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.

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The Possible Future Democratic Congressional Majority

*Cross-posted on Politics with a Pulse*

I found an interesting article on TomPaine.com written by Robert Reich, former secretary of Labor under Clinton. He talks about what the Democrats should avoid doing in Congress if they do succeed in becoming the majority party again following the November elections. The type of "partisan wrangling" that would bring about a host of Bush-bashing committee investigations in Congress. I agree it would back-fire on the Democrats as it did on the Republicans when they went after Clinton so incessantly.

It would not do good for the Democrats to just bash Bush if they took back Congress. Rather, as Reich writes, they should "use the two years instead to lay the groundwork for a new Democratic agenda...[in order to] put new ideas on the table... [and] frame the central issues boldly." This means taking Bush out of the equation and inserting real alternatives. I hope the Democrats can be competent enough to put forth such a coherent plan. Senator Biden's recent editorial in the Washington Post laying out an alternate plan for Iraq is an important step in the right direction for the Democrats. It is a coherent and well structured plan to come to grips with the increasing sectarian divide in Iraq.

But, as always, I do remain pessimistic about the Democratic Party. As this article from AlterNet attests, there are those inside the Democratic Party who too advance a corporate agenda akin to the Republican Party. These are Democratic consultants  who switch between politicians and lobbying firms similar to that of the K Street Gang.

The report for which the article is based off of says this trend began under the Clinton Administration. It comes under the guise of "centrism" that Lieberman and Bill Clinton embraced along with the DLC; to promote narrow corporate interests over public ones. It is narrowing the gap between Republicans and Democrats into what the article called "the Beltway Party" of big money and big business.

Though I hope the Democratic Party does take the House since it will provide atleast a breeze of change in Congress, these trends of seeping corporate interests are alarming. I think its important for people to understand this increasing corporate influence in the Democratic Party. If it continues, I think it may alienate many voters.

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Dems dip their bread in K Street gravy

Unlike the Supreme Court, the grease-monkeys of K Street are anticipating the election returns, with a wave of hirings of senior Dem Hill hacks, according to a Postpiece.

This is happening (assuming the report is correct) not out of any goo-goo affirmative action kick but because the lobbying firms need Dem-friendly faces to help apply the lube necessary for the passage of their clients' legislation.

In short, they are expecting that, even with a change of proprietor, the 110th Congress will be business as usual.

I wonder where they got that crazy idea?

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Lobbyist Contracts Hit a New High

With the Republicans fully devoted to the K Street Project and localities around the country forced to retain paid representation in Washington, it's no wonder that overall contracts for lobbyists hit another new high in 2005, as The Hill's Jim Snyder reports.

Spending on lobbying totaled more than $1.2 billion for the last six months of 2005, another record, according to a tally on the website politicalmoneyline.com.

For the year, spending topped $2.36 billion, according to the site. For the first time, during the last half of the year, spending to lobby Congress and the executive branch averaged $200 million a month.

This is exactly what Republican domination over Capitol Hill breeds: an inexorable trend towards higher and higher fees for lobbyists as GOP legislators dole out plush federal contracts and favorable legislation to their cronies. And as Stan Greenberg and James Carville note in the latest Democracy Corps Memo (.pdf), one of the most salient criticisms among American voters about the Republican Congress is that they care more about their corporate friends than their constituents. Greenberg and Carville write,

There is an abiding sense that things are out of balance in Washington, with political leaders working for the big corporate interests and the privileged, rather than trying to have America work for everyone. This is the top reason (along with rising costs) for wanting to change the Republican Congress.

Certainly, the Democrats have their own problems with being excessively close to lobbyists, and Democratic leaders during the 1980s and the early 1990s grew fat off of lobbyist contributions and corporate PACs. But the American people have never before seen the type of pay-for-play politics that currently is the norm in Washington.

Lobbyists are likely a necessity in a democracy the size of America, but they need not be an ever-expanding class inside the Beltway. And key staffers certainly should not be able to check out of Congress for a year to make $2 million before returning directly back to Capitol Hill as a paid committee staffer.

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Under GOP, Small Towns Forced to Retain High-Priced Lobbyists

Congressional Republicans have quite the racket going, the details of which have become even more apparent this weekend.

On Friday we learned from the Associated Press that House Appropriations chair Jerry Lewis, a Republican from the Inland Empire in Southern California, had sent sent a letter to San Bernardino County (which is in his district) recommending it hire a particular lobbyist, Tom Skancke. A cursory examination of campaign finance filings from PoliticalMoneyLine shows that Skancke has given Lewis close to $4,000 in campaign contributions in recent years, including,

Given that Republican Congressmen at the highest level are strongly suggesting to local governments to retain expensive lobbyists, it should come as no surprise that the number of localities doing this is going through the roof, as Jodi Rudoren and Aron Pilhofer report in today's issue of The New York Times.

Since 1998, the number of public entities hiring private firms to represent them in Washington has nearly doubled to 1,421 from 763, as places like Treasure Island, population 7,514, have jumped onboard with behemoths like Miami that have long had lobbyists.

[...]

Enlisted almost exclusively to land earmarks, lobbyists for local governments have boomed alongside a broader explosion in such appropriations, to 12,852 items worth $64 billion last year from 4,219 pet projects totaling $27.7 billion in 1998. The prolific earmarking does not change the overall budget's bottom line, but how the pie is cut: dollars are doled out, often in secret, at the whim of a lone legislator -- often under the influence of a lobbyist -- rather than through a competitive process.

It is against the law to use federal money to hire lobbyists. Yet local officials' near-unanimous justification is that the lobbyists pay for themselves many times over through the infusion of federal funds.

Local governments should not be shaken down by high-priced lobbyists in order to get federal dollars. If a locality is truly in need of federal assistance -- perhaps for a much-needed bridge repair or fix to water treatment plant -- their Congressman should go to bat for them, not tell them to retain a Beltway lobbyist.

But when the practice of hiring lobbying firms in order to get unnecessary pork from the federal government becomes institutionalized, as it has under Lewis and the rest of the Republican Congress, the expense to the American taxpayer goes through the roof. This is the cost of corruption. This is the cost of the Republican Congress.

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