Not much climate change in Washington

When Chris Dodd reminded his Senate colleagues last week that “powerful financial interests, free to throw money about with little transparency, have corrupted the basic principles underlying our representative democracy,†he wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t know or anything they intended to change.

Sadly, neither Dodd nor the senators on the floor that afternoon to hear him say goodbye ever made a move to abolish a system of legal bribery that has brought the Congress into disrepute and ended some careers, including that of the senior senator from Connecticut.

The powerful financial interests Dodd chose to attack in his Senate farewell but failed to regulate as chairman or ranking Banking Committee member were his most generous supporters in his brief, disastrous run for president and in re-election campaigns in which he was virtually unopposed.

When Dodd ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, his prime donors included nearly the entire supporting cast of the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression: Goldman Sachs, AIG, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and the late and unlamented Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. His biggest presidential contributor was the Connecticut-based hedge fund SAC Capital Partners, currently the target of a major Justice Department insider trading investigation.

The purpose of rehashing this old story as Dodd departs the Senate isn’t to kick him on his way out — I voted for him every time he ran for senator — but to point out that the climate that caused his downfall hasn’t changed a bit. Dodd freely acknowledged on many occasions that the system was flawed, if not foul, but he claimed he couldn’t “unilaterally†change things or, we have to assume, even try. He probably even believed it.

But his Republican counterpart on the Banking Committee, Richard Shelby, who traded places with Dodd as control of the Senate alternated between the parties, didn’t try to unilaterally change the system either as he took contributions from the same crowd. Nor do the members of the Agriculture Committee, who live off the generosity of big agribusinesses or the Armed Services committee members who are bought and paid for by the military industrial complex. Dwight Eisenhower warned us about that menace in another farewell address — his — nearly 50 years ago.

Among the friends, family and supporters of Sen. Dodd in the Senate Gallery last week was his successor, Dick Blumenthal, who proudly boasted of never taking a political action committee contribution during his 20 years as Connecticut attorney general but found it necessary to abandon that principled stand when he ran for the Senate against Linda McMahon and her $50 million.

Wouldn’t it be grand if the old Blumenthal would find his way to the Senate and not only turn down special interest money but work to eliminate bribe giving and taking, no matter how it is camouflaged?

Blumenthal may be a freshman, but at 64, he isn’t exactly a boy senator. He’s only two years younger than Dodd and at the end of his term, he’ll be 70, a good age to retire. This puts him in a wonderful position to be his own senator, vote his conscience, speak his mind, do the right thing even unilaterally, without regard for any impact on his re-election. He could even devote most of his time to actually being a senator without having the added burden of fundraising.

Imagine what might happen if the freshman Blumenthal had the audacity to introduce a bill that forbids members of Congress from taking contributions from businesses or labor unions they oversee.

He could annoy as many as 99 senators but please as many as 2 million Connecticut voters.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury. E-mail him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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