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.

Comments

  1. 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

  2. Kent Shaw

    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?

  3. Jennifer

    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

  4. John

    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.