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David Sirota Headshot

The Marriage of Corruption & Hypocrisy In Democratic Washington

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In a new Denver Post op-ed out today, I argue that the best way to see Washington's gross corruption is to look at how Big Money interests no longer even try to present consistent arguments. On everything from trade, to medicine prices to democracy itself, corporate lobbyists are now so sure they can buy whatever policies they want that they don't even bother to put up the veneer of logical rationales.

It's nice to imagine that the new Democratic Congress will put a stop to all this, especially after a 2006 election campaign run against corruption. But on the same day my op-ed appeared, a spate of stories shows just how aggressively Democratic Washington is embracing the pay-to-play culture. Take this Politico profile of J. Jonathon Jones - some mid-level nobody former staffer for mid-level nobody Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). But in Democratic Washington, everyone knows that the quickest way for mid-level nobodies to become somebodies is to sign on the dotted line to sell off your soul and the Democratic Party's working-class base.

In the story, Jones brags about opening up a brand new corporate lobbying operation to cash in on the new Democratic majority and working to crush "the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party" - all while flaunting his previous efforts shilling for corporate interests as a paid government worker:

"In 2003, Jones played an instrumental role in organizing a regular meeting of Democratic lobbyists and Senate staffers. Every other Monday during the congressional session, 80 to 100 lobbyists and top staffers for Democratic members plotted strategy in a conference room at the Hall of the States near the Capitol...Staffers stopped meeting in 2005 in a reevaluation of the group in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. After the air cleared, the mix of lobbyists and congressional aides started meeting again last fall...Jones's main challenge is to beat back the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party and to help craft legislation that businesses can stomach."

Yes, yes - all K Street knows it had to do was wait until "the air cleared" from the Abramoff scandal to go back to buying off lawmakers. And because Democratic leaders in Washington continue to refuse to put their foot down by cutting off access to shills who brag to reporters about corrupting the party, you can bet the Jonathon Joneses are rewarded for this kind of behavior with even more lucrative corporate lobbying contracts.

Obviously, these are not one-person operations. There is an entire infrastructure designed to support paid shills inside the Democratic Party. In Jones' case, he gets help from none other than the group called "The Third Way" - which the Hill Newspaper fawningly profiles as a major part of "progressive" infrastructure influencing the Democratic Congress:

"Third Way considers itself to be especially tied in to the upper chamber, and is also branching out to build more relationships in the House, paying particular attention to leadership offices and moderate groups, including the Blue Dogs and the New Democrat Coalition. Third Way, which receives corporate donations, is in some ways more business-friendly than other Democratic-allied groups...[The group] It sponsors twice-monthly meetings that attract about 75 staff aides and lobbyists, Bennett said."

Even those politicians who tell us they are above all of this corruption are working behind the scenes to engage in it. Here's the Hill Newspaper today:

"Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is benefiting from the support of well-connected Washington lobbyists even though he has prohibited his campaign from accepting contributions from them and political action committees (PACs)...When Obama declared his presidential candidacy in February, he said he would re-engage Americans disenchanted with business-as-usual in Washington who had turned away from politics...One of the lobbyists, who supports Clinton, said that Shomik Dutta, a fundraiser for Obama's campaign, called to ask if the lobbyist's wife would be interested in making a political contribution. 'I was quite taken aback,' he said. 'He was very direct in saying that you're a lobbyist and we don't want contributions from lobbyists. But your wife can contribute and we like your network.'"

Of course, the real problem goes back to to the overarching culture of Democratic Washington. As investigative journalist Russ Baker has shown, some of the biggest name Democratic campaign consultants who continue to rake in fat contracts from Democratic politicians also moonlight as corporate influence peddlers. Similarly, the Hill accurately points out that "the reality is that many of the most talented and experienced political operatives in [the Democratic] party are lobbyists." Put another way, this isn't just random examples: Selling out is now standard operating procedure among elites inside the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C.

This is why, as I show in my Denver Post op-ed, K Street doesn't feel the need to be publicly consistent: Because when you can buy off congressional staffers, when you can create corporate front groups under the guise of "helping Democrats," when you can get even the supposed "anti-lobbyist" presidential candidate to bow down to lobbyists, there's no need to bother with annoying things like consistency or the truth.

Check out the full op-ed here.