Corruption

Money Buys Political Access, New Study Confirms

We can file this under news that should shock no one: a new study has found that members of Congress and their top staffers are significantly more likely to meet with political donors than with other constituents. 

The study – carried out by researchers at Yale and UC Berkeley in partnership with CREDO Action – sought to answer the question, just how much do donations buy access to elected officials in our political system?

Matea Gold at the Washington Post explains the experiment:

Last summer, a group of CREDO fellows e-mailed congressional offices seeking meetings to discuss the measure, sending one of two different form letters.

The first e-mail had the subject line: “Meeting with local campaign donors about cosponsoring bill.” The body of the e-mail said that about a dozen CREDO members “who are active political donors” were interested in meeting with the member of Congress in his or her home district to discuss the legislation.

The second e-mail stripped out the donor references and instead said “local constituents” were looking to meet the member of Congress.

…The e-mails went out to 191 members of Congress – all members of the same political party – who had not already co-sponsored the bill….The results: Only 2.4 percent of the offices made the member of Congress or chief of staff available when they believed those attending were just constituents, but 12.5 percent did when they were told the attendees were political donors. [emphasis added]

Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel notes that the study could have implications for court cases like the infamous Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. In the majority Citizens United opinion, Justice Kennedy argued that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption. In fact, there is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate.”

Terkel points out that the new study may debunk the claim that there isn’t evidence that “independent expenditures,” such as those made to a super PAC rather than directly to a candidate, can curry favor with elected officials:

In this experiment, the lawmakers knew nothing about the donors, such as whether they had donated to their campaign in particular, or how much they gave and when. In fact, they could simply have been a donor to a super PAC.

Even so, the Supreme Court’s too-narrow understanding of “corruption” as tit-for-tat exchanges (for example, political bribes) may limit the study’s implications for Citizens United and cases like it.  But it does throw into stark relief how problematic the Court’s frame for understanding political corruption continues to be. When money can buy access to elected officials, we have a serious democracy problem.
 

PFAW Foundation

Romney and Santorum Rally with Corrupt Lobbyist Ralph Reed in Wisconsin

Tomorrow morning in Waukesha, WI, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, among others (Gov. Scott Walker is listed as an invited speaker), will rally with corrupt former lobbyist Ralph Reed and the state chapter of his Faith & Freedom Coalition, which Reed created to rehabilitate his image in the wake of his deep involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Here are the event details:
It is our distinct pleasure to invite you to the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Presidential Kick-Off, sponsored by the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Coalition, to be held at the Country Springs Hotel on Saturday, March 31st in Waukesha, WI.  Come hear from CONFIRMED speakers Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Rick Santorum, and Speaker Newt Gingrich.
 
When Romney and Santorum – the standard–bearers of the GOP – appear on stage tomorrow with Reed, they’ll be embracing a corrupt hustler who has survived scandal after scandal by delivering cash and foot soldiers to Republican leaders (and not for the first time).
 
It wasn’t long ago that Ralph Reed was damaged goods in Republican circles, and for good reason. Reed came to national prominence as the first executive director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, beginning in 1989. However, by 1997 the groups finances were collapsing, the FEC had found that the group violated federal campaign finance laws in 1990, 1992, and 1994, and federal prosecutors were investigating allegations of financial misconduct made by the organization’s CFO. So Reed resigned and moved to Georgia to become a lobbyist.
 
In 1999, Abramoff hired Reed and ultimately paid him $1.3 million to generate opposition to legalizing video poker and a state-sponsored lottery in Alabama. The money came from the Choctaw Tribe, which runs a casino in nearby Mississippi. Reed used his extensive Religious Right contacts and engaged James Dobson and the Alabama Christian Coalition, which had a policy against being the “recipient of any funds direct or in-direct or any in-kind direct or indirect from gambling interests.” He funneled $850,000 to the group, but made sure to launder it through his longtime friend Grover Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform.
 
Before the wheels came off Jack Abramoff’s criminal lobbying enterprise, he described Reed to his business partner as “a bad version of us.” Abramoff, explaining the comment after being released from prison, said that Reed was “a tap dancer and constantly just asking for money.” And Abramoff knows more than a thing or two about Reed. He gave Reed his first job after college and, along with Norquist, formed what some called the “triumvirate” at the College Republican National Committee.
 
After the Abramoff scandal broke, Reed claimed that he had “no direct knowledge of [Abramoff’s lobbying firm’s] clients or their interests,” but the Senate Indian Affairs Committee determined that Abramoff told Reed as early as 1999 that he was taking casino money. In an interview last year with Alan Colmes, Abramoff called Reed’s denial ridiculous:
Abramoff: It's ridiculous. I mean, even the tribes that had other business, 99% of their revenue came from gaming. But a lot of those tribes had nothing but gaming.
Colmes: So, in other words, Ralph Reed was saying "hey, I'll work with you but I don't want to be paid with gambling money, I'm too clean for that." But are you saying that conversation never happened?
Abramoff: No. Never happened. Ralph didn't want it out that he was getting gambling money and, frankly, that was his choice and I think it was a big mistake.
Reed went on to become the chair of the Georgia Republican Party in 2001 and ran for lieutenant governor in 2006. However, the Abramoff scandal had broken by then, and Reed “suffered an embarrassing defeat” in the primary. The New York Times described Reed as a “close associate of Jack Abramoff” whose “candidacy was viewed as a test of the effects of the Washington lobbying scandal on core Republican voters.”
 
In 2009, Reed founded the Faith & Freedom Coalition to help resurrect his image and stature in the movement. Faith & Freedom, which Reed described as a “21st Century version of the Christian Coalition on steroids,” is really just a Tea Party-stained version of the original, and much smaller despite the steroids.
 
However, Reed is an operator in the truest sense, and knows how to “tap dance” and “constantly ask for money” with the best of them. He has apparently earned, and I do mean earned, his way back into the good graces of Republican leaders. It’s unclear, however, how long Reed can go without another scandal.
Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious