The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “SO DAMN MUCH MONEY: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government” By Robert G. Kaiser from Chapter 24 on page 345 and I quote: “The sad political realities of the early twenty-first century were not the product of any decision to undermine American politics and government—there is no mastermind or villain in this story. Gerry Cassidy did not hope for this outcome—indeed, he deplored it. Neither Newt Gingrich, nor Tip O’Neill, nor George W. Bush set out to do harm. What corroded American politics and government was the perfect storm of new developments that transformed campaigns for public office from the 1970s onward. These coincided with unprecedented growth of the federal government, whose influence spread wider and deeper in American life from the 1960s onward. “Liberals” and “conservatives” in power produced the same result—a more intrusive government, more important to the well-being of more Americans. This in turn was the great impetus to the astounding growth of the lobbying business; the more industries, institutions, individuals, and interest groups saw their own fate at stake in Washington’s debates on public policy, the better the market for lobbyists.
The mess was created by ordinary people responding logically to powerful incentives. In the memorable phrase of George Washington Plunkitt of New York City, holder of numerous public offices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these men and women “seen [their] opportunities and [they] took ’em.”
This is just what Gerry Cassidy did for most of four decades. Cassidy was more aggressively opportunistic than most, but the logic of his choices was nearly always clear. Cassidy came to Washington almost by accident, the beneficiary of coincidences he could never have foreseen. Once there, he took the measure of the place and realized that it was a suitable setting for his efforts to reinvent himself and fulfill his immense ambitions. His timing was perfect. Just as he took his big plunge in 1975, the stars were aligning in fortuitous ways. Not only was the federal government more important in the life of the country than it had ever been, but a newly invigorated entrepreneurial spirit was abroad in the land: the politicians in Congress who could help a lobbyist needed support in forms that Cassidy could provide, from cash money to political bacon that would please their constituents. Cassidy soon realized that there was big money to be made as a fixer, a facilitator. He could charge clients large fees to help them navigate the complex structure and arcane procedures of the government in Washington to advance or protect their own interests. He could teach members of Congress how to earmark federal funds for their constituents’ benefit. His success created an incentive to others who became his competitors.
Cassidy constantly pushed the edge of the envelope, looking for an advantage. He often grasped what the opportunities were before others did, which helps explain why he got richer than others in his line of work. But a great many lobbyists got rich and contributed to the one big arrangement that came to define modern Washington: the mutually dependent relationship that evolved in the years after 1975 between members of Congress and the ever-growing tribe of Washington lobbyists. All the participants in this relationship responded to compelling incentives.
In electoral politics the most persuasive incentive is fear—fear of defeat. Survival in office is the paramount concern. Over the last three decades the means by which survival could be secured were revolutionized by new technologies. Once it was clear that combinations of polling, television advertising, direct mail, and marketing actually won elections, no politician could resist them. Even those with relatively safe seats—a majority of the total membership in the House—could not resist ensuring their re-election in every practical way. But the new political technologies were expensive, and the politicians had to find the money to pay for them. The graph line that described the cost of campaigns for the House and Senate after 1974 went up and up,. As if propelled by an irresistible force. The last elections were always the most expensive ever.
As the new technologies became entrenched in the 1980s, their practitioners became increasingly influential—and rich. Pollsters and consultants became a new elite. Though they and the politicians they served shared a common interest in disguising their importance, it could not be hidden. In an academic survey conducted as early as 1989, 44 percent of the consultants interviewed reported that their clients were uninvolved in deciding which issues would be emphasized in their own campaigns. Two-thirds said the candidates played no role in determining the tactics of their campaigns.
The growing importance of consultant and pollsters created a classic disincentive for some potential candidates. What sort of people would want to run for office if they were expected to leave decisions about issues, strategy, and tactics to the hired hands? This is one reason why Americans today would have such a hard time identifying true leaders in their Congress. With a handful of exceptions, there are none to be found.
“The beautiful science of the random sample,” said Raymond Strother, the consultant who had to persuade Senator John Stennis to raise money form defense contractors, had taken the ideas out of politics and replaced them with numbers. “It is hard to produce a true statesman from an environment so cautious and calculating. How will this look on TV? Or How will my opponent use this against me becoming the pressing question, instead of What’s best for the country?”
The people who were encouraged to run for office in this environment were rarely future statesmen; they were more likely to be men and women who could raise money and follow instructions. Fund-raising—or being wealthy—became a critical political skill. “Money dictates the candidates,” said Jack Quinn, the former Republican congressman from Buffalo who worked for Cassidy from 2005 to 2008. “Good people get aced out, shoved out. It’s my belief that there are probably a lot of really good candidates out there who never run because of the money . . . . all too often I’ve been hearing lately, ‘How much money have you got? How much can you raise?’”
