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K Street Accountability

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There were big demonstrations at the Department of Justice a couple of weeks ago starting on May 20, including civil disobedience and arrests, and I wrote about these important demonstrations at the time. But after two days of protests at DOJ, the demonstrators switched targets and went over to the law firm of Covington and Burling, where seven brave grandmothers from all over the country were arrested. Here is a video of Cammy Depew, one of these grandmothers, talking about what led her to be willing to be arrested, a video that is powerful in its simplicity:

I think everyone understood the reasons for taking on the DOJ -- they seem to have been a lot more interested in wiretapping journalists than in holding bank CEOs accountable. But why would demonstrators focus on Covington and Burling? Because these grandmothers understand that to get at the root of our problems, we're going to have hold K Street accountable, not just government. And the line between the problems at DOJ and Covington and Burling couldn't be any more direct. C&B was Eric Holder's law firm; they were Lanny Breuer's law firm, and just as I predicted when he left his perch at DOJ after not prosecuting any of the top execs at the big banks on Wall Street, he went straight back there after his DOJ stint; and they are Wall Street's leading law firm here in the nation's capital. Quite a track record, and quite a revolving door. When Holder finally leaves DOJ, and whenever it is that day won't come a moment too soon, my strong guess is that he will head straight back to Covington as well.

The Covington-DOJ connection is at the heart of the problem. Holder and Breuer enjoyed their work on behalf of Wall Street at Covington, and made a lot of friends (and money) doing it. The idea of going back is understandably appealing. But it's hard to go back to representing bankers when you have just been prosecuting them. It is time for Obama to break the connection, and appoint an Attorney General who will prosecute bankers, not grandmothers who have been abused by bankers. Or, say, reporters.

Covington and Burling was the perfect target for this kind of demonstration, because they are such a ripe symbol for the kind of K Street influence that is corrupting our government. But this goes far beyond C&B. K Street's tentacles are everywhere -- in his book The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins, Jeff Connaughton calls this phenomenon "the blob," that constantly migrating group of lobbyists, PR people, regulators, Capitol Hill staffers, and think tank staffers who stay close to Wall Street for all kinds of reasons (although most of them involve money). Jeff was focused on Wall Street, but it's not just Wall Street that has K Street's minions blobbing all over our government -- big monopolist industries control too much of our government. And it's a thoroughly bi-partisan problem. I am a Democrat because Democrats are far better on social issues, and because there are some Democrats that still fight the economic powers that be. The reason more and more people, like those seven gutsy grandmas, feel like they have to take to the streets, though, is because neither party is listening to them and fighting for them nearly enough.

We have to take our country and our government back. We have to beat back the blob. And we should use every non-violent tool in the citizen tool box that we have available to us, from electing good people to engaging in civil disobedience.