The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Follow the money.  If you want to know why Democrats keep losing, don't offer advice, follow the money and get your hands dirty.  You see, Democrats aren't losing because they are stupid.  Democrats are losing because a significant portion of the operative class is paid to undermine successful populist positions.  Just follow the money.

Here we have a nice example.

The calls are starting to come in from shocked or angry seniors. They have just learned that their Medicare drug plans are maxing out on early coverage and that they must now spend $2,850 from their own pockets before coverage will resume.

"I can't pay for my medications," one man told Howard Houghton of the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging the other day. "What do I do?"

Over the next five months, several million Americans with high medicine costs could find themselves in a similar bind. The gap in insurance, popularly called the doughnut hole, is an unusual provision in most of the private plans offered in Medicare's new Part D prescription drug program. Advocates for the elderly say it is misunderstood and problematic.

This obvious and foreseeable political problem didn't stop Carter Eskew's lobby shop The Glover Park Group from passing around memos arguing Democrats shouldn't take on the Medicare prescription drug fiasco because of bad polling.  Their corporate clients are of course various players in the health care industry.  Here are the opening few sentences of the memo.

After a thorough review of early public polling on the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, our analysis suggests that support for the program is solid.  Five months into the program, enrolled seniors are satisfied with the program, found enrollment to be easy and think it's saving them money.

Here's the full memo, in case you're curious. Carter Eskew was the chief strategist for the Gore campaign in 2000, and his colleagues at the Glover Park group include Joel Johnson, a top Clinton White House advisor on communications and policy, Joe Lockhart, who was Clinton's spokesman from 1998-2000, and Howard Wolfson, a key Hillary Clinton advisor.  If you're looking for a more accessible sense of who these people are, it's the senior team type characters from the West Wing.  They all went into lobbying after the Clinton show was canceled.  This is a HUGE problem.  The people who know how to run campaigns are not politicians, they are the people who run campaigns.  The fact that this class of operative/consultant is working for corporate interests and not for Democratic gain means that there is little to no infrastructure that can effectively push for legislative and political victories.  That infrastructure is too busy getting rich off of corporate payola.  Had this infrastructure been focusing on winning for Democrats, we'd have a campaign ready to go based on the donut hole.  It's not like we didn't know this was coming.

This machine is incredibly powerful, but it's vulnerable, and that's why DC is freaking out about the Lieberman challenge.  How does this machine tie directly into Connecticut?  Well, Carter Eskew is Lieberman's ad man.  

It doesn't stop there, of course.  The corporate Democratic machine extends far into the structure of how camapigns operate. For instance, we have senior Kerry and Dukakis advisor Michael Whouley, who is apparently building a $3 million model on how to win in the battleground states in 2008 in preparation for Yet Another Insider Presidential Losing Campaign.  Whouley runs Dewey Square, a premier lobby and PR shop whose clients include the Chamber of Commerce and corporate health care interests.  Dewey Square employed three separate 2004 Demoratic campaign managers; the campaign manager for Edwards, Gephardt, and Lieberman all did time at Dewey Square.  It's also worth pointing out that diversity doesn't seem to be a, well, primary goal of this group.

All of these lobbyists/PR people (including Steve Elmendorf) have telecom companies as their clients, and are working against net neutrality.  If you want to know why the Democratic party has a muddled message, look no further than the conflicts of interest in trying to run a populist campaign when your other clients have a direct financial interest in not seeing a campaign like that succeed.

Tags: Carter Eskew, Joe Lockhart, Joel Johnson, West Wing (all tags)

Comments

38 Comments

Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Good post.  Ronald Reagan, when he began his rise to power, had a team drawn from advertising, specifically from one firm and its spinoffs.  They kept busy between campaigns doing advertising.  It strikes me that that is less involving than lobbying as such, where you are personally and directly pitching your "product" and influencing legislation, rather than coming up with catchy TV jingles or billboards.

We need either a new genius on the way up and a candidate willing to trust him/her or a candidate who is seasoned enough and has enough stature to fashion his own message;  someone who knows what it is he wants to say and will stick to it; someone willing to take on the powers that be because he really believes in what he is saying; someone who learned from his mistakes in following one of these characters 6 years ago.  Otherwise it will be a rerun.  

by Mimikatz 2006-07-30 10:31AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Great piece, Matt.

