By DOUG THOMPSON
While the new Democratic leadership of Congress talks a good game about reform and the need to purge the corrupting influence of special interest money from politics, they cozy up to the same fatcat lobbyists who controlled the GOP-led Congress for the past 12 years.
Last week, some 200 well-heeled lobbyists and political action committee directors shelled out $1,000 each to rub elbows with the new Democratic congress – a repeat of a similar event Republicans staged in 1995 after they won control.
Along Washington’s K Street, also known as “lobbyist’s row” or “Gucci Gulch,” the phones started ringing the day after the November mid-term elections with calls from Democrats who wanted money to help with debt retirement.
In politics, previous contributions to opponents can be overlooked as long as a PAC check is forthcoming to help pay off campaign debts or start the campaign fund rolling for 2008.
The national Democratic campaign committees set up special fund raising units to target business PACs and special interest group money and divert those funds away from a has-been GOP leadership and into the coffers of the new leadership.
“It’s always about the money,” grumbles one PAC director, who asked not to be identified.
Business PACS and lobbyists used to be considered Republican strongholds but that changed in the 1980s when Congressman Tony Coelho took over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and launched a fundraising program aimed at business groups.
Coelho convinced his Democratic counterparts that they could vote right on key business issues without alienating another Democratic cash cow – organized labor – and business PACs began steering campaign contributions their way. This so angered Republicans that they launched a failed effort in 1987 to ban PACs. The leader of that effort, Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, would become the champion of PACs when the GOP gained control and most of the business PAC money veered to the new leadership.
Coelho later resigned from Congress amid a scandal over his finances. He later ran Al Gore’s failed Presidential campaign but resigned that post when he came under investigation by the Justice Department for mishandling funds as commissioner general of the U.S. Pavilion at the 1998 World Expo.
But Coelho’s ability to milk money from traditionally Republican sources was not lost on Democrats who are once again using his model to tap the business community and refine the art of cozying up to cash-laden special interests.
Ironically, Republicans in the 1990s tried and failed to use the same model to get money and support from organized labor.
The fundraiser last week and the effort targeting business money by the Democratic campaign committees shows the party of the jackass will be just as hypocritical as the party of the elephant when it comes to talking the talk of reform while refusing to walk the walk.
From 1987-92, I ran the political funding operations for the National Association of Realtors, one of the largest special interest groups in Washington, I often dealt with members of Congress who would blast us on the floor of Congress and then corner me at a cocktail party later that same day and ask when they would receive their contribution from our political action committee.
I remember debating Michigan Republican Guy VanderJagt, then chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, on the subject of PACs on PBS.
“PACs,” VanderJagt said, “are nothing but whores.”
I found that analogy lacking.
“Congressman,” I replied, “where I come from, whores aren’t the ones who pay. Whores are the ones standing there, asking for money, for services they are, at the time, only promising to deliver. I think we should all remember that when one pays money under those circumstances, the very best you will ever get is screwed.”
Political prostitution remains alive and well in Washington and, as always, is bipartisan.