In the years since the Jack Abramoff scandal, lobbyists have remained perhaps the only people in Washington, DC held in lower regard by the American people than politicians. Politicians of course understand this, and rarely miss an opportunity to rail against the unholy influence of the lobbying corps.
But behind the sharply worded floor speeches and tough legislative proposals, lobbying firms maintain a cozy relationship with many Members of Congress – including some of those who carp the loudest about K Street’s pull.
Take the recent debate over the STOCK Act earlier this month – a bill designed to ban insider trading by Members of Congress that gained notoriety in the wake of a 60 Minutes report about investments made by some lawmakers while working on legislation that potentially impacted the value of those investments.
Seeing an opportunity to score some political points by attacking lobbyists, Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and John Tester (D-Montana) used consideration of the insider trading bill to do just that. The two filed an amendment to the STOCK Act designed to impose a Pete Rose-style lifetime ban on Members of Congress ever becoming lobbyists, a six year bar on lobbyists working for congressional offices they’ve lobbied, and a prohibition on cash contributions by lobbyists.
Now, what’s interesting about this proposal – other than the fact that it has nothing to do with insider trading – is that it came from Bennet. Interesting because some of Bennet’s largest contributors come from the crowd whose influence he allegedly wants to curb.
In fact, two of Bennet’s top five contributors (Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, and Hogan Lovells) are lobbying outfits. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the duo have given Bennet some $140,00 since 2007. Other well-known names like Akin Gump and Patton Boggs (who gave $31,794 and $37,026, respectively) also appear on Bennet’s list of contributors, but didn’t donate enough to crack his Top 5. In total, the “Lawyers / Law Firms” category was Bennet’s biggest source of campaign cash during that period, accounting for more than $1.3 million.
But back to Bennet’s amendment.
From what we can tell, the amendment was never taken up during floor consideration of the STOCK Act. It was never debated, and never voted on. But proposing it undeniably generated a fair amount of good publicity for Mr. Bennet and Mr. Tester.
Bennet’s populist K Street bashing makes good, short-term political sense. But his rhetoric doesn’t exactly match up with his fundraising habits.
Taking potshots at nameless, faceless “lobbyists” and proposing tough sounding “lifetime bans” and draconian penalties (even if you have no real intention of ever putting them to a vote) may seem like a good strategy for papering over tens of thousands in contributions from lobbying interests. And that kind of duplicity may fly in Washington (which Mr. Bennet is fond of railing against), but it is likely to be far less convincing with those of us who live two thousand miles from the DC cocktail circuit.
Like a wannabe Mr. Smith singing Amazing Grace in a Washington brothel, Mr. Bennet’s protestations on the contemptible influence of lobbyists in our political process – while he fills his war chest with their money – seem just a tad hypocritical.