Increasingly, the candidates are wealthy citizens looking for a second career in politics. They have money of their own to spend on a campaign. In November 2007, the National Republican Congressional Committee boasted publicly that it was recruiting wealthy individuals to run in the 2008 election–”credible Republican challengers . . [who] happen to have access to personal financial resources.” Most senators in 2008 were millionaires; so were a large number of House members. “That’s scary,” Quinn said. “I think you leave out a whole pool of people who would be good members.”
Leon Panetta despaired of the quality of people now running for congress. “If you’re not independently wealthy, you’re a person who has to sell your soul to a lot of interests so you can raise the money you need to run a campaign. . . . We’re not going to get back to getting the kind of people we want in politics unless we can break this addiction to money.”
And what do we get meanwhile? Douglas Bailey, the former Republican consultant, offered an answer: “The intellectual quality of our politics, the capacity of our politics is at one level, and the severity of the issues is at another level altogether.”
But issues are secondary in modern politics. “It’s all about winning, it’s not about governing anymore,” Panetta said. “If all you care about is winning, you’re not going to care about solving problems.” The technicians of politics could win races (as they helped George H.W. Bush win the presidency in 1988) with essentially negative campaigns that offered no solutions to the country’s problems. What became known as “wedge issues” remained effective from the 1980s through at least 2004. If you could win voters’ alliance with your opposition to gun control or gay marriage or flag burning, or by being tough on criminals and terrorists, who needed solutions to big national problems?
Douglas Bereuter, the Nebraska Republican who abandoned a congressional career that had lost its appeal for him, thought that for “an increasing number of people who run for Congress and serve in Congress, politics is their real love. Many of them have very little interest really in legislation or in being legislators. . . . I think there’s a very high proportion of people in politics today for whom the thrill of the race, the thrill of the competition, the thrill of beating your opponent. . . is more important than addressing the nation’s problems. The sophistication of the process, the mechanics of getting elected today, the mechanics of putting together an organization—for a lot of people today these are the intriguing part of running for office and serving, and continuing to be reelected.”
Panetta and Bereuter were both describing the permanent campaign. If political power and political survival were at stake, risks would be taken, ethical compromises would be made. So, for example, Tom DeLay cut corners to raise money to support Republican candidates for the state legislature in Texas. In 2002, when they won a majority for the first time in 130 years, DeLay pushed them to redraw the congressional districts in Texas to produce more Republican seats, although Texas had just completed a redistricting after the 2000 census. This worked—in the 2004 election, after the legislature’s new Republican majority had drawn a new map, Texas gained five Republican seats in the House. But then in September 2005, as we’ve seen, DeLay was indicted by a Texas court on charges of conspiring to direct illegal corporate contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas legislature. The indictment, of course, set DeLay on the downward path that led to his resignation from Congress nineteen months later.
More subtly and more consequentially, the permanent campaign has turned disputes over issues into all-out political battles. In the heat of battle, facts can be the first victim. When the purpose of debate is to gain political advantage, establishing the truth or seeking actual solutions to complicated problems both lose significance. Instead the campaigners use propagandistic arguments to tell voters that what they want to hear is in fact the case. “Facts” offered in these debates are often not facts at all, but convenient arguments intended to “promote one’s cause against others,” as Hugh Heclo wrote in his essay on the permanent campaign. And the permanent campaign has encouraged the hardening of ideology on both left and right. So Republicans keep promoting tax cuts, no matter their actual impact on the government’s gigantic debt; Democrats avoid all serious discussion of Social Security and Medicare, despite the fact that both programs are headed over a cliff. In the permanent campaign, public opinion is not the voice of the people, but something to be leveraged and massaged “to make it serve one’s own purposes,” in Heclo’s words.
The American public is generally unsophisticated about politics and public policy issues. America has long been apolitical. But Americans can demonstrate common sense. “Eighty percent of the people are frustrated because government is not addressing what only government can address to make their lives better,” observed Bill Bradley, the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate. Bradley thought this explained public disenchantment with politics and politicians in the last generation.
Peter Hart, the pollster, prides himself on staying in touch with public sentiment, partly by running regular focus groups around the country, most often for corporate clients. “We have a public that is just absolutely repulsed by everything that is going on in Washington,” Hart said as the 2008 presidential campaign was beginning in 2007. “Essentially, they can’t stand all the lobbying, they can’t stand all of the special interests, they don’t think the public interest is represented. It is something they understand—the cesspool that they think we [in Washington] operate in.”
