"I feel extorted," John Hofmeister said during an interview on CNN. "Every time I wrote a check I felt that it was a form of extortion, the price of entry, because of the reception that you got when you contributed versus the reception when you did not contribute."
Hofmeister ran Shell Oil USA from 2005 through 2008. He told CNN he was routinely pumped for political donations by both Democrats and Republicans. But corporate contributions are against Shell Oil policy, so the donations he made came out of his own pocket. He said it was something he felt he was forced to do.
The former oil exec said he and other industry CEOs were summoned to testify on Capitol Hill more than a dozen times in 2008, when gasoline prices were skyrocketing towards a nationwide average of about $4.50 a gallon. During one hearing, a lawmaker suggested that the way to keep gas prices down would be to nationalize oil companies.
It wasn’t long after one of those hearings, he said, that several lawmakers pressed him for political contributions – all perfectly legal (for Congress anyway).
Hofmeister isn’t the only one to criticize the influence of money in politics or call such actions by legalized extortion. What is more onerous is when the extorting is being done by the men and women who write the nation’s laws; they get to legally manipulate the system to their advantage.
“It is a feeding frenzy that's going on," Peter Schweizer, of the Government Accountability Institute, a nonprofit research group, told CNN. In his book, “Extortion,” he describes the U.S. political system as one in which congressmen and senators translate their power into cash.
“I think we need to somehow break the back of the ability of politicians to leverage their position to extract donations," Schweizer told the news network.
"Most fund-raisers will tell you the place that you start raising money is from people who can't say no," said Schweizer. "So if you're a government contractor or you're somebody that's doing business with the state or federal government, you're going to be put in a position where you're going to be expected to raise funds, because if you don't, the fear might be that you're going to lose the contract."
Hofmeister said he realizes the word “extortion” is “harsh,” but he says that is exactly what is going on.
“We talk about corruption in Third World countries. In this case, the corrupters have written a law to make it legal to the corruptees. And I consider that atrocious in the name of democracy," he said.