You efforts to study and describe the machine are as ever top notch.

by Pachacutec 2006-07-30 10:42AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

i have lived in dc for the past couple of years and have worked for a number of democratic groups, firms, offices, and campaigns. this post rings so true. there is a huge conflict of interest, with democratic insiders very close to corporate interests who dominate this town. this does not mean that these are bad people. they are all great people who do genuinely support Democratic values, but they have been deluded into thinking about big business' best interests before the people's best interests. we really need to support more candidates who have campaign staffs from local areas, not from dc.

by ahf8 2006-07-30 10:43AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

It's probably a consequence of the emphasis in our society on material things, on income as a measure of ones value, and too much hobnobbing with rich executives.  Pure and poor just doesn't cut it any more.

by Mimikatz 2006-07-30 10:49AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

that's giving them too much credit. frankly, in every other area of life their are conflict of interests rules for ethical conduct that someone should probably set up for these sorts of situations. i dont understand how, if lawyers, doctors, accountants, and alot of other professions are required to work according to ethical guidelines regarding conflicts of interests, these guys are not?

by bruh21 2006-07-30 10:59AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Well, for one thing, lawyers, doctors and accountants operate under a certification or licensing system.  There's no such thing for consulting.

The word "profession," in the strictest sense, defines a group with a credentialing system and an enforceable code of ethics, with consequences for violations.

by Pachacutec 2006-07-30 02:12PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Isn't it the case that Bill Hillsman, Lamont's media consultant, also did killer ads that helped Wellstone get elected?  And that despite this he is shut out of the DC consultocracy (as in, no DSCC financial support if you use him)?  Similarly for Steve Eichenbaum who did the ads that helped Feingold get elected.

What will it take to shake the death-grip of the incompetent consultocracy on the DC Democratic party, with their garbage product on full display in the inept Lieberman campaign?

It would be nice if the Broders of the world could start talking about it.  It is surely in plain sight in the Lamont-Lieberman fight.

Why do I have this sinking feeling that Elmendorf will again be a consultant in the 08 Democratic presidential team, even after his disastrous advice not to respond to the swift-boating in 04.

How bad do these guys have to screw up before they get fired?

by Taylor26 2006-07-30 10:58AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Fascinating, Taylor. I was going to coment on this line in the lead post-- Carter Eskew is Lieberman's ad man--to the effect that if this asshat is responsible for that animated bear ad he should be lucky to get a job sweeping floors at Wendy's. By contrast with Ned's ads which have been witty, original and just superb. I've been posting here and there that regardless of who comes out on top in the CT Sen. race, whoever is responsible for Ned's ads should be getting mega-offers from every serious Dem presidential candidate out there. Had no idea this history was already in place. Sickening. No wonder the Ds keep losing, if true.

Maybe if it was their own money, like Ned's, they'd be more concerned about the shitty product they get in return for spending it.

by DrBB 2006-07-30 12:55PM | 0 recs
"despite"?
Isn't it the case that Bill Hillsman, Lamont's media consultant, also did killer ads that helped Wellstone get elected? And that despite this he is shut out of the DC consultocracy ...
Whaddya mean "despite"? I'm guessing that it'd be more accurate to say "because of".
by Bearpaw 2006-07-31 10:15AM | 0 recs
This really needed to be said...

Had this infrastructure been focusing on winning for Democrats, we'd have a campaign ready to go based on the donut hole.  It's not like we didn't know this was coming.

This machine is incredibly powerful, but it's vulnerable, and that's why DC is freaking out about the Lieberman challenge.

And after this primary, where do we tap next?

by Lizzy 2006-07-30 11:02AM | 0 recs
Re: This really needed to be said...

And after this primary, where do we tap next?

Go for the Queen Bee.

by Sitkah 2006-08-01 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

"The fact that this class of operative/consultant is working for corporate interests and not for Democratic gain means that there is little to no infrastructure that can effectively push for legislative and political victories."

And what infrastructure we have is corrupt. I think that "corrupt", not "incompetent", is the operative description.

Why did I ditch the Greens, again? Oh yes, because of the total futility. Futility? Corruption? Nice to have a choice.

by John Emerson 2006-07-30 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Great work, Matt.  Thank You.

by global yokel 2006-07-30 11:41AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

I do believe that the DLC is completely out of touch with mainstream America and the mainstream Democratic Party.

