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How to end crony capitalism

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

The largest corporations and the richest people in America -- who donated billions of dollars to Republican candidates for the House and Senate in the 2016 election -- appear on the way to getting what they paid for: a giant tax cut.

The New York Times reports that business groups are meeting frequently with key Republicans in order to shape the tax bill, details of which remain secret.

Speed and secrecy are critical. The quicker Republicans get this done, and without hearings, the less likely the rest of the country will discover how much it will cost in foregone Medicaid and Medicare or ballooning budget deficits.

Donald Trump has been trashing democratic institutions -- the independence of the press, judges who disagree with him, uncooperative legislators -- while raking in money off his presidency. But don't lose sight of the larger attack on our democracy that was underway even before Trump was elected: the flood of big money into politics.

Lest you conclude it's only Republicans who have been pocketing big bucks in exchange for political favors, consider what Big Tech -- an industry that has mostly bankrolled Democrats -- is up to.

It's mobilizing an army of lobbyists and lawyers -- including senior advisors to Hillary Clinton's campaign -- to help scuttle a proposed law requiring Google, Facebook and other major Internet companies to disclose who is purchasing their online political advertising.

After revelations that Russian-linked operatives bought deceptive ads in the run-up to the 2016 election, you'd think this would be a no-brainer. But never underestimate the power of big money, whichever side of the aisle it's aimed at.

Often, it's both sides. Last week, The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" reported that Big Pharma contributed close to $1.5 million to Democrats as well as Republicans in order to secure enactment of the so-called Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016.

This shameful law weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration's power to stop prescription opioids from being shipped to pharmacies and doctors suspected of taking bribes to distribute them -- a major cause of the opioid crisis. Last year, Americans got 236 million opioid prescriptions, the equivalent of one bottle for every adult.

Overwhelming majorities of House and Senate Democrats voted for the bill, as well as Republicans, and President Obama signed it into law.

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