Home > Political Animal > Pigs at the trough

Pigs at the trough

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2017-04-21


Watching recent public testimony at the state house concerning low power cell towers was informative. The bill sponsor, Brandt Hershman of Buck Creek, near Lafayette, was the first in a line to speak. He cited the future of communications, “the internet of things” where everything, everywhere would be connected to the internet, where downloads would take seconds, not minutes, where nearly everything from laundry to turning on lights would be automatic, once the FBI, NSA and FSB had cleared it. And, to do that, he said, 50-foot cell towers would have to be placed in public rights-of-way every two or three blocks in a city like Fort Wayne. Let that sink in. And, for Indiana to truly progress, according to the representative of Buck Creek, there could be no local interference with location or design. The tower companies would decide. You would have no say, nor would you local government. Anywhere there are public rights-of-way, like alleys or easements, could sprout a cell tower. Anywhere you might now see street lights or power lines, and some places you don’t. He chuckled when he explained that each pole would be surmounted with a VW-sized control box at window level and capped by an array of transponders. Aesthetics, he noted, just couldn’t be a consideration in his Indiana of the Future. He envisioned a glowing tomorrow where even Leo could look like East Chicago. He went on to explain the intrusion of having a cell tower a few feet from your bedroom window was the price to pay for progress in business-friendly Indiana.

Hershman’s glib testimony was made to fellow legislators, mostly button-down collar Republicans, sitting around a crowded table reserved for the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Sitting in the public gallery behind Hershman were some 50 to 60 well-coiffed, nattily tailored lobbyists, most of whom, not coincidentally, were also contributors to his campaign treasury. Their man, Brandt Hershman, leader of the Senate Republicans, was simply lip-syncing the cell company lobbyists’ case for free access to your lawn. The hired suits and heels behind him all nodded agreement like some collection of Ken and Barbie bobble heads.

Those lobbyists are his allies and masters. Their Political Action Committees, PACs, dominate his fat financial report. Fat. Hershman is their boy.

Hershman is a long time fixture in the Indiana Senate, building power, influence and his campaign war chest since 2000. During his last election he could have spent the year in Palm Beach and still have won. Instead, he was on a mission to raise more campaign funds, and collected checks with zeal. Even though his district is overwhelmingly Republican, regardless that his opponent was a political neophyte, despite neophyte raising only $5,000, Hershman collected $450,000, the vast majority from business PACs, nearly a quarter from out-of-state supporters, but hardly anything from his constituents.

His fund raising wasn’t just about winning re-election. That was a given. You see, Political Action Committees, PACs, allow I&M, Reynolds Tobacco, alcohol distributors, payday loan operators, T-Mobile and the rest to funnel corporate money to their pet legislators who then spread it around to other candidates who spread it around a bit more and a bit more and a bit more.

After wealthy donors max out their personal contribution levels they give to their corporate PAC, have their wives, dogs and gardeners write checks, and then give more to a web of PACs with vague sounding names like Hoosiers For Economic Growth, the GOPAC PAC, the Telecommunications PAC, Hoosiers for Good Government, Hoosiers for Even Better Government or the PAC for Really Big Molars. Our beloved Senator David Long gave Hershman $15,000 for whatever reason. I&M gave $20,000 for the obvious reasons. The PACs make a sham, a fungible joke, of campaign finance laws.

And the way donors and recipients go about sloshing money around amounts to money laundering and influence peddling.

You have no idea who gave what to whom unless you can follow paper trails like a big-nosed bloodhound. Hershman then turns around, as did Long, and hands out checks to his fellow Republicans. Hershman gets a donation and he turns around and gives to the Friends of Bubba PAC, Bubba passes a cut on to the Friends of Good Government, Good
Government hands off a check to another PAC and so on and so forth. When money is finally spent, for say a campaign swing to Barbados, you have not idea who made the donation.

Hershman won his district race with 71.25% of the vote. Let that sink in. He could have back-stroked to Mar-a-Lago and back and still won, but he has raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands. So, you have to wonder why?

Hershman, as mentioned, is the Senate Republican Leader, and he is rumored to be on a short list for an appointment to the Federal Communications Commission, thanks to his chum, governor-cum-VP Mike Pence. That brings us back to why the bill to put a cell tower in your urban front yard is so important to the senator representing turnip growers in a small, rural Indiana community.

Delivering is all that matters in politics. If small-town family-farmer Hershman delivers to his out-of-state friends and sponsors in industry he stands a better chance of getting that seat on the FCC and moving on to more power, more influence and the cushy life. It could mean a significant step up for the long-suffering small town career politician who
has paid his dues by listening to complaints from frustrated farmers who want relief from those pesky EPA rules about how much pig poop they can dump into the nearby stream. Hershman’s pay now is $30k a year, plus a fat per diem. He dreams of graduating to a corner office in a lobbying firm on Washington’s K-Street with a $400k salary, plus benefits and expenses, not to mention that perk of political perks, the autographed and guilt framed pictures with other overweight career politicians to hang as a collage on his office wall. Power. And status. His most recent wife would be invited to the White House, he would rub shoulders (or compare off shore bank accounts) with sheiks and princes, he might hack a few Titleists at Mar-a-Lago. Power is who you know, who owes you, and delivering.

As for you, your home, your yard and the quality of life in your community, Hershman sees that as the price you pay for his success. In that hearing there was just one unaffiliated Hoosier, one among the 50-60 souls in attendance. Everyone else there was enmeshed in the interlocking web of payrolls that amount to political incest. There was no one representing the average home-owner, the city of Fort Wayne, or your neighborhood.

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