Ask a Lobbyist: Democrazy in Action
Every week, our Anonymous Lobbyist answers your questions about how laws get made and why they probably shouldn't. If you have a question about the dirty business of doing business in Washington, ask her.
What's your new favorite exemption to the gift rule?
The gift rule is Democracy in Action, actually -- they think y'all want something (like, them to not be corrupt and stupid), and they can fix one of those (the appearance of corruption), which will keep them in office. So, they bombard the press about how "ethics reform" is going to be the first issue on their agenda, and they eliminate lunches and dinners for their staff and don't even think about giving them a free coffee mug or a pen or anything, and now our Democracy is safe from the evil Stay Puft Marshmallow jizz that emanates from lobbyists as we walk (hence that smell on K Street).
But, oops, there's just one teeny-weeny exception, but please, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. I can still take Members of Congress out to dinner, or on trips, or to Redskins games, or Cher concerts (hey, Barney) or whatever, as long as I pass over a handy-dandy "little" campaign contribution. Yup, I can still take Members, but not staff, out to dinner as long as I physically hand over either a personal or PAC check to said Member's campaign- and generally, those checks don't come in denominations of less than $1,000.
I guess that whole idea of not appearing corrupt or stupid went out the window as soon as they realized they might have to make their own reservations at the Capital Grille or Acadiana, let alone pay for their own meals. But, fuck their staff, whatever, they, like, totally make the big bucks in Washington. So, that's my favorite exemption at the moment -- the one that makes my whole career look like little more than handing over cash in exchange for face time. That'll totally help me get a raise next year. But, it's all ethical here now, people, keep moving.
[Senator X] wants public campaign financing. Let's say hell freezes over and he gets his way. What happens to you guys? Is anybody planning for that contingency?
Let me just start off by saying that it's not lobbyists that are preventing public campaign financing, per say. From a lobbyist's perspective, I'm kinda sick of the whole bullshit scene where I'm constantly pestered for money from all sides and subtly (or not-so-subtly) reminded that campaign money is what buys Members their offices and thus the reason I'm having a conversation with them instead of someone I like less. It's tiring, it's stupid, it feels slightly trashy and, even with the new "ethics" rules, I would probably give it up in a heartbeat.
That said, I do pay taxes. And I'll be goddamned if I'm going to hand over my hard-earned cash to the government so some idiot politician can spend it on TV ads pandering to the lowest common denominator to get elected. Like we don't pay for enough stupid shit already? Who among us -- especially in the D.C. metro area -- didn't want to gouge our eyes out at campaign commercials by November 1st? But instead of making their lame asses work/sell out to get the money to run the commercials, we're going to let a politician-run and -managed government spend our money in order to subject us to never-ending campaign torture? My God, man, how is that a brilliant idea?
So, no, no one's planning for that contingency, but only because most of us think it's a stupid idea from the get-go, not because we value the necessity of providing said campaign cash. And, even if it did happen, it's not like us skeezy lobbyists disappear. Maybe the idiots who rely solely on campaign donations to get access to offices disappear, but some of us work to cultivate relationships by providing information and/or accurately representing Members' constituents' interests, a somewhat novel idea in Washington where some of my type think it is or should be enough to say who they work for.
Why would a congressman risk alienating everyone in his district to please a very small contributor? Is it likely there are some "hidden" contributions somewhere I haven't found, or that there is some other leverage of which I am unaware, or do congressmen do difficult, unpopular things for insignificant contributors?
A Congressman would risk alienating some constituents to please a contributor because he figures (and rightly so) that most of you aren't paying attention. But there might be soft money contributions to the party/PAC that you don't see, or some leverage of which you are unaware, like a personal friendship or the hiring of a favored lobbyist, but passing little pieces of legislation isn't really difficult and it's rarely noticeably unpopular for very long. Or he could just be an idiot. He is, after all, a professional politician, elected because of his dazzling white smile and bulletproof hair rather than his college GPA or SAT scores. If you don't like this idiot, there's another one where he came from in two short years. A different flavor of idiot might make all the difference for a couple of months even.