forgot it pretty damn quick.
Ladies and Gentlemen—none of you would be on it if you could help it.
MOYERS: In a bid to get the Medicaid cuts repealed, people have been turning out in droves at town meetings around the state. Steve Holland is the featured speaker.
HOLLAND: I differ with Governor Barbour 100% on this. He’s wrong, wrong, wrong!
MOYERS: Tupelo was the first meeting, and the turnout was heavy. Alan Nunnelee was here. So was Polly Jo Duncan.
DUNCAN: It scares me. I’ve got people calling me every day, “What are we going to do?”
MOYERS: Duncan runs a center for the mentally disabled. She’s received over 150 calls from frightened patients who may have to do without the drugs that allow them to live a normal life.
DUNCAN: Some of these people that only get 5 and 6 hundred dollars a month on disability are only going to be left with 40 dollars a month to survive on once they pay for their prescription. Some of these people have already been asking their doctors, “What medicines can we give up?”
MOYERS: For Helen Turner, it’s not just medicine, it’s seeing the doctor.
TURNER: I am a person with four cancers. I have four cancers. One cancer, there is no treatment for. I need my doctor visits. I cannot afford them!
MOYERS: Helen Turner has had a history of cancer. The latest: thyroid cancer. She’s recently received one of those cut-off letters from the state.
TURNER: It was like somebody stabbed me in my heart because I was just in tears, you know?
MOYERS: Turner’s monthly income is $657. Under Medicaid, she paid $3 a visit to see the doctor. She could also check into the hospital for ten dollars a day. Thanks to Medicaid, she was able to get surgery when she had cancer before. But for the thyroid cancer, she needs to see a specialist on a regular basis.
TURNER: The doctor visits are very vital, because without the visits which we won’t have anymore, they won’t be able to detect it.
MOYERS: Governor Barbour has said people like Turner can continue to see their doctors by relying on Medicare. He likes that idea because the federal government picks up the entire cost of Medicare. Unlike Medicaid, the state pays nothing.
But here’s the hitch: Medicare doesn’t offer the same benefits as Medicaid. For example, it has higher deductibles. For a poor person on a fixed income, that can put doctor and hospital visits out of reach.
KU: Now for someone who makes $7000, $10,000 a year, that’s a lot of money.
MOYERS: Leighton Ku is a policy researcher based in Washington who studies health care costs. He came down to Tupelo for the town meeting.
KU: They could still go to the hospital under Medicare, the problem may be that they might not be able to pay that deductible. For some people, what this will mean is they’ll stay out of the hospital for a much longer time, and that means when they do go to the hospital, they may be all that much sicker, and their condition may be worse for their health.
TURNER: You don’t know what you’re going to do. You know, you’re already standing in line for food. You begging the church for food, and then they are gonna take your medicine?
MOYERS: For those being cut from Medicaid, there’s another huge worry — getting prescription drugs. Medicaid has generous prescription drug benefits, but Medicare, at the moment, has few.
Jim Bain runs one of Tupelo’s busiest pharmacies. His phone has been ringing almost non-stop with worried customers. Bain used to be a fan of Governor Barbour’s, he even endorsed him at a rally held in his drugstore. It’s a decision he now regrets.
BAIN: I’ve got a little lady that’s been my patient for 20 years. I sat down with her and she gave me her expenses, showed me what her monthly expenses are. She takes eight prescriptions. At the end of the month, if she has to pay for her prescriptions, she’ll have eight dollars to buy food, at the end of the month. So, she’s gotta make a decision. Is she gonna eat, or is she gonna take her medicine?
MOYERS: Consider, says Bain, the cost of just one drug, Plavix. It’s taken by many of his Medicaid customers to help blood circulation.
BAIN: A month’s supply generally retails between 140 and 150 dollars. If they get a Medicare approved discount card, it’s gonna run about 110 to 120 dollars, but if they have Medicaid, it costs them three dollars.
I mean, I can understand that there’s probably some problems with people on Medicaid that shouldn’t be there, but the ones they’re hurting are the ones that actually need to be there. Somebody’s going to die from this. That’s what’s gonna happen. I hope, I pray to God that doesn’t happen, but if somebody doesn’t get their medication, somebody’s going to die from this.
BARBOUR: I can you tell nobody would think about doing this if we thought people would be harmed or left in the lurch.
MOYERS: Governor Barbour says there’s a safety net — the poor can get charity from the big pharmaceutical companies. Many of them have programs the give free drugs to the poor.
NUNNELEE: We’ve got a list of 1350 medications that are available to every one of these 65,000 people who are moving over from Medicaid to Medicare. These medications are available through the pharmaceutical companies at either no charge or a very small charge, 10 to 15 dollars for a prescription.
MOYERS: Alan Nunnelee supplies his constituents with the phone numbers of drug companies they can call to apply for free medicine.
NUNNELEE: I have dealt with a number of these pharmaceutical benefit plans. I’ve walked patients through the process. Every one of them have called me back and said, “It works like you told us it would work.”
MOYERS: But there were plenty of people at the Tupelo meeting who’ve experienced otherwise. Deborah Grubbs is one of them. Her mom Lucille needs kidney dialysis every day just to stay alive, but has been cut from Medicaid.
HOUSE: Keeps me alive, keeps me going!
MOYERS: Under the state’s old Medicaid plan, Lucille pays about $50 a month out of pocket for medicine. Now’s she’s facing a monthly payment of $1600 — more than twice her monthly income. So daughter Deb took Alan Nunnelee‘s advice and called the drug companies for help.
GRUBBS: We called at least five companies. And you really don’t get any response at all, all they do is take your name and number and mail you out a bunch of paperwork to fill out.
MOYERS: Grubbs says the companies wouldn’t tell her if they had her mom’s medication, and made no promises about supplying any drugs. Grubbs says some of the phone numbers she called didn’t even work anymore.
Alan Nunnelee concedes people haven’t been getting much information about those free drug programs. He came to the Tupelo meeting to try to spread the word.
NUNNELEE: Jim, you’re right, we’ve got a very serious problem. If we can put your mother in touch with the plans to get her—
MOYERS: The crowd wasn’t buying it.
The Tupelo meeting lasted well over two hours, with not one person in the audience speaking up for the Medicaid cuts. By the time it ended, the anger was mounting.
WOMAN AT MEETING: And the people that are handicapped and mentally retarded and quadriplegic, I can’t believe our governor is doing this! Alan Nunnelee needs to be tarred and feathered and run out of Tupelo! And you can copy that!
MOYERS: Alan Nunnelee left under police escort. As for Steve Holland, it was on to Columbus, Mississppi, about 90 miles down the road, to another town meeting scheduled for the afternoon. His thoughts were on the governor, Haley Barbour, and how such a smooth, powerful Washington operator could get it so wrong down home.
HOLLAND: The children of these people who showed up today voted for Haley Barbour. He wore the state flag out there. He enticed all the NASCAR crowd, and the Bubbas, and even some of the brothers, believe it or not, and he got elected governor. Now, he has made the most royal policy screw-up of all the governors collectively over my 21 years of service.
MOYERS: The turnout in Columbus would be twice the size of the crowd in Tupelo, the despair and anger once again palpable.
WOMAN AT MEETING: I dare say that Governor Haley Barbour does not use Medicaid. His medicine will be delivered to him every month!
WOMAN AT MEETING: If I’m not able to have my medication, I would be bed ridden, wheelchair bound.
MAN AT MEETING: I have been a mental patient for 34 years. And the knowledge of knowing that it is only manageable and not curable is scary, is a scary fact.
HOLLAND: These are truly our sickest, most vulnerable, most disabled citizens, who must rely on the state for help. This is the good of government right here. And yet, he wants to do away with it. So, starving the beast of government in this case is starving people’s lives. And that’s not right in any state in the nation.
BRANCACCIO: There’s more to come on NOW— the politics of marriage.
THOMAS: What we’re being asked to accept is something that is against not only thousands of years of history, a lot of common sense, biblical truth and societal values.
BRANCACCIO: Conservative columnist and commentator Cal Thomas.
We frequently keep an eye on ways the business community buys influence in our nation’s capital. And when you look at the grease in the political machine, you quickly realize how much of it is oil.
Just how much? This week, the watchdog group the Center for Public Integrity announced the results of a new study. It reveals that since 1998, big oil has shelled out more than $440 million in campaign contributions and lobbying alone. More importantly, the new study details the various ways and means that the oil industry has been fueling a political agenda that includes deregulation, lower taxes, and fewer environmental safeguards.
We’re going to talk to the founder of the Center for Public Integrity in a moment.
But first, let’s take a look at just one part of the Center’s report. It is a case study of a company called Koch. When I say Koch, you’re probably thinking soda pop, right? Well, actually it’s Koch with a “K.” And they also sell a dark brown liquid.
