Battlepanda: The difference between lobbying and corruption


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The difference between lobbying and corruption

Digby reader Samela wrote a comment that was so spot-on that Digby elevated it to the main page. In fact, it was so good, I didn't notice until I got to the end and her signature clued me in to the fact that Digby him/herself didn't write it.

Do I have any choice but to quote it in whole myself?

I think the simplest story that reveals the difference between what people perceive as 'big-business influence through lobbying" (which they relate to both parties) and the Culture of Corruption swirling around the Republicans is the one involving the Magazine Publishers of America.

Back in 2000 the magazine industry hired Abramoff as a lobbyist (he was then at Preston Gates Ellis) to help stem a proposed rise in postal rates. Now, most people can understand why the magazine industry would not want higher postal rates: it affects the bottom line of their business. Aside from printing, postage is one of their biggest costs. No one, of course, likes higher postal rates (and no one particularly wants magazine subscription rates to rise). But sometimes they are necessary to keep the postal system running. Nonetheless, it would seem perfectly legitimate for the MPA to hire a lobbyist to try to put their case before congressional members. One would assume the USPS would similarly be trying to jawbone legislators to present their side of the story, arguing FOR the need to raise postal rates. Senators and representatives should then duly consider the arguments from both sides and come to a decision about whether rates should rise or not.

This is not what happened. Mr. Abramoff was paid $525,000 by the MPA to seek a postal rate reduction in Congress. Did he make a heckuva case for them? Not exactly: he asked the MPA to give an additional $25,000 to a Seattle-based charity (slush fund) he'd helped found--and then he used that money (as well as another $25K from elottery) to help pay the salary for the wife of Tom Delay staff member Tony Rudy. It's called money laundering and bribery.

It's okay for lobbyists to collect money from clients to argue their cases before legislators. It's even okay (though problematic) for businesses or interests who have a stake in congressional legislation to try to elect the people they think can help them by donating to their campaigns, within the law. (Though I'd like to see changes in those laws.) What's not okay is money laundering and bribery. That is what a number of Republican Congressmen and their staffers are involved in here .... but no Democrats, to our knowledge.

The Democrats may be too tied to corporate contributions, and it's a problem that needs to be addressed. But we have thus far not seen any widespread shakedown, extortion, bribery, money-laundering schemes to which high-level Democrats or their staffers were party.

It's an easier story to understand than the baroque Indian tribe one (though smaller in scale). But it's been going on a long time, and DeLay and his staffers were at the very heart of it.

And yeah.... the Republicans are famous for defending their own until the fire gets too hot. The Democrats let go of Trafficante the moment his shenanigans hit the fan (it might even have been before), disavowing him. The Republicans have been trying to defend DeLay even AFTER his indictment. They got him to relinquish his leadership role, but they have in no way repudiated him formally.