Many are starting to increasingly believe that the card carrying members of the DLC are no longer representative of the Democratic Party and are only working to keep their own jobs. The problem with this is that the Democrats are fractured because their own leadership is letting them down.

Dr. Howard Dean is the only one I can see who is doing the job that he was elected to do. Dr. Howard Dean is creating enthusiasm throughout the nation for a Democratic revival.

Why weren't any other prominent Democrats out on the streets thumping the pavement with Dr. Howard Dean?

I only wish the other more prominent Democrats would stop criticizing him and start working like they really cared about the Democrats and the Democratic prinicples they are supposed to stand for.

by benji 2006-07-30 11:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Wow. Excellent post! If you get paid to make your client look good and do what is best for the client (and not the majority of people or your constituents)then you need a certain amount of "mental flexiblity" that allows you to stop viewing the world from the seniors point of view.

The thinking goes a little something like this:

"The seniors aren't paying me. And in fact, lots of the seniors aren't going to have problems. Just look at the demographics! Seniors have MORE money than ever! There will just be a small number of seniors who have a problem and there are ALWAYS going to be people who complain. Why it even says in the bible "the poor are always with us". And just because they didn't prepare for their health care why is that our CLIENT's fault? And besides, the current administration is really the one who started this, not our client!
No, really the problem is not that big. Look at the poll that we commissioned. See? Right here it says that things are fine. It's in black and white."

by spocko 2006-07-30 11:48AM | 0 recs
Sequel to the Republican Noise Machine
This is great stuff. Uncovering all of these connections would serve as an excellent sequel to the Republican Noise Machine. Finding out all of the conflicts of interest for Democratic staffers would go a long way toward clearing up our message.
by Chris Bowers 2006-07-30 11:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Sequel to the Republican Noise Machine

Word.  I think the progressive blogosphere could effectively stir up shit on this one.  I would guess that a significant percentage of the "new generation" of Democratic operatives hang out at MyDD.  

Chris, do you think there is value in starting some sort of pledge, or a directory of Democratic staffers who refuse to work as corporate lobbyists?

by Patton 2006-07-30 12:41PM | 0 recs
to block liberals from the primary

To give another example of how we are being blocked and sabotaged from within our own Party, here's a passage from the pro-DLC book I have called Minority Party - Why Democrats face defeat in 1992 and beyond

A month earlier Jackson had been in a debate in Williamsburg, Virginia, sponsored by the "centist" Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC, headed by headed by Robb, was composed of those who had created a southern regional primary to block liberals like Jackson from the primary. - Page 238 of the pro-DLC book, Minority Party

by William Domingo 2006-07-30 11:56AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Dude, the Dewey Square guys are everywhere too.  Guy Cecil, political director at the DSCC was a principal over at DSG.  He's the only one I know for sure, because I know him personally, but they're all over the place, keeping populist politics from functioning.

by beyondo98 2006-07-30 12:06PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

After researching this plan for my own husband a year and half ago, I have said this Same thing over and over to anyone who would listen!   'Wait until the elderly reach the donut hole and understand what this plan is really all about'.

This plan was never for Americans!    This plan has been for the Drug Companies and Insurance Companies since day one!    Just ask Nancy Johnson, the Architect of it!      

Instead of snowflake babies, the Dems need to find Snowplowed Seniors, who were given a snow job by the Republicans and are now up the freaken creek!    Put them on the stage with them.      

USE this everyone.    Point out just another example of the Republican's are Pro Choice for Corporations!

by Bergs 2006-07-30 12:28PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Excellent report and I love Chris Bowers' suggestion that this become the sequel to the Republican Noise Machine.  New Yorker magazine has an illustration of what we are up against in Ohio, with the Theocrats and their mailing lists with half a million names.  Please include a chapter on the new political machinery in the big box churches, with the prayer breakfasts, the mega funds of the fundies and how they organize around a wedge issue.

It does my heart good to finally have a name to go with the impotent response to the Swift Boat campaign.  Thanx to Taylor26.    

Lizzy is asking a good question--"What's next?"