Koch Industries is in the oil business, big time. Its revenues last year were an estimated 40 billion dollars. That’s bigger than Microsoft, bigger than AT&T. But Koch with a “K” is privately held, which means it doesn’t have to disclose as much about itself as public companies.
Koch industries may not have the same brand recognition as Coke with a “C” but don’t confuse that with any lack of influence both in the oil marketplace and in the political marketplace.
MOORE: The Kochs are the wealthiest, richest, biggest oil company you’ve never heard of.
BRANCACCIO: That’s Curtis Moore, who’s written about Koch Industries for the environmental magazine SIERRA.
MOORE: Within certain circles, they’re extremely well-known because they’re a major source of funding for all of these activities whose purpose is to reshape not only American government, but the very, the very nature of American society.
The Center for Public Integrity spent months studying Koch Industries and their fellow oil companies such as ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and BP. They found that the oil industry gets what it wants by spending a lot of money in order to keep making more money.
An industry to-do list might look something like this: First, help your favorite candidates get elected. Next, lobby Congress and the White House. Then, fly policymakers to exciting destinations such as Vail, Colorado or Hong Kong. And don’t forget, you also have to set up official nonprofit organizations, often think tanks, to build cases and strategies for your agenda.
The Center for Public Integrity says the oil and gas industry has been busy taking care of this list.
Just look at Koch. Through its employees and political action committees, it’s one of the leading campaign contributors among oil and gas companies for this year’s presidential race, with all the money going to George W. Bush. And in the past six years, they have given just under four million dollars to people running for federal offices.
Influence comes in many forms. The Center’s report also places a microscope over conservative and libertarian think tanks. It may seem as if they simply put out position papers, but they actually help policy get adopted. Charles and David Koch, the company’s owners, either fund or help control multiple organizations, including: the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Mercatus center, and Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation.
How much impact can organizations like the ones funded by the Kochs have? An immense amount, says Curtis Moore.
MOORE: The products they produce end up on the desk of every newspaper reporter, television reporter, on the desks of people who work in congress and the executive branches. They end up in state legislatures. They’re everywhere. They have more— they’re more important than the American people are.
And just in case the campaign contributions and think tanks are not enough, there’s also the National Petroleum Council. It’s a federally chartered advisory committee where oil and gas representatives lend their expertise to the administration. The Center for Public Integrity calls the group an “underground pipeline of influence.”
Add all these things together, and throw in $381 million for lobbying since 1998, and you get a gusher of success. Because of the oil and gas industry efforts, once pristine lands are now being developed, stricter fuel efficiency standards have been stalled, and the Bush administration has refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty on global warming.
Democrat Henry Waxman has been in Congress since 1974 and has seen how much pressure the oil industry can exert. He says the Bush energy bill was chock-full of corporate giveaways.
WAXMAN: I think a lot’s at stake. Our economic prosperity, because we’re going into deficit spending. Our ability to control our future, because we’re dependent on more and more imported oil, because we’re not weaning ourselves off the use of oil itself. I think not only is our national security at stake, but our environment in which we live is going to be determined by these policies if we go along with what the oil industry wants.
BRANCACCIO: Here to talk about big oil and how it fits into national energy and environmental policy is Chuck Lewis, the Center for Public Integrity’s executive director. He is a long-time investigative journalist and a frequent guest on NOW.
Chuck, welcome back to NOW.
LEWIS: Nice to be here.
BRANCACCIO: When you put all of these pieces together, what sort of a portrait emerges of the oil industry’s relationship with government?
LEWIS: Well I would call it seamless. It appears when you, we haven’t even mentioned of course the obvious that for the first time in U.S. history you have a president and vice-president from that industry which is unprecedented for any industry in U.S. history. And then you look at the money that we just mentioned. And you look at the phalanx of think tanks that help set policy ideas and debates and rationales and the saturation that they do in Washington.
This has always been a powerful industry for years, for decades actually. But it has gotten frankly, even more powerful in the last three years. And I guess, people generally might assume it. But what we have done is really dissect just how powerful they’ve become. What we’ve really tried to do with this report is show how things really happen. And it is all most of what we look at in Washington is what I call legal corruption. It’s all entirely legal. But you can see how the system becomes corroded and how ordinary folks are affected but also excluded from these conversations.
BRANCACCIO: Tell me more about the Koch brothers and Koch Industries’ political agenda. It’s conservative?