Money became the great preoccupation of the politicians in Washington in the era of the permanent campaign. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut spoke of it emotionally in September 2006, the day after he attended a regular luncheon meeting of the Democratic Senate caucus with all his Democratic colleagues:
“I was looking around the room, and I’m seeing some people who are up [for re-election] in a couple of years, and I’m watching their faces as almost the entire luncheon was devoted to money—at a caucus lunch! There used to be, when I first came [to the Senate in 1981], a place for great debates and discussions—one of the best speeches I ever heard, from Tom Eagleton [senator from Missouri, 1969-87], on what it meant to be a national Democrat.. I mean they were wonderful moments, those lunches. And it’s now basically all money. . . . It’s changed dramatically, I mean dramatically. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but the republic’s at risk. Truly at risk because of this.”
Dodd was providing a glimpse of a political money culture in Washington that is rarely seen by the public. For those involved, raising money is a chronic condition, a constant subject of conversation, and the basis for a little-known Washington industry of political action committees and professional fund-raisers. Michael J. Fraioli is a big player in this world.
Fraioli learned fund-raising from a master, Tony Cohelo. A native of California’s Central Valley, Fraioli worked in Coelho’s first House campaign there in 1978. When he won, the new congressman invited Fraioli to join him in Washington. At first he worked on Coehlo’s personal staff, then followed him to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where Cohelo made his mark as a fund-raiser. In 1987, after six years at the DCCC, Fraioli established Fraioli & Associates, one of Washington’s first fund-raising firms.”
(WHEN POLITICIANS FROM BOTH PARTIES REALIZED THAT THE WAY THEY WERE GOING TO GET ELECTED WAS TO GET THE MOST MONEY AND OUT-ADVERTISE YOUR OPPOSITION. THIS IS WHAT TAKES PLACE RIGHT AFTER WHICH PARTY GETS IN, in the TYPE OF MAIL YOU RECEIVE. YOU DON’T GET LETTERS TELLING YOU WHEN THEY WILL BE IN TOWN TO TALK TO THE LOCAL VOTERS. IT’S KIND OF A FORGOTTEN ART. THEY ARE HAVING FEWER AND FEWER MEETINGS TALKING TO VOTERS AND MORE AND MORE TALKING TO BUSINESS PEOPLE. YOU JUST ABOUT NEVER GET QUESTIONAIRES ANY MORE, LIKE YOU USED TO, CONCERNING THE ISSUES YOU THINK ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT, SUCH AS A DECLINING INCOME in the VIRTUALLY 99 PERCENT OF THE VOTERS, WHILE THE 1 PERCENT NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD, CONCERNING INCREASED INCOME. YOU CAN’T TELL ME THEY’RE DOING THAT GOOD A JOB. BIG INVESTMENT BANKS GOING BROKE OR MERGING; CITIES IN CALIFORNIA GOING BANKRUPT AND THE LATEST BEING DETROIT, MICHIGAN. COUNTRIES EVEN IN EUROPE AND ALL THEY CAN SUGGEST IS GO AFTER THE 99 PERCENT HARDER BECAUSE WE NEED MONEY TO RUN THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH PROGRAMS THEY CALL AUSTERITY IN EUROPE AND SEQUESTRATION HERE IN the UNITED STATES. NOW, WE’RE GETTING CLASS WARS IN SYRIA AND EGYPT, AS WELL AS THE PIIGS COUNTRIES (PORTUGAL, IRELAND, ITALY, GREECE AND SPAIN). SINCE THE 1 PERCENT IS GETTING DESPERATE, THEY ARE TRYING TO KEEP THE 99 PERCENT FROM DEMONSTRATING, WHICH THEY ARE TRYING TO DO IN MADISON, WISCONSIN. FIRST IT WAS FOUR PEOPLE THAT CREATED A MOB, WHICH SOUNDED RIDICULOUS. SO THEY CHANGED IT TO 20 AND THE QUESTION IS—WILL THAT SILENCE THE 99 PERCENT, PARTICLUARLY BECAUSE THEIR INCOME KEEPS FALLING? PAID LOBBYISTS ARE AN ART FORM BUT THE 99 PERCENT ARE SLOWLY LEARNING AND in the END, WE WILL WIN AND HOPEFULLY WITHOUT A WAR.
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members