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Candidates from the Cesspool to the Hot Tub in Congress!

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



It was just a few months ago when we listened to Tea Party candidates across the country declaring that they were going to Washington in order to shake up the political establishment.  No more “politics as usual” was the battle cry.  But in a matter of a few weeks, these new guys and gals on the block have rapidly embraced the Washington culture of big-money fundraisers. Special interests galore and numerous lobbying groups are falling all over themselves to host fundraisers for these progressive agents of change.  And the new so-called reformers are taking the bait and gathering up the big bucks for their campaign war chests. The more we hear about change in Washington, the more things stay the same.

In my home state of Louisiana, newly elected congressman Jeff Landry was the Tea Party’s poster boy for opposing the Washington culture of bowing to special interests. On election night, he told his followers that it’s going to be a new day in Washington, and “we need to get our country back on the right track.”Â  Three weeks later, Landry was in the heart of Washington at the posh Capitol Hill Club on the hunt for Washington campaign dollars.  He is  two months away from even being sworn into office, yet Landy is asking for money from K Street lobbyists and other Washington power brokers.

Getting to visit with Landry doesn’t come cheap.  The high priced “meet and greet” with the new Louisiana 3rd District Congressman carried a price tag of $5,000 for the “PAC Gold Level; $2,400 for the individual Gold Level; $2,500 for the PAC Silver Level, and $1,000″ just to get in the door.  All of a sudden, just weeks after getting elected, many new congressman like Landry found that Washington went from a “cesspool” when they were campaigning, to a “hot tub” once elected.

A guest on my weekly nationally syndicated radio show this week will be Gabriela Schneider, who tracks political fund raisers for the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group.  She observes that “the lobbyists are all saying, “˜Welcome to Washington — let me help pay off your debt.’  It’s particularly interesting when so many of this year’s freshman congressmen were running against Washington.  But as soon as they get elected, they come to Washington and put out their hand.”

Another guest on the program this Sunday will be Meredith McGehee, who serves as policy director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington.  She told me this week that debt-retirement events and other post-election fundraisers “are God’s gift to special interests,” that allows corporate PACs and lobbyists to curry favor with grateful congressmen.  And she says these early fundraisers for newly elected lawmakers are a way to get an inside relationship for some lobbyists who had ignored or even opposed the congressman-elect back during the campaign.  “If you were on the wrong side or just AWOL during the election, this is your chance to make it up,” McGehee told me. “It’s a great way to get in good with members of Congress.”

The good news for Landry and other new Republican congressman is that, with the Republicans now in control of the U.S. House, the campaign money spigots have opened and are abundantly flowing. These new GOP Tea Partiers strongly oppose earmarks, unless the earmark is a campaign donation sent in their direction.  The bad news is that many states like Louisiana could well become the “wild, wild west” for political fundraising with candidates no longer in control of their own campaigns.

 Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court declared that corporations and unions can now spend money on political advertising.  In the future, corporate boardrooms will soon become political cockpits for plotting the success or demise of candidates like Landry. Better tow the special interest line, or guess who just might come after you?

It’s no secret that in the majority of elections there are two key elements in getting elected to a major political office.  The first is money. I’ve forgotten the second.  My home state of Louisiana is often the most expensive for campaign spending, per capita, in the nation.  Out of state corporate and special interest money regularly flood into the campaign coffers of Louisiana candidates.

Current Governor Bobby Jindal has raised over $10 million for his re election campaign. The New Orleans Times Picayune reported this year that Jindal has more contributions from outside Louisiana than from within. One might wonder why almost 1000 California contributors are so interested in Louisiana issues.

How do Louisiana citizens benefit when large amounts of campaign cash flood into the state to influence Louisiana elections?  The same question could be asked about out of state dollars being sent in to any state. Isn’t there a built in conflict of interest as to where an official’s loyalties lie when large, out of state donations are accepted? 

 There is a simple and constitutional way to keep Louisiana elected officials focused on Louisiana issues. A candidate for public office should only raise campaign funds in the district from where he or she is running.  If a candidate is running statewide, he or she should raise all their financial resources within the state.  If a candidate is running parish or countywide, the limits should be within the home district.  Legislators would be limited to raising campaign dollars from within their respective districts.  Simple.  Keep fund raising local.  Make the candidates focus and be responsive solely to the voters in the boundaries that put them in office.

To be sure, there would be loud protests from lobbyists who hand out the campaign dollars to gain their “special access.”Â  And incumbents, who can work the system from day one in office, would object at having to forgo all the many out of district fund raising opportunities.  The voters would be the beneficiaries.  But don’t count on any groundswell of change.  The recent Supreme Court decision was touted as a catalyst for major campaign changes.  But as long as out of state money floods into any state, it’s going to be the same old, same old in both Baton Rouge and Washington. Yes, the more we hear about change, the more it’s just the same old song and dance.


People used to complain that selling a campaign was like selling a bar of soap. But when you buy soap, at least you get the soap. In this campaign, you just get two guys telling you they really value cleanliness.””” David Brooks

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

 Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

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