LEWIS: Let’s be really blunt here. Their agenda is to avoid the feds. A few years ago, they were found to have done 300 oil spills all over America. They were being prosecuted by the Justice Department, the Coast Guard and Customs for oil spills in six states. And they basically could have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars. They ended up getting a fine of like 25 million and settling the case.
These are cases where they have been found to have moved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars into the political process through third-party cutouts to give contributions to conservative deregulation-minded members of Congress, candidates who will become members of Congress. And it just happened to be in the areas where they have refineries. But if it they came from Koch, it might look suspicious.
So, it comes from another way. They wrote legislation. The head of Citizens for a Sound Economy — which has received millions from Koch — the head of it, Boyden Gray, former White House counsel, writes a section of a law that says the 300 oil spills they might not have to be in that law may not be enforced. That litigation against that company could get bogged down because of this new little clause that’s been inserted in a bill in ’96.
And guess what? When fortunately for the country, I think, in this case, that bill for lots of reasons didn’t pass. But the point is, they will try everything possible.
Here is a think tank writing legislation to protect an oil company. That’s the one case. But then to urge deregulation, and why is the government enforcing, and what are the costs when we do this, and all the things that these places are putting out, what they’re essentially trying to do is call off the dogs, I mean keep the heat away from Koch Industries.
I mean, that’s part of the agenda. It’s not all the agenda. But it’s either to save money on taxes and make more money for themselves as a company, or it is to actually avoid regulation and even enforcement of environmental laws in the case of this particular company.
BRANCACCIO: I find the subject fascinating. Your report comes out this week. And it mentions a group I hadn’t heard much about, the Mercatus Institute out of George Mason University in Virginia, funded in part by the Koch brothers of Koch Industries.
BRANCACCIO: And today, big right-hand lead in the Wall Street Journal about the Mercatus Institute. Apparently, these guys are really good. So good, that other think tanks are a bit jealous with the success that they’ve managed to achieve.
LEWIS: Well, one of the successes they’ve achieved is a lot of cash. The Koch Brothers alone have given them, and their foundations and companies have given, 15 to 17 million just in just in the last five years.
That’s a lotta money from one corporate donor to a think tank. But it’s also, of course, their access. I mean well known folks have perched at this think tank. The think tank functions in many, many ways as a lobbying firm trade association, in that they are reading the fine print of every proposed piece of legislation, and advising how each one should be treated. And it’s hard to see how it differs, really, from some of the lobbying shops in Washington.
BRANCACCIO: Chuck, you’ve been playing in this field for many, many years, where big money hits the political process. What in this latest report impressed even you?
LEWIS: Well, the part that kinda got me was — because it is getting harder and harder to surprise, I confess — is that there are 882 offshore tax haven subsidiaries of the oil and gas companies that the U.S. companies have created new entities: offshore, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, several other so-called tax-saving countries where there are no taxes. And there’s also no oil. And we, one of the neat things about this report is this is the first of several reports about the oil and gas industry globally. And we were looking at 1,500 of the biggest oil companies in the world. And the reason that’s useful for this is it turns out that we have twice as many offshore subsidiaries for our oil and gas companies in tax-saving countries than the rest of the world combined.
So, our oil and gas companies are gone offshore in an extraordinary way vis-a-vis the rest of the world and other oil and gas companies in the world. And of course, Enron — the now bankrupt and disgraced company — had 700 of these offshore tax haven setups. El Paso Corporation in Texas is the leading one of current active companies. But, you know, I actually didn’t know that. I assumed that several of them had these offshore subsidiaries. And we of course, we know yes, that Halliburton and some of the famous companies we’ve heard about in recent years, Harken Energy, they all had offshore subsidiaries. But 882 practically knocked me off my chair.
BRANCACCIO: A lotta taxes not being paid in America, is what you’re saying?
LEWIS: Well, exactly. And what’s irritating as always is, they don’t admit that. “Well, it’s not necessarily for taxes. We wanna have another platform. And we wanna have a neutral country.” And if you listen to some of the explanations, and we did talk to some of the people that do this in the report you gotta wear hip waders. I mean, some of the stuff they say is just a little, you know, ridiculous.
BRANCACCIO: Is it outsized, this influence, compared to the size of this industry? If we looked at different industries, we’d see similar patterns?
LEWIS: Well, we would. And the telecom industry, the pharmaceutical industry, these other industries are also robust participants in democracy in Washington, I guess you’d call it. That’s a nice way of saying it.
They basically get pretty much whatever they want is another way of saying it. And they overrun the Capitol with lobbyists descended like locusts on the Capitol. There’s 25,000 lobbyists today. There were less than 100 back in 1968. So in that sense, oil is not the only one doing this. That’s for sure.
BRANCACCIO: People watching at home may at this point in the conversation say, “Wait a minute, who’s my lobbyist?”
LEWIS: Right. Well, good luck. I mean, theoretically, you’re supposed to have an elected representative representing the broad public interests including that district or that state. The problem of course is we have a system where you know, you have to be a millionaire or raise money from powerful interests including the oil and gas industry to get elected. And so you know, it’s very hard to penetrate.
BRANCACCIO: You get this picture of an industry very, very good at playing the game, taking the look at the rules and playing them to their advantage. But you sure you’re picking on the oil industry for this? They’re just very good at it. Maybe it’s the system that we need to really look at reforming.
LEWIS: Well, I think you might have something there. No, seriously, they epitomize what happens in Washington with several industries. I mean, it is absolutely fair that and we have we have a very significant problem with our democracy. It is a pay-to-play process. And if you are willing to throw around millions of dollars, you frequently, not always, but frequently get your way. You certainly get access to every major policy maker in the country at the highest levels. You also, therefore, as a result of that partly, you begin to get influence over the actual content of the policies.
And what we saw with the “Politics of Oil” report is exactly how it’s done, and the setup work that that occurs to achieve that. But, you know, when you have two Presidential candidates each raising $200 million, the idea of Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln raising that kinda money, or even being willing to go around and campaign and beg for cash for two years.
BRANCACCIO: Even adjusted for inflation.
LEWIS: Even adjusted for inflation it defies credulity. And so, we are in some kind of bizarre zone. I mean, we passed campaign finance reform as a nation. First time in a quarter century since Watergate, to have a major law. And it looks like the numbers are gonna double in this Presidential election. So, we have a problem here where we have been awash for money. We thought we had begun to rein it in as a people. And I think it’s apparent from this election and including the conventions of this summer to keep watching, that, you know, money is still… You know, Mark Hanna, the famous political boss 100 years ago, said the two most important things in politics are money and I can’t remember the second one. And he was right.
BRANCACCIO: Chuck, how can I find out more about how this game of influence is played?
LEWIS: Well, I… Not to sound you know, self-interested like everyone else we’ve talked about, but the Center for Public Integrity Web site, www.publicintegrity.org has a lot of stuff.
BRANCACCIO: We’ll even stick a link to that at our Web site. Go to pbs.org. Chuck Lewis, Center for Public Integrity, thank you so much for coming.
LEWIS: Thank you.
MOYERS: I’ve been listening to debates in the United States Senate for over 40 years and I thought I’d heard it all. Until this week.
Listening to Senators debate a constitutional amendment to define marriage, you might have thought you were at a political rally or in a church.
SEN. JAMES M. INHOFE (R-OK): God said — and I’m quoting now Genesis, chapter 2: “He brought her to the man and Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman because she is— was taken out of man. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.'”
SEN. JIM BUNNING (R-KY): Marriage is older than the Constitution of the United States. It’s older than America. Only a man and a woman have the ability to create children. It’s the law of nature. And no matter how much some might not like it or want to change it or push for technology to replace it, this law is irrefutable.
SEN. JIM TALENT (R-MO): Nobody has the right to marry anybody they want to. There are certain restrictions. You can’t marry a close relative. You can’t marry somebody who is already married. Is that discrimination if we tell people no, you can’t marry somebody if they are already married? That’s not marriage. And you can’t marry somebody of the same sex. And why? Because marriage as an institution, remember, it’s many things. Yes, it’s an expression of love and commitment between two people and that’s beautiful but it’s also the institution that we in our society rely upon for raising our children.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS): Giving public sanction to homosexual marriage would violate this government responsibility to safeguard the needs of children by placing individual adult desires above the best interests of children.
SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): We didn’t pick this fight. We didn’t start this battle. They went to the courts, not to the people. You, you, the elite of the east coast, northeastern United States of America, you take your isolated values and then sweep them across this country. You. They didn’t go to Omaha, Nebraska. They didn’t go to Peoria, Illinois. They go to San Francisco and they go to Seattle and they go to Boston and they go to New York, and they oppose the values across America.
SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D-MA): The rabid reactionary religious right has rarely looked more ridiculous. They know they don’t have the votes to come even close to passing this amendment but they have sufficient stranglehold on the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress to force the issue to a vote anyway in a desperate effort to arouse their narrow-minded constituency and somehow gain an advantage in the elections this year.
SEN. MARK DAYTON (D-MN): “Thank goodness we have Senator so-and-so,” they’ll say back home, “to save us from the heathen hordes. Thank goodness we have the President saving us, too. We may not have jobs or health care. We can’t afford prescription drugs or gasoline. They’re bankrupting the federal government with deficits. They’re destroying our credibility throughout the world. They made a mess of Iraq. They can’t find weapons of mass destruction or Osama Bin Laden or whoever shut down Congress with anthrax or ricin, but they’re defending marriage, again and again and again and again. Let’s reelect them.”
MOYERS: A political rally and church. The fight has just begun. Next week, Republicans in the House will call up a bill to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over definitions of marriage.
Conservative Christians vowed a push for the Constitutional amendment until, pardon my French, hell freezes over. Right now, they’re aiming their sights on state Constitutional amendments to outlaw same-sex marriage. They’ll be on the ballot in at least nine, possibly a dozen states this year alone. That should turn out voters in swing states that could decide control of the White House, the Senate, and the House. America’s holy war seems here to stay. Let’s talk about this now with Cal Thomas.
Forty years ago this summer when I was a young man working in the ’64 election, Cal Thomas was a younger man covering politics for NBC News.
He went on to write a syndicated column for 540 newspapers, which at my reckoning, gives him one of the biggest op-ed readerships in the country. He’s also a commentator and analyst for Fox News. You’ll find his columns and the titles of his books on the conservative Web site, TownHall.com. Welcome to NOW.
THOMAS: Bill, nice to see you again. You have aged well.
MOYERS: You are still aging well.
THOMAS: I thank you.
MOYERS: I ask you here because we do have a past. I know you are theologically and politically conservative. I know we share similar backgrounds. We read the same Bible. We pray to the same God. And I’m interested in your insight over how two people like us come to opposite conclusions about an issue like gays in American life.
THOMAS: Bill, I can’t speak for your faith. I can only speak for mine. So, let me speak of mine. I began with the belief in an objectively existing God, who exists whether I believe he does or not who has laid down his law and his grace for all who would partake of it.
MOYERS: In the Bible, you mean?
THOMAS: In the scripture, yes. That, for example, he has not only in marriage, but he has shown us the way back to himself through salvation in his son Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the father but by me.”
MOYERS: But I find nothing that Jesus said, nothing in the story of Jesus that would suggest that he empowers me to harm somebody who’s not harming me.
THOMAS: Yeah. Well, look. There are two things at work here, and two different kingdoms. And they shouldn’t be confused. Of course, the scripture, I believe, has to be taken in totality.
The apostle Paul spoke much about proper human relationships. But his message was to the people of God. It wasn’t to the pagans. The Southern Baptist convention, of which you have been a part—
MOYERS: Which had its share of pagans.
THOMAS: Well, it’s not the label of the outside, it’s who you have on the inside. But it recently took a survey. And it found very interestingly that just as many evangelical Christians were divorcing as non-believers. So, I believe there’s a lot to be done within the house of God before we, they, can go to the public and say, “You should be like we say, not necessarily as we do.”
MOYERS: And you’ve written that in—
THOMAS: Yes, I have.
MOYERS: —your book. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t live in a biblical society.
THOMAS: That’s right.
MOYERS: We don’t — two-thirds of the world — people don’t read the Bible or believe in the Bible. It seems to me that the equal protection of the law, democracy, is what protects me from you and you from me. Would you like me to lead a movement to write my biblical views into the Constitution? Would you like to live in that democracy?
THOMAS: Well, somebody’s gotta live under somebody’s value system. Now, look.
MOYERS: That’s what democracy’s about, is the give and take.
THOMAS: Right, it is indeed, yes.
MOYERS: How, then, can we have a conversation about democracy, a really genuine, political dialogue, if you, or people like you, invoke Revelation and say this is the revealed truth and I can’t compromise it?
THOMAS: Well, I’m not invoking anything of the kind.
MOYERS: You’re talking about the Bible.
THOMAS: Well, because you brought it up. I’m going to speak what I believe to be the truth. And we’re talking about implementing that. I wrote in a recent column that I believe this battle is over.
