September 12, 2004

Scarborough On Lobbying

I don't care much for Joe Scarborough. I think his politics are crazy, and frankly, I just can't get over the dead girl they found in his office before he decided not to run for re-election to the House. On the other hand, in the new tradition of politics being stranger than fiction, he may now be doing the country a favor by talking about how Washington lobbyists work.

Following excerpted from a transcript of MSNBC's Hardball, Sept. 9th, 2004, Scarborough talks about an incident that occurred when he was fairly new to Washington [formatting slightly edited from transcript, emphasis added]:

[SCARBOROUGH:] One of my favorite stories, and it is in the book, is, when I came up, I ran against farm subsidies. We have a lot of peanut farmers in our district. The peanut subsidy is important to them. I told this to the peanut lobbyists.

MATTHEWS: What did you tell them?

SCARBOROUGH: I can‘t vote for it.


SCARBOROUGH: I campaigned against paying farmers not to (CROSSTALK) ... crops.

MATTHEWS: Waste of federal money.

SCARBOROUGH: It‘s a waste of federal money. So all these lobbyists came into my office right before the peanut vote. I said, gentlemen, ladies, sorry, love you. Can‘t vote for you.

MATTHEWS: And they said?

SCARBOROUGH: They said thank you so much for your time, Congressman. They left. And then we got a stack of checks from the peanut farmers, from their lobbyists, right?

MATTHEWS: Campaign contributions.

SCARBOROUGH: I said to my chief, I said, why are they giving us that? He said they want your support. I told them I‘m not going to vote for them. We fast-forwarded the vote. I go ahead. I vote against them.

The next day, my chief of staff comes in and says, boy, the lobbyists for the peanut farmers are really mad at you. I said, why? Because they expected to you swing. I said, I told them I was (CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You cashed the checks, though? You did cash the checks.

SCARBOROUGH: You‘re darn right we cashed the checks.

And so he said, they think you lied to them. I said, I told them I wasn‘t going to vote for them. So then my chief of staff, who is very smart, very wise in the ways of Washington, when I started yelling in my office, saying, you can take those checks back, don‘t turn them in. He goes, yes, Congressman, yes, Congressman. He leaves, immediately deposits them in my campaign (CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What about the next cycle? That‘s the old question in Washington. They feed you. They give you a check one time. Do they come back the next time?

SCARBOROUGH: I think they gave me a little bit of money, but nothing like they gave me before.

And, again, what is so disturbing about that, it‘s not about the peanut lobbyists. What is disturbing about it is, it tells us, it tells us that that works with other people, that they‘re told no. They give them checks—not the peanut lobbyists, all lobbyists—and then votes change. These lobbyists are not stupid people. They don‘t go around, I find, throwing money around chasing bad money. ...

My question is, how do you fight this? It isn't illegal, nor should it be, to make a request of an elected official. It isn't illegal, nor should it be, to raise money for an elected official's campaign fund. It isn't illegal, nor should it be, for an elected official to change their mind.

It's an immutable facet of our current political system that it costs ungodly amounts of money to run for office. I'd like to think that we could collectively decide to do something more useful with all that cash, but that's just the silly talk of someone who'd like to believe that people (including me) are inherently rational (which I'm clearly no example of.)

But here's a thought: What if campaigns had an additional disclosure requirement? If a campaign gets money that it has reason to believe had been raised by the efforts of a lobbying group, PAC, corporation, or any organized group, maybe it should disclose that. If a particular lobbying firm sends you a stack of checks in a company envelope, maybe a campaign should say that they were likely sent by such-and-such lobbying group for a named purpose. If a blogger asks their readers to tack, say, $0.05 onto their contributions to the DCCC, maybe they should have to report (presuming they knew) that the donations possibly came from readers of a particular website. And what if the fundraiser was required to tell the donor that their contribution would be associated with their group?

It could be argued that it might decrease people's willingness to give if their motives weren't completely anonymous. On the other hand, if people have motives for contributions that they don't want to share with the public, maybe the political process would be better off without them.

Posted by natasha at September 12, 2004 01:14 AM | US Politics | Technorati links |

The solutions are all supply side; funding more elections with public money [after all, if it means there's less influence peddling, that's important], legislative mandates to require free or cheap appearances by candidates. Then the motivation for elected officials to take money from lobbyists goes down.

Posted by: niq at September 12, 2004 08:35 PM

Okay, but how do you get that legislation past the lobbyist-run pols?

Posted by: natasha at September 13, 2004 12:10 PM