If the Lamont campaign pulls off a victory, the way we do business will officially change.  It's about time the process changed hands.  

by fade2bluz 2006-07-30 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

I had an idea. Why not go "undercover" at some of these big box churches and bust them for their open politicking? Just the stuff that the IRS would be interested in. So that they would lose their tax exempt status. That would be an interesting story.

by spocko 2006-07-30 02:02PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Matt, you can't wait for Broder to take this subject up.  YOU are doing it, and you are doing a great job.  God, I hope the other big blogs pick up this diary of yours, because it really identifies a huge problem.

I remember, back during the 2004 campaign, an important former Democratic elder (was it Tony Coelho?) came out blasting Bob Shrum and the campaign he was running for Kerry, saying that Shrum basically scalped all his clients and was doing the same to Kerry.  It rang true.  All the pieces fit in this ugly puzzle.

There is one solution, and it's the same one the Republicans would do if they found themselves in this position.  They scorch the earth under Republicans that are fucking up their message, just as they did to McCain for years.  Once somebody gets on their shit-list, they never (or rarely) get a break.

So we should remember the names of these people, and always bring this up when discussing any candidates or causes they are backing.  Make them big pariahs.  All it takes is constant reminders.

by Dumbo 2006-07-30 12:46PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Shrum charges his clients a percentage of the amount that is spent on TV ads.

Even the corrupt money-grubbing Republicans don't do that.

by Taylor26 2006-07-30 05:59PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

I believe that they used to, but the Republican candidates and national commmittees bullied them into submission.  It keeps coming back to that, don't it?

by jsw 2006-07-30 08:49PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

and Matt goes for the jugular. get ready for the real thing, my friend. they will have no choice but to come after you now. and as you point out, they are Legion, and well funded at that.

by chicago dyke 2006-07-30 12:50PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters
The corporations -- without any oversight or government control on behalf of real people -- are becoming monsters.
 We should hold corporations and their officers criminally libel for crimes they commit while working to overpay their officers and boards of directors.  They are killing us with bad drugs, horrible health care systems, and pollution.
They are killing our public discourse with obfuscation, they are killing our democracy with their money, and their vacuum of values.  They are buying our politicians and political operatives and diluting our ideas -- I think we see now why we are losing, and why they are working so hard to keep us shut up.
These former Democrats really think that they are the Democratic Party --despite losing the last two national elections, or rather, capitulating to the Republicans who claimed victories that always appeared ambiguous--these people are now employed by the corporations working against us, and they have employed the DLC Marshall Wittman-
Republican-smear tactics against progressive values and real Democrats.  
I think we have to expose them as you are doing, and hold them to account -- continually between now and election day.  Get rid of the Marshall Wittmans and all of the harm they are doing if you want to stay Democrats.
And resign your evil corporate clients too -- or follow them into the Republican Party -- so we can stop the phony stuff and reinvigorate or political discourse.
by syolles 2006-07-30 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters

syolles:
Here is another thing that the corporations are doing. Supporting hate speech. Who pays the salaries of hate radio? Advertisers. And here is the interesting thing. If you point that out to them, they say, "We really don't want to taint our brand with that language."  

Oh, and check out the movie The Corporation if you haven't already it is really chilling.

by spocko 2006-07-30 02:08PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Great entry.

Exposing and dismantling the current (and long-established) relationship between consultants, incumbents, donors and political machines should be at the top of the new progressive movement's "to do" list.

by island empire 2006-07-30 02:06PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

I strongly recommend this piece as a companion -- it's about the nuclear industry buying green credentials with Whitman & a co-founder of Greenpeace who apprently sells that credential serially & indiscriminately (I note I'm not even necessarily that anti-nuclear -- but I don't trust the American industry to be as responsible as that in Europe or Japan). http://www.cjr.org/issues/2006/4/editori al.asp

by Hauser 2006-07-30 04:25PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

"If you want to know why the Democratic party has a muddled message . . . "

Doesn't seem particularly muddled to me, in fact it's crystal clear: "This space for rent."

by billmon 2006-07-30 07:07PM | 0 recs
Sturm und Feuer... oder nicht?

I'm bothered by all the "you go Matt" enthusiasm. It strikes me as too much ditto-head-ism. I mean, w.r.t the Atlas Group, maybe Matt's right, maybe he's wrong, but his accusations rely on in-knowledge and hearsay rather than persuasive analysis. Then, the comments don't add much information to Matt's posting, other than agreement.

