Wednesday, November 07, 2012

More on money and our way of government


"If we took all the money we spend on political ads and used it to educate our children and feed the poor, we wouldn't be America."
-- Tracy Klugian, president of the Negative Advertising
Association of America, quoted by the Borowitz Report

by Ken

Tracy Klugian, Andy Borowitz's longtime jack-of-many-right-wing-trades, apparently has a new job: president of the Negative Advertising Association of America ("which represents the nation's leading producers of political attack ads"). And in this capacity he is challenging the claim "that the nation had spent $2.5 billion [on the presidential election] with absolutely nothing to show for it."
"When people complain about how expensive these political campaigns are, they're forgetting about the millions of Americans who are employed making negative ads," he says. "Say what you will about lies, vitriol and character assassination, they're job creators."

In fact, Mr. Klugian says, America's costly and interminable campaigns are the nation's most reliable source of employment: "They gave a completely unskilled person like Mitt Romney a steady job for eight years."

Acknowledging that the $2.5 billion spent this year was a "tidy sum," Mr. Klugian says, "If we took all the money we spend on political ads and used it to educate our children and feed the poor, we wouldn't be America."

To get a little more serious, the other night I quoted briefly from a New Yorker profile of "Washington Man" Jeff Connaughton, who went from the University of Alabama, where he became a devotee of Joe Biden based on an appearance the young senator made there, to years of toil in various campaign and government grind, and eventually was able to make the lucrative leap into lobbying, before eventually returning to government when Biden's longtime chief of staff Ted Kaufman was appointed to succeed to his Senate seat when Biden left it to become vice president. Kaufman, as you'll recall, with no future electoral prospects at stake, became a tiger on the subject of financial reform following the great meltdown of 2008, and he enlisted Connaughton's help to try to achieve some substantial change, at which they failed quite miserably, freeing Connaughton to write the much-praised book The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins.

I was still reading the Packer piece at the time, and had stumbled across a lovely quote quantifying the dramatic leap in expenditures on lobbying the federal government which happened in the decade from 1997 to 2007, the very time when Connaughton made his career switch. Since then I've finished the piece, and it's filled with stuff that bears directly on the issues of Big Money's chokehold on government which many of are pondering now in the aftermath of this election season. There's so much good stuff in it that I regret all the more not being able to give you a usable link, but as I mentioned, all you can get for free if you're not a subscriber is an abstract.

There's probably more in the Packer piece that I'll want to talk about, but for now I've just got a few quotes I've typed out. The first concerns a term that Connaughton came to apply to himself: "Professional Democrat." (As we'll see, there are "Professional Republicans" too.)

Connaughton's link to the lobbying world was Jack Quinn, who served briefly as White House counsel in the Clinton administration (during President Clinton's years of legal woes, he went through White House counsels like office temps. Connaughton had in fact worked for Quinn's predecessor, former congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva, and had established a connection with Quinn, who was impressed enough to tap him to be his No. 2 when he left the White House at the end of 1996 "to re-start h is lobbying practice at Arnold & Porter, a Washington law firm with strong ties to the Democratic Party." But in January 2000 Quinn and Connaughton moved up to a new lobbying shop, Quinn Gillespie, a partnership between longtime Democratic wheel-greaser Quinn and Republican insider Ed Gillespie -- the idea being to create a firm that would be more or less election-proof, being prepared to service the lobbying needs of high rollers whichever party happened to be in power at the moment.

It was a great success for all concerned.
Connaughton had become what he called a Professional Democrat. This was the class of Washingtonians -- lobbyists, lawyers, advisers, consultants, pundits, fixers -- who shuttled between jobs predicated on corporate cash and increasingly prominent positions in Democratic Party politics. Wealth added to their power, and power added to their wealth. They connected special interests to Party officials through fund-raising. They had breakfast with politicians, lunch with the heads of trade associations, and dinner with other Professional Democrats. Behind their desks were "power walls" -- photographs showing them smiling next to the highest-ranking politicians they knew. Professional Republicans ascended in Washington even more easily, because their party affiliation didn't require them to affect disdain for big-money politics.
In this passage Packer writes about Connaughton's outlook on the financial side of his new world.
A colleague at Quinn Gillespie once said that when the firm hired a new lobbyist only two things mattered: "One, is he comfortable asking his friends to do favors for him? And, two, is he willing to do this?" The colleague made a show of spreading his legs. "Does he understand that we're here to make money?"

Connaughton wanted to make money, but he also wanted to get things done. Public service seemed to bring more humiliation than triumph, whereas the private sector was closer to a meritocracy; your reward corresponded directly to what you produced. Connaughton was proud of his partners and what they built together, and his years at Quinn Gillespie were the happiest he'd spent in Washington. He opened a brokerage account and ordered custom-made suits. He bought a town house in Georgetown, then a waterfront condo in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, then a thirty-nine-foot Italian powerboat.

Connaughton had remained close friends with several people he had met on the Biden '88 campaign. Some of them were still in public sevice, and they were now struggling financiallly; one man, who worked for a nonprofit housing group, was living with his parents.
And finally -- for now, anyway -- there's this lovely bit about the role of lobbyists in modern American government:
Connaughton got a bit defensive when anyone implied that lobbying was a corrupt alternative to public service. Lobbying, he said, provided a valuable flow of information and analysis between corporations and government officials. If a senator was a kind of judge, a lobbyist was a kind of advocate, giving the senator the best arguments on one side of a case. Of course, it was a stretch to portray the process as egalitarian: an advocate without corporate backing rarely got the chance to present the other side to a senator.
In fact, not all senators may even be privy to what lobbyists know. Later, when Connaughton is working for Senator Kaufman on financial reform, knowing that Sen. Chris Dodd was semi-secretly hammering out a bill in his Banking Committee which would be far more friendly to his soulmates on Wall Street, Kaufman and Connaughton can't even find out what's going on, and Connaughton has the inspiration to phone his old boss Jack Quinn. It turns out that Quinn has just had a 45-minute briefing from Dodd himself, along with the CEO of an insurance company Quinn Gillespie was representing.

Is it any wonder we have the government we have?

Well, this is what we'd all like to believe, anyway.

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