K Street Comes Groveling Back; Dems Should Just Say No

In the category of stories covering which party is on track to control Congress in January, this front page article in today's issue of The Hill by Alexander Bolton stands out: lobbyists and powerful corporations are now clamoring to give money to Democratic candidates, at least hedging their bets and perhaps banking on a Democratic Congress.

Lobbyists are key players on the Washington fundraising scene because they advise clients where to send their political contributions. That is especially true of lobbyists representing corporate clients because corporations are usually less politically savvy and experienced than labor unions or single-issue advocacy groups, such as environmental groups.

"Is there more interest in showing up at a Democratic fundraiser than three months ago? Absolutely," said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who would become chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "I've found it easier to do the fundraising than it was three or four months ago."

[...]

One Democratic lobbyist representing energy sector clients said that in recent weeks he has received calls from many of them looking to give money for Democratic candidates.

"It's been surprising," said the lobbyist. "In years past it's been really difficult to write checks to any Democrat." [emphasis added]

I understand that it takes money to run elections. I understand that it's difficult and counterintuitive for politicians to say no to contributions. But for the good of the party, Democrats should just say "no" to the Johnny-come-lately lobbyists and their corporate clients.

Democrats already have a great opportunity to retake the House this year even without a late surge of cash from interests inherently opposed to Democratic principles. Last night, Chris pointed to polling showing Democratic House candidates today leading in enough races to win control of the chamber were the election held today. Of course the election isn't held today, it is in less than six weeks. Yet the numbers do not lie. And should the prevailing political winds continue to blow as they have for the better part of the last year, even Republican incumbents who appear to be safe today could be in for a rude shock come November 7. As Charlie Cook rightly noted in a column earlier this month, in 1982, the year of the last major pro-Democratic tide in the House, "14 Republican House members who had double-digit leads on October 1 ended up losing."

Given that Democrats do not need these lobbyist donations to win this year, why take them? The prevailing logic holds that, should they win this year, Democrats would have an easier time governing with K Street than without it. But I am not certain that that's the case. In fact, I don't believe I'm out of line in assuming that if Democratic lawmakers become too beholden to the powerful lobbyists and the big corporations that they will feel it necessary to abandon at least some core planks of their platform.

However, if the Democrats said "no" to lobbyists today and win without them -- which, again, is a real possibility -- then the party will have a mandate to govern in the way it sees fit. Democrats will be able to pass real lobbying reform without fear of retribution because they will know that they don't need lobbyist dollars to win. Such a move would have the potential of completely upending Washington. And you know what? The party pledging to fundamentally change the way the people's business is conducted in Washington is going to have the support of a lot of voters this year.

Tags: House 2006, K Street, lobbying (all tags)

Comments

20 Comments

Re: K Street Comes Groveling Back; Dems Should Jus

Just a reminder, Andrew Hurst, running in VA 11th CD against Tom Davis is accepting no PAC money.

by Alice Marshall 2006-09-27 07:41AM | 0 recs
Re: K Street Comes Groveling Back; Dems Should Jus

I completely agree.  Now is the time to show that this won't be business as usual.  Tell these "fair-weather" friends to hit the damn road.

by Robert P 2006-09-27 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: K Street Comes Groveling Back

Also, frankly, it would tend to demoralize the troops (the Dem base) to get into bed with K Street. This would be a really fundamentally stupid idea in an election that is probably going to be all about getting out your base. I don't see the upside to this other than money- and what's money going to do for you if you dont have the peo on the ground willing to vote for you?

by bruh21 2006-09-27 08:08AM | 0 recs
Dems Should Just Say No

Another vote for showing K street the door.  Amusingly enough, Delay's K street project may provide an additional reason for our representatives to say no.  As a Democratic lawmaker, do you really think it's a wise idea to take money from K street, which has been packed ideologically by republicans?  Especially when information on an embarrassing donation might "leak" at an unfortunate time during your next election?  

The Republicans made K street their own, let them have it.

by nwithers 2006-09-27 08:14AM | 0 recs
From a Beltway perspective....

... it would be good politics. You don't need the K Street money RIGHT NOW to win. If you win without it, when they come grovelling to you after you can say "haha you have no leverage! Now stop funding Club for Growth/CATO or you're out in the cold."

Negotiate from a position of strength, make them BEG YOU to take their money.