I read the article on the Atlas Group  at the Washington Post, and found it pretty interesting. It is precisely along the lines of what campaign strategists should be doing to win elections, and ideas that MyDD has suggested in the past. To paint the Atlas Group as somewhat sinister is easy, but if there is some basis for that, then I would like it documented better.

Here are the lead paragraphs:

Three of the Democratic Party's top field organizers have formed a group to provide their party's 2008 presidential nominee with road maps to victory in the dozen or so battleground states.

The effort is known as the Atlas Project and is being organized by political operatives Steve Rosenthal, Michael Whouley and Mary Beth Cahill. The group will analyze election data, interview local Democrats, and mount a polling and targeting effort to devise a comprehensive strategy to win votes in these states.

In 2004, Rosenthal headed America Coming Together, a liberal advocacy group that built large turnout operations in battleground states, while Cahill managed and Whouley served as the senior adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). After the election, the three went into consulting, and now they have reunited to oversee what Rosenthal describes as "a more thorough targeting analysis than has ever been done before."

by MetaData 2006-07-30 08:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Sturm und Feuer... oder nicht?

Not knowing much about the Atlas Project, I can't really say whether it's a good idea or not.  It strikes me on first glance as more of the same swing state mentality, where people from DC just know better than the locals.

Of course, none of this is actually related to my point.

by Matt Stoller 2006-07-30 08:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists
Well Matt,
The Democrats aren't on Medicare Part D. I am.
I ran into a snag the other week.
The insurance company switched drugs. I can't take the drug they switched to because of serious side effects.
Doesn't matter.
They say that I would have to take that drug for 30 days and then the doc could play the authorization game to get me back on the original drug.
The generic of my drug is not available in the US.
I did not pick up the new drug at the drug store and have the charge taken off.
The insurance company now covers one drug...for now.
I found out that I can buy my drug in the generic form.
The brand name drug costs about $74 for 30 pills.
I will be paying $9 for 30 pills.
The only other charge is a small shipping charge.
I won't go into the scam that is being run on the cost of drugs with this plan.
My concern is for those who have trouble navigating the complex system.
In January, Hillary Clinton had a photo op at a drug store over the mess with Medicare Part D.
Haven't heard her say anything about this since.
I guess she's too busy chugging vodka.
There will be a real problem with Medicare Part D in the fall.
It will be "too bad" for the participants as this is an election year.
The Dems are self involved.
This leaves us out in the cold.
All the money being spent on Iraq is going to impact the US very badly.
I can't tell the difference between the 2 parties any more.
Maude
by Maude 2006-07-31 05:45AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

If you can't tell the difference between the two parties any more, then either you don't want to or you aren't paying attention.

It's all well and good to be upset with "the system" and with the two parties. But the fact of the matter is that only one party has power right now.

Medicare D is a big mess, but it represents a failure of governance by the Republicans. Maybe you haven't noticed but they run the Congress and the White House.

Perhaps it's time to elect a different party and see if they improve things. Personally, I don't see how a Democratic majority could do worse.

The discussion here is about making sure that a Democratic majority reflects the desires of party members, not party insiders and power brokers.

by KB 2006-07-31 06:02AM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

If you can't tell the difference between the two parties any more, then either you don't want to or you aren't paying attention.

The difference is Republicans have been winning with their message and Democrats have been losing with the same message.

by Sitkah 2006-08-01 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

by Sitkah 2006-10-04 04:17PM | 0 recs
Re: The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

If you can't tell the difference between the two parties any more, then either you don't want to or you aren't paying attention.

The last few comments are sort of ironic. Matt's diary is brilliant and the discussion has been much-needed. But aren't we missing an opportunity here? And isn't it emblematic of the larger Democratic problem? It's not only the consultants. Maude's travails with her Part D plan may be a bit off-topic, and her despair about the two parties reflects a lot of grassroots opinion. These are the very people we need to build bridges to. Why blow them off?

Most people in the netroots are not yet personally affected by Medicare. Why not reach out to people who are? The Republicans have handed us a huge opportunity. But only if we act like it.

by Madison Guy 2006-08-02 09:56AM | 0 recs

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