Show Him the Money
July 12, 2010 8:12 AM   Subscribe

“What we try to do is build an unholy alliance between big guys and little guys." Tom Donohue, leader of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, goes on the record for an unbelievably revealing interview.
posted by jonp72 (11 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
i am only posting here because once again i missed out on posting in a Banhammer thread.

[Quote]“Then you sit in closer to them. And you make ‘the ask.’ You look right into their eyes and say, ‘As a result of what the Chamber is doing for your industry, I need a hundred thousand dollars.’ Or, ‘I need a million dollars.’ And then you smile and you shut your mouth. Your instinct is to start talking because you’re nervous. Don’t. Just smile and stare. And wait.” The lobbyist, who’d been trained well by Donohue, leaned forward and stared at me as I sat listening. I became nervous. I shifted in my chair. I started laughing, then stopped. He just stared. After a long pause he leaned back and said, “I tell you, there were people in that room who pissed in their pants.”

yeah, i could do with a million dollars, and my stars said i would be lucky today. where do i sign?
posted by marienbad at 8:29 AM on July 12, 2010

Very interesting. Reminds me a lot of how LBJ worked when he was coming up in the House and the Senate, before he became Vice President. The key question is whether the institution and the person running it can maintain themselves, and that's tied a lot more closely to keeping the crisis going and making money off of it than actually solving problems.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:01 AM on July 12, 2010

It's interesting but seems pretty hatchet-jobby. I suspect the heads of any large Washington lobbying organization are equally amoral. It's not a line of work that exactly lends itself to naiveté, or even any sort of ideology besides the core Washington one: money is good, power is better.

If you want to get outraged, it should be on the politicians and the political system that is so easily manipulated via donations, or the public that is so easily swayed via advertising. If the Chamber disappeared tomorrow, something else would just pop up to take its place, and fill the demand big businesses have for a cover organization.

I do suspect that Donohue is right about one thing; if he stepped down tomorrow, the day after it's likely that nobody would take his calls. His clients and donors are only interested in him insofar as he appears to have influence. Without that, he is nothing. However, unless the rules change substantially, there will always be someone like Donohue: pulling the various levers, or at least claiming to, and charging for it.

The greatest risk to his organization, I think, is not declining membership by small businesses, but that if he can't pull out some victories for his clients, they'll eventually find someone else to play the role of Fixer. The current political winds may be good for fund raising, but the companies with the deep checkbooks must be wondering what all they're getting for their money, particularly after the Chamber's failure to stop HCR.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:08 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The recent Supreme Court "Citizens" decision may change the dynamics of this method of political influence. As corporations can now choose direct monetary influence, they may decide that an intermediary skimming the money may not be most efficient.
posted by nofundy at 10:06 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

IF greed is a principle, then Mr Donohue is a highly principled man
posted by Cranberry at 12:08 PM on July 12, 2010

Heather Podesta: superlobbyist. That article was written back during the health-care debate, when she was lobbying for health insurance companies.

At the time Karen Tumulty of TIME (hardly an anti establishment blogger) wrote:
That's why I'm wondering what the fallout will be from today's enormous Washington Post Style Section profile of Heather Podesta, whom the paper describes as "an It Girl in a new generation of young, highly connected, built-for-the-Obama-era lobbyists. She gets an undeniable boost from a famous name -- she is the sister-in-law of John Podesta, the insider's insider who was Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff and Obama's transition director, and the wife of über-lobbyist Tony Podesta."

The opening photo of the story shows Podesta posed next to a Shepard Fairey image of her husband done up to look like the iconic one of Obama that made Fairey famous during the 2008 campaign. And it gets worse:
And the fallout was... pretty much nothing. I never heard about it again.

Apparently Lobbyists are actually well respected in DC. They're not looked at the same way as they are in the rest of the country (as far as I can tell). Washington appears to be pretty much corrupt to the core. The republicans at least have values that are compatible with corporatism, at least as far as I can tell.


And anyway, rather then just complain, I'll offer a solution. Campaigns should be publicly funded. The government obviously shouldn't be able to decide who gets the money itself, rather each voter would have an "allocation" of funds that they can allocate to various parties however they choose. That way, each person would get the same allocation.

The whole reason that politicians care about Lobbyists is because lobbyists control the purse strings for the whole operation: The money comes from the rich and powerful corporations. And most voters don't pay attention to politics during the "off season". (In fact, in the pre-internet days the traditional media barely covered politics at all, compared to things like shark attacks and missing women. And the reporters who did cover politics were fairly compromised as well, IMO)

So, since most people aren't paying attention, except for hard-core partisans politicians just do whatever they want when campaigns aren't running so that they can get the funds they need to run those campaigns, and try to fool people into thinking they didn't just sell them out. The fact of the matter is, it's a lot easier to trick voters then it so to trick lobbyists.
posted by delmoi at 1:10 PM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Apparently Lobbyists are actually well respected in DC. They're not looked at the same way as they are in the rest of the country (as far as I can tell). Washington appears to be pretty much corrupt to the core.

Well, of course, they as a group are respected. Being a lobbyist doesn't make you evil. It doesn't even make you wrong. If you take money to advocate a cause, you're a lobbyist. I give money to Human Rights Campaign. They're lobbyists. They make a living (gasp!) lobbying for me to have equal rights.

People in DC know and understand that, I think. So of course they respect lobbyists as much as they respect any other professional position.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:22 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being a lobbyist doesn't make you evil. It doesn't even make you wrong. If you take money to advocate a cause, you're a lobbyist.

Okay, corporate lobbyists, as opposed to those shilling for a collection of voters donating money to a cause they believe in. Sure, there are smaller trades that legitimately need a voice in Washington, but they by and large don't drown out the voters' voices. Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Fossil, and Big Finance all use their gazillions to smother rationale debate and direct legislators' attention to their wants to exclusion of what's good for people in general and contrary to their wishes. We've seen it over and over again. If the expenditures were proportional to the number of voters who support their cause, the country would look very different, I'm guessing.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:58 PM on July 12, 2010

Okay, say I'm a corporate lobbyist. My company employs 10,000 people. Is it wrong to represent my company's interests to officeholders? Especially if I think that without some legislative change we might begin shedding jobs?

Frankly, I see the lobbyist hate as misplaced. I think we should be more focused on campaign finance. Perhaps that boat has sailed thanks to the recent 5-4 SCOTUS decision, but that's the core problem. Lobbyist power is directly related to how much they can give.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:17 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, this is one of those rich white dudes who is always so concerned about parasites living off the sweat of the hard-working American public, right?

I see.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:53 PM on July 12, 2010

@delmoi, Larry Lessig came to a similar conclusion, and is doing something about it.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:31 AM on July 14, 2010

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