The bipartisan debt panel to nowhere is exactly where K Street lobbyists want it to be: hopelessly deadlocked. A November 23 deadline for agreement on $1.2 trillion in budget savings is looming, but no real reductions in the size, scope or spending of government are on the table. Instead, we are witnessing another obscene special-interest splurge to preserve the status quo. All in the name of "reform," of course.
The only thing "super" about the so-called budget control super committee is the size of lobbying muscle exerted on its members. Almost 100 registered lobbyists who are former employees of super committee members are now "representing defense companies, health-care conglomerates, Wall Street banks and others with a vested interest in the outcome of the panel's work," the Washington Post found in September. This includes two dozen former staffers to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, including three former chiefs of staff.
On the other side of the revolving door, 10 out of the panel's 12 members have now raked in donations from foreign registered agents totaling more than $50,000 in direct campaign contributions during 2011 alone, according to government watchdogs. The additional amount raised through fundraisers held by these lobbying firms is unknown, according to the Project on Government Oversight. Moreover, all 12 super committee members have been contacted by foreign lobbyists, eager to secure targeted exemptions, loopholes and protectionism.
Super committee co-chair Patty Murray, who refused to step down from her fundraising duties as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, recently met with South Korean lobbyists employed by D.C. powerhouse firm Patton Boggs. Roll Call reported that while the panel's negotiations wouldn't have direct bearing on free-trade deals, Murray "could have access to information about how the timing of the debt deliberations could affect passage of the free-trade agreements."
Patty "Pork Chop" Murray's in-your-face embrace of influence peddlers has her populist Pacific Northwest constituents cringing. Mind you: Murray's office boasts no fewer than 17 revolving-door staffers turned lobbyists. That's on top of her DSCC fundraising conflicts of interest.
This week, the Seattle Times disclosed that Murray held a two-day staff retreat at heavyweight lobbying outfit Strategies 360, which was founded by Democratic political operative Ron Dotzauer. The group donated meeting space to Murray's team and skirted ethics rules by offering similar deals to nonprofits. Murray's former deputy state director, Karen Waters, is now a senior vice president at the firm. Another of its lobbyists, Melanie Mihara, used to work for Murray's Democratic colleague Sen. Maria Cantwell. According to OpenSecrets.org, Strategies 360 has conducted $985,000 worth of lobbying targeting more than a dozen government agencies this year.
A spokesman for the senator (who made her name attacking the Beltway insider culture) sniffed that the report was a "non-story." Given Murray's status as the second highest recipient of lobbying money among all members of Congress behind Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, her staff is right:
This little perk is chump change compared to her career haul.
Lobbying, of course, is perfectly legal. It's Murray's pretense as a white hat public-interest crusader that should gall both sides of the aisle. One left-wing Seattle blogger rather generously called Murray "tone-deaf" and spelled out the rank hypocrisy of Murray's entrenched and unrepentant lobbying ties: "This while members of her own party are up in arms over the increasing influence of money in American politics. This while a giant hunk of the liberal electorate is "Occupying" the streets to protest corporate greed and disproportional representation. This while the very term "lobbyist" has come to represent all that is bad about special interest influence."
Yep, all that and a bag of back-scratching chips.
Murray's backroom meetings come as business as usual as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi grandstands over the need for more "transparency" in the super committee dealings. After ramming through Obamacare in secret (with the help of top staffer Brendan Daly, who is now a lobbyist for groups opposed to the law he helped pass), Pelosi has now called for televised debt panel hearings. On publicly broadcasting the debt panel members' meetings with lobbyists, Pelosi will no doubt remain mum. Remember:
The "K" in "K Street" stands for "Kabuki."