The new Congressional session has not yet begun, but this hasn’t stopped members from holding out the donation cup to lobbyists. According to The New York Times, restaurants and bars across Capitol Hill have been booked so lobbyists can have the opportunity of paying anywhere from $250 to $5000 just for the chance to meet and greet politicians from the incoming 110th.
From veteran Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to Sen.-elect Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), members are opening doors to special interest money to pay off their campaign debt and/or build up war chests for the next election cycle.
This is disappointing. After all we heard about ending Abramoff-esque corruption and changing the tide in Washington, you would think Congress might wait a little before soliciting funds from wealthy special interests.
Some lobbyists are also disapponted. Former Republican Representative, Norman Lent (D-N.Y.), lamented the bad rap Abramoff gave to honest lobbyists like himself. Mr. Lent represents Big Oil and Big Pharma.
Not all lobbyists are concerned about lobbying and ethics reform pushed by Pelosi, et al. Erick Gustafson, who represents the Mortgage Bankers Association noted cynically that:
"There will some changes on the margin that will be relatively short-lived…It’s like trying to keep water out of your basement. It’s a structural problem. You may find a temporary solution, but the water will find a way in. Influence is like water. Money is just a means of influence."
We agree that candidates running for office have little choice but to take campaign contributions from special interests because the cost of running is exorbitant and rising each cycle.
But there is an alternative already in place in several states and cities across the country: publicly funded elections. If that system was in place for federal campaigns, candidates running for Congress who opt in would not owe anyone favors because the money they use would come straight from the voters.
Instead of dialing-for-dollars and meeting with lobbyists, politicians could spend more time serving the public. I think we would really get our money’s worth.