Follow the money

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.

13 Responses to "Follow the money"

  1. John  January 9, 2007 at 4:32 am

    Whether its two or three or six candidates on the ballot, I only seem to have a vote between a crook, a thief, a liar, or a loon.

  2. Jennifer  January 9, 2007 at 5:04 am

    Sounds like the same old calvary, just with a different colored horse, always looking for something to steal. In Ohio, Taft, left with tons of stuff and got away………..where are the laws to convict these people??? There aren’t any, I guess. If you’re rich, you just get away with it and no one says anything. If you were poor, your ass would be in jail. Ask anyone that is now incarcerated, how unfair our justice system is!
    Our new govenor has pass a law to not accept money from special interest groups………….I hope so. I voted for him…the first Democrate in 16 years!
    Power corrupts though & money talks. Are they all the same….this article seems to think so.
    WE voted against more cannon fodder in Irag, we voted against corruption in government…does it matter, if they won’t/don’t/can’t change their evil ways?
    Jennifer

  3. Kent Shaw  January 9, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    The Harrisburg, PA, Patriot-News has just called to ask permission to publish the following letter to the editor. They do not always publish after asking permission but there is a good chance they will print it. I believe this at least tangentially speaks to the topic of the rant, “Follow the Money”.

    What you are about to read was true of the Vietnam war and it is true of the current war in Iraq. And it will be true of every war from here on out as long as we Americans continue in our stupor to allow it.

    Huge and obscene windfall profits accrue to weapons manufacturers like General Dynamics, support providers like Halliburton, and the oil companies which receive billions in tax credits even as they book record tens of billions in profits quarterly. The economy booms but it is financed with “off budget” borrowed money which must be repaid with interest by taxpayers.

    The war is popular with investors, politicians and defense industries and their employees. The costs of war are socialized and the profits are privatized. The rich get richer on government borrowed money as our soldiers bleed to death and our poor repay the costs with tax dollars.

    It is all a huge transfer of wealth from the taxpayers to the owners of the war industries. It is all a giant and violent fraud. Please think about this as our president escalates the Iraq atrocity and threatens to carry hostilities into Iran. Is this the America you really believe in? Is this really what you want for your children? Do you really want to continue to transfer your wealth to Communist China while your children continue to have their legs and arms blown off in desert sands 8000 miles from home in a country that never was and never will be a threat to our country?

  4. MW Mandeville  January 10, 2007 at 3:26 am

    et’s Come Together, People

    BULLETIN ITEM: Sen. Ed Kennedy “Stand Up Against Bush” Speech Hit A Home Run This Morning

    I advise you to watch it. I have wondered for 35 years whether Kennedy would ever have “his” defining moment on the stage of history. This is it. Kennedy laid out exactly how the Democrats need to re-assert Congress’s war and peace powers as well as how to enjoin a process of mass deliberation, focused in Congress. He suggested that Bush is going to be making his “announcements” on Wednesday about a troop surge into Iraq as if it were the conclusion of U.S. decision-making. Kennedy said, in effect, just a minute, your plan is just the beginning of a process of deliberation. In the short-term, we are going to foreclose a surge because under existing programs and methods it is without doubt a terrible mistake. We in Congress are going to take up the Iraq war issues and involve the entire American people into creating the next plan for how to end the war.

    In other words, Kennedy threw down the gauntlet and said there will be no surge in Iraq….if Democrats hang together….but rather the creation of a plan of liquidation.

    With Kennedy’s approach at this juncture, he can ally the anti-war movement with the Baker, Sen. Bush et al establishment and the IRQ Plan, which is also completely at odds with George Bush and his expansion of the war. Within the Kennedy strategy, the Kucinich Peace Plan has a chance of actually being heard by enough people to bring some positive results.

    The Democrats have rightfully been criticized severely for having no plan, no guts, no leadership. Kennedy just put all of it together and served it up on the stage of history. All anti-war groups, movements, and Democrats should rally as strongly and visibly as they can to demand the Kennedy approach.

    A strong rally will help keep Bush’s White House reeling in confusion. A strong rally will force Bush/Cheney continually backing into defensive reactions.

    Please copy this missive everywhere.

    MWM

    Best Wishes, Michael Wells Mandeville,

    The Hills of Arizona USA at mwman@earthlink.net

    Master Website Index is at: http://www.michaelmandeville.com

  5. Sandy Price  January 8, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    What a shame that both political parties have given up their adendas that worked for years and instead are using their clout to extort money out of business and labor.

