Friday, August 29, 2008

Important Things in Politics

August 29, 2008, 8:15 a.m.

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Priceless: The Political Influence Money Can Buy

"Mark Hanna, William McKinley’s campaign manager, once said, "There are two important things in politics. The first is the money and I can’t remember the second." Patrick J. Buchanan, "A Plague on Both Your Houses," Harvard University, March 16, 2000.

The line is often quoted (most recently by Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation on ABC News, below) but omitted from even Wikipedia's Mark Hanna entry, and otherwise seldom sourced.

It's consistent with today's definition of the "Golden Rule": "Those who have the gold make the rules."

It was the subject of an eight-part series of blog entries I did on the general subject of "Golden Rules & Revolutions," April 12-19, 2008, with links to all eight from the final part.

It was central to my documentation, some years ago, that those who give campaign contributions in the $100,000 to $1,000,000 range end up getting a 1000-to-one to 2000-to-one return on their money: Give a million, receive a billion in return from grateful elected officials -- using of course our money as taxpayers and consumers. Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Sunday Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2.

And it was on display big time at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

For years it was the Republicans who were thought to be the party of the fat cat, super rich, depicted in editorial cartoonists' drawings as rotund, cigar smoking, steely-eyed barons of industry dining in private clubs. The Democrats were thought to be the representatives of the working class and poor.

By 1968 it was Alabama Governor George C. Wallace who, "As a third party candidate, . . . opposed Republican Richard M. Nixon and Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey in the general election, maintaining that there was not a 'dime's worth of difference' between the two." Richard Pearson, "Former Ala. Gov. George C. Wallace Dies," Washington Post, September 14, 1998, p. A1.

It would be hard to sustain the assertion that there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties, even though they are both such "big tent" organizations that it is probably true that there are some individuals, very close in their views, who for one reason or another are in different parties.

But when it comes to the interests of the largest and most powerful industries, companies, other institutions, and the top one-tenth of one percent of America's wealthiest, there does tend to be very little difference between the parties when it comes to voting the interests of those who are paying for the campaigns and the national party conventions.

How they do that was on display in Denver.

And we have to give thanks to ABC for daring to cover the story of the influence peddling by some of their major advertisers -- even, as ABC reported, "ABC News' parent Walt Disney Company," below.

Of course, it would be a different story if ABC only went after the Democrats. But its Web site urges that we, "Watch the final Money Trail report from Denver tonight on World News with Charles Gibson, and all next week from Minneapolis." So it looks like the bi-partisan report of this story will be coming soon.

Here, in order, are ABC's reports from Denver. These excerpts, as well as of course the entire pieces, really speak for themselves and require no further comment from me -- starting with how abusive the parties and their corporate sponsors can be in their effort to keep all of their shenanigans below the mainstream media's -- and our -- radar:

Brian Ross, "ABC Reporter Arrested in Denver Taking Pictures of Senators, Big Donors; Asa Eslocker Was Investigating the Role of Lobbyists and Top Donors at the Convention," ABC Evening News, August 27, 2008 ("Police in Denver arrested an ABC News producer today as he and a camera crew were attempting to take pictures on a public sidewalk of Democratic senators and VIP donors leaving a private meeting at the Brown Palace Hotel.").

Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, and Avni Patel, "Money Trail: Lobbyists Gone Wild as Obama Remains Silent; Campaign Reform Groups Criticize Obama's Failure to Speak Up on Convention Excess," ABC Evening News, August 25, 2008 ("lobbyists are once again spending millions of dollars here on gourmet food, top-shelf liquor and private lavish parties for Democratic elected officials who seem more than happy to play the role of world-class freeloaders. . .. [O]ne of the country's leading lobbyists, Steve Farber, was chosen by . . . Howard Dean [as] chief fundraiser of the Denver host committee . . .. [This] founding partner of Brownstein, Farber and Hyatt, one the most prominent and active lobbying operations in Washington . . . persuaded some 141 corporations to contribute more than $50 million . . .. [C]corporate contributions to finance the conventions are a huge legal loophole in federal election laws that otherwise prohibit corporations from giving money to political campaigns.")

Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, and Joanna Jennings, "The Influence Game in Denver: What Are They Hiding?; Ted Kennedy, Michelle Obama Speeches Ignored As Lobbyists Party On," ABC Evening News, August 26, 2008 ("Not even the emotionally charged speech by Sen. Ted Kennedy kept corporate lobbyists from carrying out their multi-million dollar campaign to wine and dine and influence Democratic lawmakers at a series of lavish parties last night in Denver. . . . 'This is all under the radar,' said Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group that has tried to track the hundreds of convention parties planned by corporations for Democrats in Denver and Republicans in St. Paul. . . . 'It's really the same old, same old,' said Miller. 'It was Mark Hanna, an old time Republican politico in the late 1800's who said "there are two important things in politics. The first is money. And I can't remember what the second one is"'.").

The wealthy members of the "Pelosi 100" [donors giving $100,000 or more] attended a private, lavish party Monday night in the penthouse suite of the Denver Performing Arts Center, featuring Tony Bennett, John Legend and James Taylor. . . .

[I]ncluded in the $100,000 Pelosi package was "preferred booking" at a top downtown Denver hotel, four convention hall credentials and access to luxury sky boxes overlooking the convention floor.

Last night, the wealthy donors in the sky box watched as Sen. Hillary Clinton praised Barack Obama for knowing "the government must be about we the people, not we the favored few."

The favored few in the Democratic Finance Committee skybox were treated to an open bar and food in silver chafing dishes.

Delegates outside the closed curtain of the sky box stood in line for $7 hot dogs and were not permitted to bring food to their seats at the Pepsi Center. . . .

Federal election laws permit individuals to contribute a maximum of $2,300 per candidate but contributors say the Democrats show how to work around the limit.

"They present us an entire menu and it can involve a million dollars or more spread around various candidates and committees around the country," said one wealthy lawyer who did not want his name used for fear he would be cut off from the VIP program.
Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, Avni Patel, and Asa Eslocker, "The Money Trail: Putting on the Ritz, VIP Treatment for Big Money Democrats; Cocktails and Canap├ęs in the Sky Box While Delegates Line Up for $7 Hot Dogs," ABC Evening News, August 27, 2008 ("While its elected officials say it is the party of 'the working people,' Democrats are quietly running an elaborate VIP program that rewards wealthy contributors with luxury perks and insider access at the Denver convention, part of what the party calls a 'business plan.'")

Asa Eslocker, Avni Patel, Emma Schwartz, and Brian Ross, "Money Trail: Kanye West Proves Huge Boost for Media Lobbyists; Hot Ticket of the Week at the DNC; Free Concert Goes Until 2:30 a.m.," ABC Evening News, August 28, 2008 ("With a key piece of legislation pending before Congress, big entertainment companies pulled out all the stops Wednesday night with a free concert . . .. Lobbyists for the recording industry trade group, the RIAA, and music companies distributed free tickets to members of Congress . . .. Tickets for [Kanye] West's concerts often sell for more than $1,000. [T]he RIAA, whose members include ABC News' parent Walt Disney Company, spent more than $7 million on lobbying last year and has already spent $3.7 million this year. . . . Among RIAA's key efforts: pushing for passage of a bill that would toughen federal oversight of trademark issues, toughen penalties for violators and allow the Justice Department to prosecute civil cases for internet music downloading and trademark counterfeiting. . . . The West concert capped a week of lavish parties and entertainment put on by corporate lobbyists who push legislation and regulatory issues in Washington . . . put up $50 million to pay for the cost of the convention itself and millions more for scores of private parties.")

Don't miss ABC's report from the Republican National Convention. If things run true to form, those professionals -- who needn't suffer the hypocrisy of pretending to represent the poor, working poor and working class -- are going to make the Democrats' Denver efforts at shaking the money tree, and their "business plan," look like the work of bumbling amateurs.

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