Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 17, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

A NEW SHERIFF?...."As a long time critic of the K Street Project," writes a conservative friend, "I assume you will be equally critical of this." The subject at hand is lobbying:

The Senate Democratic leadership summoned the chiefs of 17 major trade associations to the Capitol on Wednesday to send a subtle but unmistakable message: If you want our help on your issues, stop helping the Republicans block our bills.

....If it was a step-in-line message Democrats were hoping to send, they were treading on sensitive terrain. After taking control of Congress in the 1990s, Republicans hauled corporate leaders into meetings, first to tell them to help with legislation and later to pressure them to fire Democrats and hire Republicans for top jobs. The effort, known as the K Street Project, led to PR troubles, ethics flaps and a string of criminal cases involving Jack Abramoff.

Democrats dismiss the comparison — they say they aren't strong-arming anyone into hiring Democrats — and, in truth, both parties have been aggressive on this front for years.

Hmmm. Will I be equally critical of this? Probably not, I guess. After all, my take on the K Street Project (described memorably by Nick Confessore in "Welcome to the Machine") has always been pretty frankly partisan. My dislike for the Project wasn't motivated so much by any philosophical problem with lobbyists per se as it was by the fact that the wrong guys had gotten so insanely good at co-opting them.

So I guess I'm just a hack after all. Still, I'll at least go this far: it would be nice if the Democrats refrained from (a) building enormous databases to keep track of who's naughty and who's nice on a 24/7 basis, (b) making the hiring of Democrats a prerequisite for doing business with Congress, and (c) becoming so corrupt in the process that the Justice Department can hardly keep up with the indictments. A new sheriff in town is one thing, the resurrection of Boss Tweed is another.

Kevin Drum 2:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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So I guess I'm just a hack after all. -KD

Dont despair Kevin, hacks, as in the computing circle, are far ahead. What you speak today is the future. This posited, you will be made to seem as insignificant.

The future is often unkind to the present.

Posted by: Jet on July 17, 2008 at 2:41 AM | PERMALINK

At least the politicians are bossing around the industrialists instead of the other way around.

Posted by: Boronx on July 17, 2008 at 3:27 AM | PERMALINK

"stop helping the Republicans block our bills."
This isn't the same thing. The Dems are trying to undo the K-street project, not enact their own. (at least not yet).

Posted by: on July 17, 2008 at 4:23 AM | PERMALINK

"stop helping the Republicans block our bills."
The Dems are trying to un-do the K-street project, not enact their own. (so far).

Posted by: Mike L. on July 17, 2008 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK

There is nothing at all wrong, or even remarkable, about politicians telling interest groups to support their agenda if they want to see their interests advanced. But that was not what the K Street Project was about. It was a pretty straight forward shake down: stop donating to Democrats and hire only Republicans or not only will we not advance your agenda we will do you real damage. I may have missed something but I see no evidence of the Dems doing any of this.

Posted by: dmh on July 17, 2008 at 4:59 AM | PERMALINK

This is the stuff of everyday life: if someone's always doing their best to ruin my day, I'm not going to be favorably disposed towards them when they suddenly need my help.

That's true if there's not a single dollar involved. I don't understand why a comparison with the K Street Project is germane.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on July 17, 2008 at 5:17 AM | PERMALINK

Boss Tweed? How about Boss Sharkskin.

Posted by: nonheroicvet on July 17, 2008 at 6:16 AM | PERMALINK

... what dmh said.

Arm twisting a lobbyist is not the same as turning them into part of the Republican-machine.

K-Street is too powerful to simply ignore, so you have to deal with them one way or another.

Posted by: Greg on July 17, 2008 at 6:55 AM | PERMALINK

To elaborate a bit on what Mike L and others above say: Telling lobbyists to focus on their own particular special interests and stop interfering in issues unrelated to those interests is the antithesis of a big monolithic machine. Actually it's a surprising indicator of the power held by Republican hacks in these groups that they were willing to obstruct the current Congressional leadership on issues NOT related to their bosses' interests -- how, exactly, would this advance the interests of the people they are supposed to be representing? -- and needed to be told this at all.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on July 17, 2008 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

You're missing the point -- when Republicans ran both the House and Senate, Democrats had an alternative agenda for various industries. Being the minority, Democrats weren't going to succeed, so the K Street Project was not about defeating Democratic bills, nor about passing Republican ones.

Now that Democrats run the Capitol, Republicans want to prevent ANY legislation from passing -- and use downright silly political and parliamentary tricks to create obstacles.

Trade associations that want specific bills enacted have to confront those tactics, or their legislation cannot pass.

Posted by: anonymous on July 17, 2008 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans demand that big business participate in their corruption.

Democrats tell them to stop.

Both equally inappropriate, right?

Posted by: rea on July 17, 2008 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

@ rea:

Yes! Because that's Fair and Balanced(tm)!

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on July 17, 2008 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

Reminding the industrialists that working against our interests makes the majority not want to help theirs is a standard operating practice. Saying hire only our friends or we won't do business with you isn't.

Posted by: howie on July 17, 2008 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't lose sleep over it, Kevin, your friend is a moron. So asking lobbyists to stop interfering in congressional activities is akin to inviting the lobbyists to not only provide input on legislation, but to author it? I know conservatives are not the only ones with political blinders on, but this guy is so narrow-minded, that he couldn't see the edges of a pinhead if he were looking at the middle.