    I do not fault the Lobbyists but I do fault the lack of inventive ideas from the DNC and RNC found in D.C.

    Perot simply stated a new agenda of correction to be debated in a three-way gathering of information. Neither party was up to debating him when he exposed the hypocrisy found in both parties.

    Unless we can come up with a candidate who will not accept the corruption in the Republican and Democratic party, we would be better off saving our energy and not voting at all.

    We must recognize what is driving both our political parties. We are in a civil war between the GOP Christian coalition and the Democrats Liberal Socialism.

    It may be that we are ready for Socialism as we have not developed a firm American agenda. We cannot educate our children to read above a 4th grade level making the Army look good for their future. They are a good strong army and I have great pride in what they are doing but where are our future leaders coming from? Can we not raise our next generation to respect honesty and equality?

    We need a third party immediately to get our minds off of the failure of the GOP and Dems who run, not on American values but on the money.

    This is a very valuable Rant and I for one appreciate the total honesty in Doug’s words.

  6. Michael  January 8, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Why don’t you people give the Democratics a chance. We have had 12 years of the stupid republicans. Its going to take a long time to over turn what the republicans have done. And I for one WILL NEVER VOTE for a REPUBLICAN AGAIN. I do not like giving my tax dollars for WAR. I would love to give my money to help people. Not KILL AND MURDER PEOPLE.

  7. Doug Thompson  January 8, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Micahel:

    We gave Democrats a chance and they went for the money on their first week in town (just like the Republicans did 12 years ago). If you want partisan pandering, try Daily Kos. We don’t play favorites here.

    Doug

  8. Judy Bodnar  January 8, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Everytime I have gone to vote there has been a more than two parties on the ballot to choose from. The people have spoken and have chosen those whom they wanted in office. Those elected have been in office less than a week and the belly aching is already being heard. I say, give the new Congress a chance! lets see what they will do. Nothing could be worse than the congress we just got rid of..N O T H I N G !

    We need campaign reform.

    Enforce the laws on the books that are there to keep private interests out of federal spending & law making.

    Limited federal funding for all established canidates and there will be no campaign favors owed, and no campaign debts.

  9. John Hanks  January 8, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    The crook media gets most of the money in the end. What we own, we control. Campaign should be one month long and they should be paid for by the public. All campaigns should be banned from TV coverage since it is inherently propaganda.

  10. Wayne K Dolik  January 8, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Raising funds for new challenging candidates is a real nightmare. When you talk about getting the big donors that is, those giving $5,000 donations, your talking about power brokers that are heavily biased in favor incumbents. It makes no difference which political party we are talking about. The system favors political incumbents.

    The simple truth is that, big money from special interests controls the membership of Congress.

    15 incumbent Republicans retained their seats in the House of Representatives by a razor thin 3% margin in this last cycle. If the Democratic challengers had received better funding from the big power brokers more of these Congressional seats would have fallen into Democratic hands. The present system ensures that incumbents get re-elected over and over again. That is why your elected representative doesn’t listen to you.

  11. Joe Wommack  January 8, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    LOOK! LOOK! one Govt. for sale,pay a little now,reap big bennies later.
    Its to bad the people don’t have some lobbist for them(but,I thought the elected officials were our lobbist) guess I was wrong.
    One thing for sure,you’ll never see a poor person in Wash.politics.
    So then, keep on paying your taxes,Wash. people need to go on some FREE TRIPS.
    Bet that dont stop!

  12. Jeffers  January 8, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Judy writes:

    “Limited federal funding for all established candidates and there will be no campaign favors owed, and no campaign debts.”

    But Judy, what makes a candidate “established” and why is that a criterion. Your method simply keeps power to those institutions that are in power already, the two major parties and their key players.

    This is why campaign reform as it has always bee promoted will not work.

  13. anthny  January 9, 2007 at 12:34 am

    When Lieberman was defeated by the Demos in Ct. He ran right out and became an Independent. I think people will vote third party if they have a common thread with the candidate. Of course Lieberman hated to leave the senate because he loves the money and guess who voted him back in?
    I for one did not beleive he was worth giving another seat, as a demo he voted with Bush and his Neo-con buddies everytime.

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