Homosexuality, abortion, divorce, drugs, pornography, the long list of cultural ills that are properly trumpeted as indications of decay by many of my brethren on the right are not the cause of our decadence. They’re a reflection of it.
MOYERS: I’ve been married 50 years. I have three children. I don’t see how my marriage is affected at all by the fact that a gay couple live down the street who love each other as intensely as I love my wife and I love my children. You’ve been married how long?
THOMAS: Thirty-eight years.
MOYERS: And four children.
THOMAS: Yes, and eight grandchildren.
MOYERS: Is your love for your wife and your children in any way intimidated, changed, or frustrated by the fact that a gay couple is living three blocks away?
THOMAS: It’s not about me, Bill. And it’s not about you. Let me quote the—
MOYERS: It’s about the people who want to be left alone in their own—
THOMAS: Yeah, but everybody wants—
MOYERS: —pursuit of happiness.
THOMAS: Well, if they wanted to be left alone, that would be one thing. But they don’t want to be left alone. They don’t want the freedom to do whatever they do. And I’m for that. I’m not for the police breaking down the door.
They want cultural approval. They want the schools to approve. They want the law to approve. They want to be able to adopt children when children need—
MOYERS: That’s true.
THOMAS: —a mother and father.
MOYERS: As citizens of the secular democracy, they want the equal protection of the law. That is not a religious reading of marriage.
THOMAS: My question is, if we allow this and promote it as legitimate marriage, what is next? And that is a legitimate question. And if you say, “Well, we can’t go any further than this,” according to what and according to whom?
MOYERS: But I honestly, of course, don’t believe that’s a Christian view. I honestly—
THOMAS: So, you would tolerate everything. Polygamy, bigamy?
THOMAS: Well, why not?
MOYERS: I believe that you have to have civil codes that protect you from me and me from you.
THOMAS: But what if I disagree? What standard do we appeal to? That’s the question we’re dealing with.
MOYERS: The conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in the New York Times recently, “Conservatives shouldn’t just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.”
“When liberals argue for gay marriage,” he says, “they make it sound like a really good employee benefits plan, or they frame it as a civil rights issue like extending the right to vote. Marriage is not voting. It’s going to be up to conservatives to make the important moral case for marriage, including gay marriage.” I think that’s a Christian position.
THOMAS: Well, I don’t find that in the scripture, Bill. And I don’t know what he means by moral.
MOYERS: But I don’t find Jesus saying anything about—
THOMAS: Well, you know, as I said, you know, that you have to view the scripture in totality. Jesus said, “I haven’t come to cancel the law, but to fulfill it.” And if you look at the law—
MOYERS: The Old Testament?
THOMAS: The Old Testament law is what he fulfilled.
MOYERS: But it’s the New Testament.
THOMAS: Well, it is. But his first miracle, as you well know, is performed at a wedding. And he quoted that verse that Senator Inhofe quoted on the Senate floor. “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. And the two shall become one flesh.” That’s—
MOYERS: Then divorce would be impermissible. Because if they cleave to each other, they shouldn’t be allowed to uncleave.
THOMAS: Well, he was asked about this as well. And he said Moses allowed you to divorce because of the hardness of your heart. But Jesus, except for adultery and abandonment prohibited divorce. Now, the fact that many are doing it doesn’t legitimize it.
MOYERS: Not long ago, I interviewed the Reverend James Forbes, the senior minister at Riverside Memorial Church, the historic church here in New York. Let me play you a small excerpt from that interview with Jim Forbes.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]
FORBES: I think that the God who understands that out of the created order that I have, there’s some gay people and there’s some straight people, and then there are some that are in between, bisexual and, you know. I think the God that Jesus reveals to me would prefer that special attention be given to the child that was different, especially if that difference had occasioned rejection, humiliation, and ostracism.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
MOYERS: Do you accept that he’s speaking from a deep Christian conviction?
THOMAS: I noticed he said twice, “I think, I think.” I don’t say that. It’s not what I think. It’s what God says. And that’s the difference. Ostracism, wrong. Bigotry, wrong.
Hate, wrong. No one should hate or beat or discriminate in the sense of barring them from housing or whatever, anyone for anything that I can think of. But there’s a big difference here. What we’re being asked to accept is something that is against not only thousands of years of history, a lot of common sense, biblical truth, and societal values. Overwhelming numbers of the American people believe that homosexual, same-sex marriage is wrong. They don’t hate gays. Sure, there are a few who do, and they are wrong to do so.
