To take or not to take lobbyist contributions? Is that the question?

Jonathan's post yesterday raised a good question. After 12 years of Republican efforts to take over K Street as their own ATM, will Democrats hamper a bold agenda by raising money from scrambling lobbyists who see a Democratic takeover of Congress coming?

He argued that Democrats ought to reject that money. They don't need it, and shouldn't take it. Others, like Nancy Pelosi's spokesperson, say, everyone knows the Democratic agenda and that agenda won't be influenced by the money.

I think there's another bigger issue here... Instead of asking if the House Democrats will bite the hands that feed them on their issue agenda if they retake the House, we should ask this question:

Will a Democratic House be more in debt to the help they receive from K Street, or will they be more in debt to the voters who cast their votes for Democratic candidates who pledged to clean up Washington's corruption?

I agree that we should be concerned about the money from lobbyists and how it may narrow or blunt some of the proposals put forth by Democrats. But we should be just as concerned with whether the Democrats "lose" their nerve to truly clean up the money-swamp on the Potomac if they get too cozy and complacent with K Street.

According to the USA Today/Gallup survey last week, Americans are now saying government corruption one of the most important issues facing the country.

I've sat through countless focus groups and studied scores of polling analyses on these types of issues over 12 years. If there's one major thing politicians (not just Democrats, but they better play close attention) need to understand, is that people don't think "reforms" should be about what politicians want. That might sound like a no-brainer, but elected officials need to speak with clarity about how what they propose gives people control over their government.

If they win the House, how Democrats lead on cleaning up Congress will be one of the most interesting issues in the post-election day time. Some leaders, like Steny Hoyer (D-MD), have gone on record for putting voters first with public financing. Other challengers in competitive races, like Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), are reaping the political benefits of the scandal-plagued Rep. John Sweeney and have made ethics and reform a centerpiece of her race, as has Jerry McNerney (D) running against Richard Pombo (R-CA). (There are countless other examples of challengers all over the country who are reaping the benefits of the scandals and leading on these issues. Give some examples in the comments.)

I think there's a role for the netroots in shaping and supporting this. What do you think? Will the Democrats propose serious reforms?

Tags: campaign finance reform, Democrats, K Street, lobbying (all tags)

Comments

24 Comments

Re: To take or not to take lobbyist contributions?

I think it's absurd to expect the Democrats to unilaterally disarm.  Fight for publicly-financed elections if you think lobbyist contributions are a big deal, but don't make the money gap with the GOP even worse than it is.

by Steve M 2006-10-19 09:42AM | 0 recs
Yes, we should replace the private donation system

...to campaigns with giving each US Congressional candidate a large sum of public money based on how well the party did in the district in the last election.

Regarding the party committees (DNC, DCCC, DSCC) the current maximum donation is $26,7000.  That maximum should be lowered to lessen the influence of the rich, including rich lobbyists.

by Eric Jaffa 2006-10-19 10:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Yes, we should replace the private donation sy

The suggestion of giving public funds based on the party performance in previous elections is similar to a bill Rep. David Obey has filed, but it would create some odd dynamics. Just take this election for example. How many of the Democratic candidates would be seriously under-funded right now if this policy were in place right now? Think about Brown vs. Doolittle, or any number of other races. Better to let the races be run on a level playing field irregardless of past election results. As long as there are strong qualifying standards, candidates should get equal funding.

by David Donnelly 2006-10-19 10:57AM | 0 recs
Charles Brown would be closer in funding...
...under the proportional-based-on-party-in-last-elec tion system.

In 2004, John T Doolittle get 65% to the Democrat's 35%, less than 2 to 1.

But in fund raising this cycle, Doolittle has more than twice the funds of Democrat Charles Brown.

http://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary .asp?ID=CA04&Cycle=2006

by Eric Jaffa 2006-10-19 12:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Charles Brown would be closer in funding...

Yes, but he wouldn't be on a level playing field like if running under a Clean Elections-style public financing system. If you take the public financing  and get outspent by an incumbent like Doolittle, you get additional funds to keep pace. I'm not arguing that the current imbalance is better or worse than the locked-in imbalance of what you're suggesting. I'm saying there's a better way to do public financing.

by David Donnelly 2006-10-19 04:30PM | 0 recs
Regarding the idea of giving
...the major party candidates for US Congress an equal of amount of money (is that what you're proposing?) even if that is ideal, I don't think members of Congress would be willing to vote for it and risk their own chances of re-election.
by Eric Jaffa 2006-10-19 12:37PM | 0 recs
How on earth...

...are you going to get something like that enacted, even supposing a Dem trifecta?

This is all pie in the sky, surely? (I can imagine the 08 Dem prez candidates lining up to call for canning private contributions at the same time as they're shaking down all and sundry for moolah!)

by skeptic06 2006-10-19 01:31PM | 0 recs
Re: How on earth...

We'll have to watch the cosponsor list in the Senate, eh? ;)

by David Donnelly 2006-10-19 04:32PM | 0 recs
Re: To take or not to take lobbyist contributions?

This might be our one chance to change the public/private funding interface.  We shouldn't lose it.  If we come out fighting and do nothign but hold hearings on K-street corruption/Enron designing the energy plan and the like we could pull it off.

by Robert P 2006-10-19 11:22AM | 0 recs
Re: To take or not to take lobbyist contributions?

Steve M is right. We need early legislation to level the playing field. Pelosi has said it's a "first 100 hours" priority. What we need to watch for is people on both sides of the fence who are on the take and will pull the teeth out of any real attempt to address the problem.

by lightyearsfromhome 2006-10-19 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: To take or not to take lobbyist contributions?

