Let the American people take note: the wooing has begun. The victors of the 2010 midterm elections haven't even been sworn into office and already they are being initiated into the ways of Washington – a world where money buys influence and careerism trumps constituent service. Scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and that the borrower is slave to the lender. Both are maxims that the lobbyists on K Street know well – maxims that they rely upon to ensure that the interests they represent are advanced on Capitol Hill.
The seduction of this year's congressional freshman class looks innocuous enough to the inexperienced eye. Success in politics, after all, is all about planning-ahead strategically. And having gone into considerable debt to finance their campaigns, many of our newly-elected representatives are eager to shed themselves of anything that might impede their ability to wage effective reelection bids in 2012. This is where the infamous "moneyed special interests" come in. They are only too happy to finance the debt liberation of these new representatives in exchange for a seat at the policy-making table. From the Washington Post:
"Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said debt-retirement events and other post-election fundraisers 'are God's gift to special interests,' allowing corporate PACs and lobbyists to curry favor with grateful lawmakers. It also allows some donors to pitch in with a candidate whom they previously had ignored or opposed, she said. 'If you were on the wrong side or just AWOL during the election, this is your chance to make it up,' McGehee said. 'It's a great way to get in good with members of Congress.'"
The irony, of course, is that so many successful campaigns this election season were based upon an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, anti-special interest message. Much in the way that Barack Obama rode to office on the promise of "change," many of the nation's aspiring congressional candidates won office with promises that a vote for them would translate into a vote for changing the way Congress does business on Capitol Hill. The push for a moratorium on earmarks was reflective of this spirit: It was time to set aside pork-barrel politics and take care of business for ordinary Americans?many of whom have been badly hurt by the current economic crisis.
As we've learned with the President, however, populist appeals are most effective on the campaign trail. They don't resonate much inside the beltway where the special interests call the shots. Once the ballots are counted and the results are in, the notion of the lone politician standing against a corrupt and all-powerful "establishment" loses much of its appeal, and the naïve charm of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is replaced by the bleak realism of Let's Make a Deal.
Of course, if you ask the lobbyists involved in political fundraising, they claim their intentions are benevolent and pure, according to the same Post article:
"Andrew Theodore, an Alexandria consultant who raises money for Benishek and nine other GOP freshmen . . . scoffed at the idea that accepting money from corporate PACs and lobbyists is at odds with the anti-Washington message of the 2010 class. 'These guys ran against Washington, but they ran against the bad parts of Washington – the bloated bureaucracy and Nancy Pelosi's agenda,' he said. 'That's not a contradiction to take money from a trade group or corporation that represents free-enterprise principles.'"
Pardon my cynicism, Mr. Theodore, but do you really expect anyone – in Washington or anywhere else – to believe that? Do you think that the skepticism and frustration that the American people feel about their government can be assuaged with condescension and rhetorical tap-dancing?
It is disheartening, to say the least, that some of the men and women who pledged to restore a spirit of integrity and responsibility to Washington have become so quickly infatuated with the charms of K Street. Trent Lott knew what he was talking about when he declared that the GOP Beltway establishment would "co-opt" any conservative reformers elected to Congress this year.
The representatives who are benefitting from these "debt-retirement" fundraisers must quickly come to realize what they've gotten themselves into. In Washington, the special interests don't give away money for nothing. There are always strings attached, and there is always an expectation of a quid pro quo. Once a member of Congress finds himself indebted to the lobbyists and corporate interests that run Washington, it's nigh impossible to maintain one's independence.
Taking money from the special interests is like wading into quicksand. Let's hope these neophytes figure out how to extricate themselves before they get in too deep.