There is broad public agreement that big money has large, often negative effects on the American political system. It's absurd to think that large campaign donations and other major political spending have no influence on whether certain candidates are or are not elected and on which bills may get more favorable consideration. If political spending had no impact, it would dry up.
But the influence game is complicated.
In some cases, individuals, unions or corporations engage in political spending in the hopes of securing special treatment. They want an unjust benefit, in other words. But in other cases, the goal may primarily be to head off mistreatment by lawmakers, whose actions affect us all.
When Democrats passed ObamaCare in 2010, they included, among other burdens, a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices -- everything from pacemakers to artificial hips. The goal of the tax, which kicks in next year, is to generate $20 billion over 10 years to help fund ObamaCare.
But medical device makers are already cutting jobs in anticipation of the harm the tax will cause them. Michigan-based manufacturer Stryker Corp. announced in November that it would lay off 5 percent of its workforce in preparation for dealing with the economic fallout.
"There is no doubt that we're already starting to think about actions that offset that additional tax," CEO Stephen MacMillan said, noting that the tax would add an estimated $150 million cost for the company.
Other medical device makers have the same concerns.
"This bill is a jobs killer," Ernie Whiton, chief financial officer for Zoll Medical Corp., which makes heart defibrillators, said in The Boston Herald. "We could be forced to [move] manufacturing overseas if we can't pass along these costs to our customers."
In an atmosphere where politicians have dire effects on businesses large and small, are we surprised that companies pour money into the political process -- out of a sense of self-preservation, if nothing else?
You may have read that Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which already has a state political action committee, has now formed a PAC to lobby the federal government, too.
"As you are well aware, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act [ObamaCare], we are in a new political environment of opportunities and challenges for our company and industry," read a letter from CEO Vicky Gregg to thousands of the company's employees statewide.
"Your support of our PAC is important in giving us an opportunity to help determine who will govern us and who will set the business climate in which we operate."
That points to the root of the problem: Instead of letting companies' success or failure be based on the voluntary, free-market choices of the American people, Washington is picking winners and losers in the market. Washington shouldn't "set the business climate" at all. It should protect private-property rights, prevent fraud and then mostly get out of the way of the market.
Considering the threats that federal lawmakers pose to companies in the form of higher taxes and heavier regulation, it's hardly a shock that BlueCross is seeking a greater voice in Washington.