Ask a Lobbyist: Who Left All This Garbage on the Steps of Congress?

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.


This week's installment: a day late due to the traditional President's Day/Mardi Gras bender.

In your opinion, what are the differences in the way books teach students how something becomes a law and the way something actually becomes a law? And should those differences be taught?

Well, look, school (or educational cartoons) can only go so far in teaching kids these days. I mean, schools are banning Harry Potter, scrotums and any rational discussion of sexual health, but we're going to let children find out that democracy is a sham? Please. Our whole country is based on a couple of simple ideologies with which reality is not meant to interfere: everyone gets an equal opportunity to succeed, and it's a government of the people, by the people [and] for the people. You can't steep children in the grandiose ideals of a nation for years and then pull the ideological rug out from under them by mentioning that most people don't bother researching candidates or even voting; that a Congressional or Senate seat is virtually a lifetime appointment; that all the real work of legislating is being done by people mostly under the age of 30; that Congress members are little more than an electable haircut/smile; or that there are 30,000 lobbyists running around Washington trying to get things passed/killed and that's who legislators staff spend most of their time talking to. You'll create a nation of cynics who don't bother voting because nothing changes anyway.

Oh, wait, we have that now. Fuck it, then, go ahead.

What is the single most idiotic thing that a Member of Congress has said to you?

"Are those real?"

To what extent can spreading money out through PACs be used to circumvent campaign finance laws ( i.e. can 20X the limit be spread through 20 PACs to one member of congress? If so, is this common practice?

Technically, spreading your campaign donations through PACs is not actually circumventing campaign finance laws at all, so it happens a lot. Don't believe me? Ask the FEC. So, while I can't send out like $200K to PACs to get it to candidates, I can spread up to $108K in hard money around the system every 2 years if I really give a shit (which I don't). I can't direct or earmark that money, per se, but I can choose to give it to parties/PACs that will support the candidates I support.

For example Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, gave $8K to Exxon's PAC in the last election cycle, $1K to the Texas Republican Congresional Committee, $7500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, $1500 to the Republican National Committee, $2100 to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and $500 to Congressman Michael Burgess. Exxon's PAC gave Kay Bailey $8,250 and Burgess $2K. All perfectly legal.

Go ahead and cry your tears of righteous indignation now. All elected officials (even the ones you like and with whom you agree politically) are perennial candidates sucking at the sweet, addictive teat of campaign contributions. I'm more likely to quit drinking than you are to break candidates' of their campaign cash addiction.

Who would you say is the brightest (in terms of political savvyness and connection to the real world) Member of Congress on the House

side? And I don't mean those Members who tend to bleed rhetoric.

Well, technically, political savvy and connection to the "real" world aren't the same thing, and may even be mutually exclusive. No one really likes reality or wants politicians to give honest answers -- they want to hear empty platitudes like "God Bless America" and "the greatest nation on God's green earth" and they want tax cuts and expanded government services and deficits to be fine and they want politicians to believe what they believe, man. Cynicism doesn't play well for the cameras, and neither does honesty.

Oh, what, you're telling me that you voted for the candidate who said out loud that Social Security isn't a sustainable system and we'll have to make it needs-tested? Or the candidate who said we'll have to raise everyone's taxes? Or did you maybe vote for the guy who smiled and said we were just going to raise taxes on the wealthy and that we were going to protect Social Security for the generations to come? And which do you think is actually true?

So, frankly, I'm not sure too many of them are chock full of common sense or high intellect, though there's one actual rocket scientist among them. They're all politically savvy enough to get elected (and, most of them, to get re-elected), which is better than my political career to date (lost a Student Senate race in high school, if you must know, to someone with taller bangs who promised to get the lunch ladies to serve us pizza). If overblown rhetoric didn't work, they wouldn't use it. God bless America.

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