Perhaps force the telcos to support net neutrality?

by MNPundit 2006-09-27 08:15AM | 0 recs
Re: K Street Comes Groveling Back; Dems Should Jus

I completely disagree.  The cold wind from K St. hurts the Democratic party in many, many ways.  Yes, some candidates should not take money and yes we don't want to become beholden to them (we won't).

But, we want and need to get back in at least partial control of K St. institutions. Just because you don't like them doesn't mean they won't continue to exist.  Thanks to Delay key players like the RIAA, the Chamber, and others have gone over to the dark side and that hurts and doesn't help us.

I know that many would like to change the corporate power structure of this country but -- until that happens -- it is in all of our interest (anyone who wants progressive legislation to happen) to make sure K St goes back to being as bipartisan as possible.

by lojo 2006-09-27 08:18AM | 0 recs
Re: K Street Comes Groveling Back;

I have no idea what your post means because it does not reflect how the process works in terms of how I understand. Please explain what you mean by us taking over K Street? You do know there interest- such as the RIAA- is to rep the industry they represent- and that's it. I don't per se have a problem with industries rep'ing themselve in DC, but your argument seems to misunderstand what that means.

by bruh21 2006-09-27 08:51AM | 0 recs
Back; Dems Should Just Say No

Great idea!

However I think we will see hell freeze over first.  The dems won't be able to resist.

by aiko 2006-09-27 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: K Street Comes Groveling Back; Dems Should Jus

Agreed. K Street has no principles, and they're showing it now. Besides, what happened to the public good? These folks are mostly fat-cat corporate lobbyists taht will screw us, the people, and the Democratic party if that's what it takes to keep their lucrative lobbying contracts.

They're playing the game. We should change the rules.

by cdale77 2006-09-27 08:49AM | 0 recs
"Feel the Power Of the Dark-Side!"

It's the system, stupid! For far too long we've blamed individuals for being corrupt. And they are, but it's institutional corruption of the system that's the real problem.

Of course Democrats will almost immediately start selling us out if they are elected. That's a given. What is needed in America is a long-term grass-roots lobbying effort to ban corporate money from politics. Don't get surprised or upset, just organize and fight it!

It's not the politicians, it's us. It's our democracy and our repsonsibility to hold politicians' feet to the fire between elections and make campaign finance reform a key issue.

Of course, it starts with electing a majority of Democrats since the Republicans' won't even take our calls and are totally hostile to everything we want. But, then we have to keep ratcheting up the pressure on every Democratic official to stop the money train.

And when some of them sell us out, and they will, we have to focus intense scrutiny on them -- just as we did with Senator "Bridge-to-Nowhere."

And if we take back Congress in 2006, Phase II of the endless war on bribery and influence peddling will begin in earnest. But it can't even begin until we win.

by Cugel 2006-09-27 08:54AM | 0 recs
Gotta go with Big Daddy here

As Jesse Unruh said, "If you can't take their money, drink their booze, eat the food, screw their wives and still say no to them, you don't belong in the business."  Or, rather to ad my collorary: K Street money, unlike the netroots, is a fixed amount, more or less.  So the more money from K Street that goes to Dems, the less goes to the GOP.  In addition, you never know when you'll need these guys.

by Jim Treglio 2006-09-27 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Gotta go with Big Daddy here

Yeah, this is what I'd be worried about.  Don't take their money, and they'll just give it to the GOP and less scrupulous Dems.

Better to take their money and still vote your conscience, until better lobbying restrictions can be passed.

by scientician 2006-09-27 10:06AM | 0 recs
For Real? Or For Propaganda Benefits?

One point:  we're a long way from governing.  We might take the House, but that puts us in a position to carry on guerilla warfare, not to govern.  

When we talk about freezing out the K street lobbyists are we also talking about the lobbyists who work for unions and environmental and women's groups?  

How about Senator Snerd from Iowalaska where the leading industry is cornpone manufacturing?  Does he refuse to take money from the Cornpone Association?  Does he refuse to meet with their lobbyists?

by takhallus 2006-09-27 08:56AM | 0 recs
Re: K Street Comes Groveling Back; Dems

I think this is a very simplistic answer to a complicated issue.  Are all lobbyist bad because this is what they do for a living?  Are all PACs bad?  Remember there are plenty of progressive groups that have both lobbyists and PACs.  Unions, for one, come to mind.  Throwing these generic terms around paints everyone with the same brush.

Should Dems turn money away from businesses with whom they agree?  How about Dems who have fought for net neutrality and get offered PAC money from Google and Yahoo?  Should they say no to it?  Is this selling out?  There are a lot of areas of gray here.

I think the current campaign finance system is legalized bribery and needs to be radically changed.  However, I am also realistic enough to know that you have to play the game with system that exists.

I do have a problem with Dems who take money from businesses with whom they disagree (oil cos for example) just because they are about to assume power.  I don't have a problem with Dems who take from businesses with whom they agree.  Being a business is not inherently bad.  Dems should use some descretion from whom they take money.

by John Mills 2006-09-27 09:05AM | 0 recs
Exactly

Thank you. There are dozens of lobbying entities out there that push for legislation Democrats can agree with. AARP is the biggest lobbying organization of them all.

Being reflexively anti-business is in nobody's best interest. Big business does create a ton of well-paid jobs. The current problem is they demand far too many concessions from the public in return. Too many tax breaks, too many relaxed environmental laws. Intelligent leaders should be able to find a middle ground where business will not have to fight half the country every election cycle and where the public good receives higher priority in return.

by OfficeOfLife 2006-09-27 10:00AM | 0 recs
We need money like a hog needs slop

You know that sick fuck from Thailand? The one that wanted the sex-change operation when he wasn't confessing to killing the five-yer-old beauty queen in Colorado? That guy?

If he sent me a $10 contribution, I'd sent it back, but I'd have to bite my lip hard to do it.

To turn down money and then walk into a brawl with THIS Republican Party? To be called a terrorist-loving, flag-burning baby killer and not be able to answer back?

No me.

by stevehigh 2006-09-27 11:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Dems Cannot Just Say No

However, if the Democrats said "no" to lobbyists today and win without them -- which, again, is a real possibility -- then the party will have a mandate to govern in the way it sees fit.

Excuse me, but unless I just woke up in a vastly different world, campaigns still run on cold, hard CASH. You can claim a mandate to govern in the way you see fit, but you still have to get your ass out there and campaign to get elected (or re-elected).

Until there is public financing of campaigns, lobby and PAC money is necessary for Democrats to retain office. Period! Unless you know of a secret ATM that donors refill on a nightly basis, that cold hard cash flowing out of K Street is a fact of life.

I'm in agreement with MNPundit and Scientician - operate from a position of strength, get those lobbyists working for you rather than the other way around. Be judicious and thoughtful - trying to save Northwestern forests? Tell the lumber lobbyists that until the industry uses better harvesting techniques and embraces genuine reforestation, they can expect little from you.

And then cash the check anyway. Or not. Only your fundraising manager and your conscience can be your guide. But know that those dollars are itching to be spent, and they can be spent on you or your opponent.

But "for the good of the party," don't cut off a  foot when you are trying to run a race.

-GFO

by GuyFromOhio 2006-09-27 01:08PM | 0 recs
JUST SAY NO TO FREE MONEY!!!!!

About as much chance of happening as the "just say no to drugs" campaign in the 80s.

by delmoi 2006-09-27 01:15PM | 0 recs
lobbyist money is an extremely necessary evil

The Democratic Party cannot afford to reject contributions from K Street. Do you know why the Republicans are such strong closers? Because when our candidates run out of money 2 weeks before the election, their candidates still have millions of dollars. They then proceed to unleash the full fury of their warchests and swamp us as the election draws to a close. We need to stay competitive in the fundraising race. We need K Street money.

by smartdg35 2006-09-27 01:45PM | 0 recs
One or two facts...

Open Secrets summarizes contributions by industry going back to the 1990 cycle.

Defense is pretty typical, as I recall: split around 2:1 GOP since 1996, equally in 1990, 59% and 54% in 1994 and 1992.

Lobbyists' contributions - some may be surprised to learn - have been altogether more skewed in favor of the Dems: around 3:1 for 90-94, equally 96-04, dipping to 42:57 GOP for the 06 cycle so far.

So the idea that Dems have foresworn lobbyists' contributions in the past seems to be bunk.

Moreover, I'd be fairly sure that Dems, if they win, will want a K Street Project of their own (their own Tony Coelho invented the concept, after all!).

It's really the equivalent of the old-style machine patronage: the Dems have a bunch of bright guys and gals who need moolah and contacts to get on in the party. Lobbyists (and their clients) have moolah, and want to do favors (not to mention have back channels to their legislators).

I'd not knock it: as others have said, the root corrupting factor in US politics is the shedload of cash it requires to get elected: and since there's no feasible way of changing that (not in this universe), we'd better not let the best be the enemy of the good.

Because there ain't no best available.

by skeptic06 2006-09-27 02:15PM | 0 recs

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