K Street Cash Flows to the Dems
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Oct 18, 2006 at 02:56:02 PM EDT
Three weeks ago, when The Hill reported that lobbyists on K Street were running back to Democrats after more than a decade in the hope of restarting the all-too-close relationship they once had with the more progressive of the nation's two major parties, I wrote the following post that not everyone on this site agreed with.
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.
Well, it turns out the Democrats are not saying "no" to corporate lobbyists. Not whatsoever. Jonathan Martin has the details over at The Hotline on Call blog:
Some of these heavyweights gave to Pelosi in 2004, but with a full month of contributions yet accounted for, many have already exceeded their past donations. The Bankers gave Pelosi $6K in '04; they've already given $7.5K. The Financial Services Roundtable? They donated $2K for the whole '04 cycle, but had given $5K through last month. The Mortgage Bankers offered a token $1K in January of 2003. Last month, they maxed out to $10K. And how about the Beer Wholesalers, perennially one of the most loyal GOP allies? Maxed out to Pelosi -- in July.
Hoyer, the chief K St liaision for House Democrats, has already raised nearly $2.1M so far this cycle, the most ever in his 24 years in Congress. Of that, almost $1.5M comes from PACs. Though widely viewed as more friendly to business interests than his rival from California, Hoyer has also has seen his corporate contributions soar from Republican-leaning sources. The National Retail Federation, Capital One, Sallie Mae, and Occidental Petroleum have all stepped up their giving from 2004 to the man who could be the next Maj Leader of the House.
In short, bets are being hedged. Groups that could be impacted by the Democrats' top priorities in January want to be sure they can get their calls returned. Whether it be the minimum wage (the Retail Federation), student loan interest rates (Sallie Mae) or lobbying reform (all of the above), Pelosi has made clear that her caucus would waste no time pushing through their agenda. And when that happens, these interests want to have the chance to make their case to somebody in leadership.
Asked about the influx of K St dollars to the would-be leaders of a Democratic-controlled House, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said it indicated "support for our agenda and the political reality that we have a chance to win." Pointing to their "6 for '06" plan released before the summer recess, Daly said such donors "understand our agenda" and that is the agenda they can expect should Democrats take the majority.
I wish I had the same faith in Democratic leaders that Mr. Daly has. I really do. I wish I could believe that these special interests, which have fought against many of the core progressive tenets of the Democratic Party at least the last decade and realistically even longer, are simply trying to get on the good side of the next leaders of the House and won't be able to co-opt the Democratic leadership to their side come January.
But will the retailers really go for a substantial increase to the minimum wage? Will Sallie Mae really accede to the Democratic plan to provide fairer student loans? Will K Street as a whole really buy into a meaningful lobbying reform plan? My hunch is the answer to each of these questions is no, that the retailers will try to edge the Democrats to a smaller or more gradual increase in the minimum wage, that lenders will try to pick off Democrats worried about 2008 on any student loan changes and that K Street will coalesce around an effort to remove teeth from any real lobbying reform.
And what do the Democrats get for letting these special interests get a foot in the door? A few thousand dollars? Even a few tens of thousands of dollars? In the grand scope of things, when the DCCC is facing the prospect of borrowing $10 million or more to make a last effort push to win as many House seats as possible, will even a couple hundred thousand dollars in the leaders' campaign accounts really make the difference for the Democrats? Is it really worth having to take calls from these lobbyists should November 7 prove a great day for the party? I still think the answer is no.