MOYERS: But when you and I were in Washington in 1964, many states still prohibited interracial marriages.
THOMAS: Yes, well that’s different.
MOYERS: Our ideas and insights about human beings change. And the extension of enfranchisement of rights is part of what the battle of democracy’s all about. And—
THOMAS: Race and behavior are two different things. I’ve met many former homosexuals. I’ve never met a former African-American, unless you count Michael Jackson.
MOYERS: Let me come back to this. You are telling me, and I hear you saying that my opinions about homosexuality are based upon the Bible, the old Hebrew and the New Testament. Are we to accept a religious reading of the law for our governance?
THOMAS: Well, obviously not, or we would be a lot better in a lot of areas. I’m just telling you what I believe to be true. I am also telling you that I believe the battle is over. I believe that the gay rights people are going to win this battle. And I believe we’re going to have same-sex marriage in America.
And I believe it’s going to get a lot worse. I also believe there’s going to be more terrorism. I believe there’s going to be more divorce. I believe there’s going to be more man’s inhumanity to man.
MOYERS: Not because of gay marriage.
THOMAS: No. It’s all part of the same package. Paul talks about this eloquently in the New Testament and his letters, that the world will grow worse. People will believe whatever they wish to hear. Jesus said many will come in my name, false gods, false prophets, telling you things that are not of God, have nothing to do with them. This is the prophecy of the end times. Now, the end times may be 1,000 or a million years. But we are not going to fix a corrupt and a passing away world.
MOYERS: But in the meantime, as a citizen of a democracy that is—
MOYERS: Of an America that is based upon everyone’s being treated equally under the law, aren’t you glad that we have that Constitution which protects me from imposing my religious views on you?
THOMAS: I’m glad we have a Constitution. I just wish the federal judges would honor it.
MOYERS: That’s back to the old argument that it’s the judges.
THOMAS: I’m a strict constructionist on the Bible and the Constitution.
MOYERS: But once upon a time, judges said blacks are property. Judges said interracial marriage is wrong.
THOMAS: We had a standard to which we could appeal then. As Garry Wills wrote about Abraham Lincoln and his referral to the principles that Thomas Jefferson laid down in the Declaration of Independence about all being created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, the rights come from God, not from federal judges.
This is what the founders, even though many were deists, were not evangelical Christians, believed that rights had to come from outside of men and women to whom we would be accountable to this God, or we were all left to debate our own destiny and ends. Now, if you are saying, or if people who believe as you are saying, that we cannot have no boundaries, that we can’t have no standard to which we can appeal that is immutable for all time, then we might as well eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow, we die. There is no right or wrong.
MOYERS: No, I disagree with that. I’m—
THOMAS: Well, on what basis?
MOYERS: I believe that one can arrive at a ethical point of view in life by simply reasoning what is the highest standard of all said by the person you follow.
THOMAS: What if it’s different tomorrow, though, Bill?
MOYERS: It’s not different.
THOMAS: But what if it is?
MOYERS: But it’s not different if you follow the rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I don’t think there’s a higher standard. Do you?
THOMAS: No, I don’t. But of course, that’s part of a greater package. You just can’t rip that out of context and say, “Well, we’re gonna allow everything to happen, because I don’t wanna make that person upset.”
MOYERS: Some would say that’s what theological conservatives do when they take just this little bit of scripture and that little bit of scripture—
THOMAS: I agree with that.
MOYERS: —and sculpt together a theology—
THOMAS: Yes. I agree with that.
MOYERS: —that discriminates against anybody.
THOMAS: That’s right.
MOYERS: I appreciate very much your joining us. We will never agree. We’ll never settle this. But in a democracy, I hope we can keep discussing it in a civil way.
THOMAS: Thanks, Bill. You do it better than anybody.
MOYERS: We began our broadcast with a report on the elderly and disabled at risk. But there’s also news this week about America’s kids.
This week the Children’s Defense Fund issued its annual survey. It finds one in six lives in poverty; one in eight has no health insurance; seven out of ten fourth graders cannot read or do math at grade level; and three million children were reported abused or neglected.
BRANCACCIO: But the news about young people isn’t all bad.
The federal government released a report today that shows teen pregnancy is down and young people are less likely to be involved in violent crimes.
But the report said that, overall, the number of children living in poverty increased for the first time since 1993.
That’s it for NOW. Bill and I will be back next week.
Thanks for joining us. Good night.
This transcript was entered on August 20, 2015.