There's no comparison here, none. The dems are using their majority power to negate lobbyist influence, the same influence repubs were so willing to give away.

And, yes, I understand that dems are subject to lobbyist influence, as well, but this is a piss-poor example of it.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on July 17, 2008 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

If you want our help on your issues, stop helping the Republicans block our bills.

. . .

Hmmm. Will I be equally critical of this? Probably not, I guess.

Does your conservative friend know what our bills are like?

Kevin, please cut out that stuff about you being a hack. I wish you would edit it out of the post.

Posted by: Swan on July 17, 2008 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

It's one thing to get the big business lobbies in line to help you oppress un-powerful minorities and to destroy insitutional protections in America that help the many and the diverse, and it's quite another to get them in line to help you protect the many and the diverse and keep the stupid, the powerful and the selfish from turning our government into a non-government and a joke.

Posted by: Swan on July 17, 2008 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Was your friend critical of the K Street Project, or is he only critical of Democrats doing it too?

Posted by: zak822 on July 17, 2008 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

You conservative friend is, clearly, the master of the false equivalence.

I doubt he's put much thought into the matter. He was just looking for an excuse to shoot off an e-mail that said, "See! The Democrats do the same thing!"

Posted by: Tyro on July 17, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Er, like Rea and others, I'm trying to figure out how the following two things are equally bad:

(1) A helps B gain an unfair/unjust advantage.

(2) C tells A to stop it.

If C tried to get A to help C gain his own unfair/unjust advantage, the cases would be morally similar. But, as it stands, they are radically different, so not a good test case of your partisanship/hackyness.

One might, of course, deny that the K Street Project was wrong...if, say, one were particularly partisan or uninformed. But we need not address that issue here.

Posted by: Winston Smith on July 17, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

After the FISA Bill, I just have to wonder if the resurrection of Boss Tweed isn't the only kind of change we're going to see in the total embodied by our Chicago machine style sheriff Barack Obama?

Because after FISA's big lie to the stupid public of American and cave to AT&T and Verizon, it isn't looking good.

Posted by: Me_again on July 17, 2008 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

zak822 wrote:

. . .or is he only critical of Democrats doing it too?

Is it the K-Street project if the the Democrats say "stop fucking ignoring our bills"? It's not, right?

As far as I can remember, the K-Street project is mafia-like enforcement of trying to get the only people hired as lobbyists people of your party.

Sticking up for yourself and sending a message to the lobbying industry that your party is the up-and-comer in politics is not the K-Street project.

Posted by: Swan on July 17, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Fat White Guy wrote: The Democrats are doing such a good job that congress has the worst ratings ever and it is because they are doing the same things they accused the Republicans of doing.

Astonishingly enough -- mark your calendars, my friends! -- FWG is right. The Democratic-led Congress has crappy approval ratings because they, like the Republicans before them, are perceived as enabling an unpopular and destructive Bush agenda.

The comparison to the K Street Project, however, is bullshit, as plenty of others have pointed out. Your "friend", Kevin, is either an idiot or lying to you. I know you're going for the moderate, all-things-to-all-people tone here at your blog, Kevin, but why do you take his or her comments so seriously?

Perhaps your friend would be so kind as to explain why he or she thinks the comparison is valid. That ought to be good for a laugh.

Posted by: Gregory on July 17, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

And speaking of the Tweed boss, it seems Kenneth Pollack has a new book out, where he is now telling us he has a long-term strategy for the Middle East.

Kenneth Pollack explains to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show that most people in the Middle East just want jobs more than freedom. Yeah, that and they want working sewage systems too but of course the people of Iraq HAD all that before we invaded Iraq and turned their country into total anarchy and chaos.

So I have to wonder, that by the time by sides of congress tell enough lies, that the media flatly ignores like the supposed FISA "compromise" that was NOT a compromise, that congress simply thinks all we, Americans want are simply jobs too, but not really freedom.

Posted by: Me_again on July 17, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder who prompted the meeting with our Democratic Tweed bosses?

WASHINGTON -- A strong lobbying effort by Wall Street banks, the trading industry and market operators may successfully head off proposals for tougher federal controls on oil-futures trading.

Lawmakers in Washington are getting an earful about skyrocketing fuel costs from airlines, truckers and the manufacturing industry -- not to mention constituents. Airlines mounted a campaign, including letters sent to customers, to drum up support for measures to rein in what they called "poorly regulated market speculation."

The airlines urged customers to visit a Web site, StopOilSpeculationNow.com.

The top CEOs of U.S. companies such as AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc. and US Airways Group Inc. this week asked their customers to press Congress to rein in speculation, which they say could contribute between $30 and $60 a barrel to current oil prices trading near $140.

And it looks like gasoline has reached it's elasticity because it seem if they go up much higher the our banks will imploded, if not airlines and trucking companie.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In the last three days oil prices have fallen by roughly $10 a barrel. Many analysts say slackening demand, or the threat of it, is the main culprit.

But another force could be at work in the background. Last week various analysts said there was talk that Mexico, the world's fifth largest oil producer, was hedging its bets - the country was said to be signing contracts to deliver oil several years into the future at today's prices. Essentially, it was betting oil prices have peaked.

I wonder if OPEC will follow suit and base everything on the Euro amount?

Posted by: Me_again on July 17, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Is it ever inappropriate to point out to someone that you would be in a better position to address their concerns if they would stop fucking you in the ass so aggressively?

Posted by: social democrat on July 18, 2008 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK
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