By Paul R. Hollrah, Guest Blogger
The March 2 Open Secrets blog contains a report co-authored by Dave Levinthal and Craig Gurian. The report is titled, “New Study: More Than 130 Top Congressional Staffers Are Former Lobbyists.”
Wow! So what do we do now? Get the kids in off the street? Take cover in a bathtub nearest the center of the house? Call out the National Guard? Run for the borders? Call 911?
Oddly enough, in what has to be the irony of all ironies, the report comes from an organization called the Center for Responsive Politics. One would assume from the name of the organization that their primary purpose in life would be to promote… responsiveness in politics. However, that raises the obvious question, responsive to whom?
The group’s website tells us the Center for Responsive Politics (Open Secrets) is a non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. that tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy. Entering a corporation name on their website will tell how much money the company gave to Democrats versus Republicans. According to the group, ‘The Center conducts computer-based research on campaign finance issues for the news media, academics, activists, and the public at large. The Center’s work is aimed at creating a more educated voter, an involved citizenry, and a more responsive government.”
Oops! Time out! Someone has created a whopper of a non-sequitur. Exactly how does tracking the givers and receivers of money in politics lead to more, not less, government responsiveness? And how do they actually determine whether a $1,000 contribution to a member of Congress caused him/her to vote a certain way on an issue, or if he/she would have voted that way in any event, in spite of the $1,000 contribution? Exactly how do they get inside people’s heads to that extent, or do they just begin with the assumption that every member of Congress is corrupt?
If the group is really interested in tracking money in politics and its effect on elections and public policy, then somebody needs to whisper in their collective ears because they’re on the wrong track. They’re swatting at flies in the kitchen while paying no attention at all to the elephant trashing the living room. Someone needs to tell them that whatever money is truly corrosive in the political process… the money that really buys legislation and is truly antithetical to the public interest… comes from the coffers of the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Trial Lawyers Association.
So what is the Center for “Responsive Politics” trying to tell us? They report that, “At least 130 current congressional chiefs of staff and legislative directors are former lobbyists… And some of these powerful staffers – both Democrats and Republicans – have worked multiple lobbying jobs prior to working in their current congressional capacities.”
That experience, we are apparently meant to infer, is to be considered less noble than, say, the work of Washington lawyers or the work of staffers at the Center. A quick review of the resumes of the top staffers at the Center tells us that not a single one of them has an ounce of experience in the private sector. They are mostly over-educated idealists with little knowledge of how Washington, or the rest of the world, really works.
The report goes on to say, “The majority of chiefs of staff and legislative directors represented corporations, trade organizations, or worked for lobbying firms that represented corporations…” We can only assume that the hundreds of congressional staffers who previously lobbied for the AFL-CIO, the teachers unions and the trial lawyers must have been hiding under their desks the day that the Center was running around Capitol Hill counting noses.
The report quotes Sheila Krumholz, the Center’s executive director, who tells us, “The bottom line is that many of the most powerful congressional staffers, who are now responsible for working on behalf of the public’s interest, used to make a living convincing the government to benefit a client’s special interest (emphasis added). Such relationships could present conflicts of interest and deserve continued scrutiny.”
One wonders whether or not Ms. Krumholz has ever stopped to consider what public interest is being served by a staffer who works for a Democratic member of Congress… who is bought and paid for by labor bosses and trial lawyers… as opposed to a Republican staffer who previously worked for a major corporation owned by several hundred thousand shareholders, all average American citizens who have a constitutional right to petition the Congress.
A number of years ago, after having pioneered the PAC movement in the American business community, I was invited to debate an officer of the citizens’ group, Common Cause. Our audience was the annual meeting of the National Association for Public Opinion Research, a trade association comprised mostly of pollsters and public opinion researchers. Our topic was, “Are special interest PACs buying influence in the U.S. Congress?”
After taking the stage and flipping a coin, it was determined that Common Cause would speak first, after which I would be allowed to rebut. The one thing I knew from the outset was that my opponent could be expected to make all of the standard left-wing charges about PAC money and its influence on the legislative process… and he did not disappoint me. When he had finished his harangue I was allowed to rebut, and as I approached the podium I selected a member of the audience, at random, a man seated in the front row, and asked him to stand. I then proceeded to ask about his marital status, his occupation, his hobbies and his interests, as well as his wife’s occupation and her hobbies and interests.
In a matter of minutes, I learned that he was a high school mathematics teacher who worked as an adjunct professor of mathematics, teaching evening classes in statistics at a local community college. I also learned that in his spare time he was an avid bird hunter and fisherman. His wife, he advised, sold real estate part time, was an officer in her local garden club and was a dedicated environmental activist. Upon quizzing him about his and his wife’s memberships, I learned that he was a member of the National Education Association, the National Rifle Association, and the National Wildlife Federation, while his wife held memberships in the National Association of Realtors, the Garden Clubs of America and the Sierra Club. I then asked my subject if he ever felt as though he were a powerful man, politically. He chuckled, and said, “No, not at all.”
Then, addressing myself to the audience, I said, “Although this gentleman does not see himself as being unusually powerful, the man you see standing before you is one of the most powerful men in America. The organizations that he and his wife support financially include four of the ten most powerful special interest lobbies in Washington… the NEA, the NRA, the NAR, and the Sierra Club… each of them employing large staffs of dedicated lobbyists and all maintaining political action committees with well-funded treasuries. Three out of four dollars contributed by those four PACs go to Democrats.
I said, “These are the ‘special interests’ that our friend from Common Cause would have us silence. But I would ask all of you… which of the ‘special interests’ represented in this man’s household would you like to silence?” The silence was deafening.
The point is, we are all special interests, and when Barack Obama and his friends on the left take indiscriminate pot shots at lobbyists, they’re taking pot shots at the lobbyists who represent the people’s interests. And while we may all differ on the merits of the arguments on one side of an issue or the other, there are at least two sides to every question and all deserve to be heard.
Finally, the Center for Responsive Politics seems not to have noticed the large number of lawyers in the Congress. In the 111th Congress there were a total of 217 lawyers, 140 Democrats and 77 Republicans. Lawyers are, by definition, people who are trained to take any side of any issue in exchange for cash. Lobbyists, on the other hand, are people who take sides on a family of issues and rarely, if ever, change sides. From having spent an entire career as a lobbyist and a corporate PAC administrator for a major oil company, I can testify that I’d much rather trust a lobbyist – whose word is his bond – than a lawyer whose allegiance can be purchased with cash.
As a lobbyist, I always operated under the self-imposed restriction, with my employer’s consent, that I would never do anything that I would be ashamed to discuss with my wife, my children, or my mother… and I was unalterably committed to that pledge. How many lawyers can make that same statement? Barack Obama is a lawyer. I would sooner trust a poisonous snake than to trust Obama and he proves my point every day. His only loyalty is to himself and to whatever sounds good at the moment… whatever will convince the people that he is on their side.
Yes, there is the occasional Duke Cunningham on the Republican side of the aisle, but one thing needs to be understood: money that comes from the private sector (corporations), except in rare instances, comes without strings. The same is not true of money that comes from big labor, the teachers unions, radical environmentalists, and trial lawyers. Nearly every one of those dollars comes with strings attached and almost all of it goes to Democrats. That’s how things work in Washington, and it’s time the Center for Responsive Politics figured that out.
Paul R. Hollrah
Hollrah is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a contributing editor for Family Security Matters and a number of online publications. He resides in northeast Oklahoma.
If you enjoy this blog and want to keep reading stories like the one above, show your support by using the “Support Bob” tool at right. Thanks in advance for your support!