Big K is looking for some action.  His customary whores at the Republican House are dried up, diseased and lost their magic touch.  

So Big K heads over to the Democratic House with a hard-on and a pocket full of cash.  Big K bangs on the door and announces himself.

"It's Big K and I need a good fuck!"

"Slip $100,000 under the door," says a voice from within.

Big K withdraws a wad of cash from his bulging pockets, peels off some bills and slips them under the door.  He waits.  Nothing happens.  The door remains shut.  Big K grows impatient and again bangs on the door.

"Hey, it's Big K and I need a good fuck!"

"What, again?" answers the voice from within the Democratic House.

*

Morale of the story:  Take the money and fuck 'em.

YD

by yankeedoodle 2006-10-19 10:13AM | 0 recs
DeLay's Gift

I've thought for a while that, should we take back Congress, Tom DeLay's "K Street Project" (his long-term effort to pack lobbying firms with former Republican legislators and staffers, while shutting Democrats out of the lobbying industry as much as possible) could be the one good thing DeLay ever did for this country: the next Democratic Congress will be far less beholden to the lobbyists and the industries they represent than any Congress in living memory, and will have a unique opportunity not only to reform lobbying practices but to cut the corporate welfare and plug the regulatory loopholes that lobbyist bribes have purchased over the last few decades.

by Alex 2006-10-19 10:15AM | 0 recs
Re: DeLay's Gift

I've often thought the same thing.

by Alice Marshall 2006-10-19 10:18AM | 0 recs
Re: DeLay's Gift

Ditto.  In the 2004 and 2006 cycles, the Dems have raised buckets of money from ordinary people - more than enough to be competitive, even if we'll never match the GOP dollar-for-dollar.

Why let the lobbyists come in at the end and let them convince the Hoyers of the world that the Dems owe them something in return for their last-minute help?  We want a Congress that will make the best decisions for the people of this country, not one that will make the best decisions for the big-money boys at our expense.

by RT 2006-10-19 10:59AM | 0 recs
Why not replace K Street with Main Street

Here is an idea, we lock out K-Street lobbyists in favor of lobbyists that are in the State capitals.  They lobby for the same causes, but we force them out into the provinces.  The advantage of this would be that we can have lobbyists who live and breath in an environment that is much friendlier to Dems.  They will also be much more likely to support down ticket races and State legislature candidates.

The reason this might be imortant is three fold.  Firsts, lobbyist power will be dilluted and dispersed.  Second, individual congressmen will be unable to centralize power and enforce their will, making individual Legislators more independant and self sufficient.  And third, whoever controls the legislatures and Governorships, and Secretaries of State will also control redistricting and the election process, and that is where the long term control of the US House is really decided, and having these people in the provinces will give these groups support on our terms.  

by pjv 2006-10-19 11:16AM | 0 recs
Netroots Suggestions
  1. Give away all your money.
  2. Don't raise any more.
  3. Don't ask us for any; we've already given enough.
  4. In case of GOP attack, get under the desk, put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye.
by stevehigh 2006-10-19 10:15AM | 0 recs
Re: To take or not to take lobbyist contributions?

I am not sold on Steny Hoyer as a reformer.

by Alice Marshall 2006-10-19 10:17AM | 0 recs
Re: To take or not to take lobbyist contributions?

Perhaps we ought to work to make his pledge mean something, then.

by David Donnelly 2006-10-19 11:00AM | 0 recs
why is rasing money for dems bad?!?

to blame Democrats for raising money, which has been happening a lot lately, by David Sirota and others, is stupid.

we need people like Hoyer, who are the best around at playing the game the way it is currently played. without them, the repubs would have an ever larger $ edge. it would be like them shotting at us, and us crying that guns are bad. when we need to shot back, damn it!

if we are ever in full control, we can debate changing the rules, like maybe a publicly financed system

by crazy diamond 2006-10-19 12:01PM | 0 recs
publicly financed system?

A publicly financed system is ripe for corruption and really does thread on everyone's 1st amendment rights.  The only real solutions is to remove all caps and limitations, but demand transparency.

by Classical Liberal 2006-10-19 01:17PM | 0 recs
After the presidential candidates...
...accept their respective party's nominations, the rest of each campaign is publicly funded. Is that "ripe for corruption"?
by Eric Jaffa 2006-10-19 01:26PM | 0 recs
No to Removing all caps and limitations

The opportunity for corruption is much too big.  IMO you are naive. However, I agree that a system that is only funded by the taxpayer is subject to abuse and corruption. We need a combination of free giving by small donors and regulation/limitation of large gifts. Transparency is needed.

by FishOutofWater 2006-10-19 06:53PM | 0 recs
They should ban contributions from lobbyists.

And lawmakers should have to wait a long, long time after they leave office before they can become lobbyists.

And it should be part of a larger effort to permanently end the Republican money advantage.  Whether it's by lowering the maximum contribution amount to federal candidates, public financing, guaranteed television and radio broadcast time, I don't care.

Any effort to match the Republican shakedown of big business is doomed to failure for so many reasons that it's pointless to even attempt.  Not that I don't expect idiots like Hoyer to try.

by Drew 2006-10-19 12:11PM | 0 recs
To take or not to take lobbyist contributions?

The DC Democratic Party's attitude toward bribery and corruption was clearly evidenced by the milquetoast lobbying reform proposal they put forward, which differed from that of the GOP only in it's placement of commas.

They had their chance to make a real statement, and didn't.

by Liberal Avenger 2006-10-19 12:19PM | 0 recs

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