Washington's Culture of Corruption
Greed. (image via bryan-talbott)
It is almost impossible to name a recent fundraiser for either party that doesn't carry about them the stink of corruption. Remember former Senator Torricelli, moist eyed, shamelessly running for reelection (!) with a tristate area ad blitz of the campign commercial entitled, unironically, "I'm Sorry"?
Aggressive fundraising and the whiff of sleaze go together, forever, like peanut butter and jelly. One doesn't get to Congress without a certain amount of boldness, and boldness, above all other virtues, is rewarded in DC. Too much so, perhaps; the accumulation of power leads to a feeling of invulnerability which leads to ... corruption. The catastrophic fall of Congressman Duke Cunningham only refocused our attention on the ball that the DC media types have clearly dropped: the influence of money in DC is far, far too great.
In Washington, eager, ambitious Congressmen and Senators rise quickly in their party ranks by shilling to the corporations and the lobbyists of K-Street, shucking and jiving with stale jokes and robust backslapping at rubber chicken and wine dinners as massive checks in exchange for a "seat at the table" and "favorable legislation" are passed, like the Dutchie, to the left hand side.
Everyone knows this; nobody does anything. Such is the state of American politics in the hour of the wolf.
Senator John McCain tried, for years, to curb this extravagant display of magnificent horseshit. Undeterred, the influence of money in politics staggers forward with hideous strength. Today Jeff Birnbaum of the Washington Post writes:
"For several years now, corporations and other wealthy interests have made ever-larger campaign contributions, gifts and sponsored trips part of the culture of Capitol Hill. But now, with fresh guilty pleas by a lawmaker and a public relations executive, federal prosecutors -- and perhaps average voters -- may be concluding that the commingling of money and politics has gone too far.
"After years in which big-dollar dealings have come to dominate the interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, both sides are now facing what could be a wave of prosecutions in the courts and an uprising at the ballot box. Extreme examples of the new business-as-usual are no longer tolerated."
One of the reasons that these stories weren't really pursued in the press is that the Washington press corps -- unlike bloggers -- are so stuck up the goddamned asses of the lobbyists. The excuse is generally that campaign finance reform isn't a sexy medium for the cool medium of television, but, IMHO part of the reason also is that lobbyists are a part of the general social fabric of Wasington so negative stories by, say, a Cokie Roberts -- who's brother Tommy Boggs is the king bitch of K-Street -- is unheard of. There is miniscule wiggle room between the corporate interests and those of the press that covers them; their children attend the same schools, they are each others' godparents, they attend the same embassy parties, they all live in the Watergate. As a result, with press fanfare only ex post facto:
"No fewer than seven lawmakers, including a Democrat, have been indicted, have pleaded guilty or are under investigation for improper conduct such as conspiracy, securities fraud and improper campaign donations. Congress's approval ratings have fallen off the table, in some measure because of headlines about these scandals.
"'The indictments and the investigations have strengthened the feeling that people have that in fact there's too much money in Washington and that the money is being used to influence official decisions,' said William McInturff, a Republican pollster with Public Opinion Strategies. 'Polls show that neither party is held in high regard.'"
Washington is becoming a cozy little tea party to which the resident journos have all become the invited guests (For further reference see: Bob Woodward, Judy Miller). It is up to bloggers -- dispassionate outsiders, unlike to Cokie Roberts crowd -- to keep the city on the up-and-up.
More Jeff Birnbaum here.