Investigating the intersection of politics, lobbying and public policy.
There’s a lot of news this week on the American Legislative Exchange Council and the related network of state-based think tanks, the State Policy Network.
Almost a year ago, when I was at a small upstart blog called Republic Report, we first sent a letter to corporations involved with ALEC, asking them to leave the organization, given its role in crafting the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. The Guardian unveiled a trove of documents revealing that ALEC has suffered tremendously from the negative press around those efforts, which involved a group of left-of-center organizations, including the Center for Media and Democracy and Color of Change. Many businesses actually did leave ALEC.
While ALEC seems down, they’re not out. According to the documents obtained by The Guardian, ALEC and its allied organization, SPN, have redoubled their efforts to expand and find new funding streams. The documents suggest fundraising off of gambling efforts, efforts to push worker retirement accounts into dubious 401(k)-style plans, and other corporate giveaways that ALEC and SPN can spin into legislative templates and advocacy. Specific corporations and lobbying organizations are listed as prospective donors. The money just never stops.
This is the inherent difference between right-leaning organizations and their counterparts on the left. Large corporations view their right-wing giving as a strong return on investment. For almost every major conservative issue campaign, at least on economic policy, the wealthy and powerful ultimately benefit, meaning their donations to groups like ALEC and their cohorts are well-served. If corporate donors give to the left, as they sometimes do, they risk higher taxes, more empowered workers and less influence over elections. So it should be no surprise the the vast majority of corporate wealth in politics flows to the right and far right.
This pattern has repeated itself for many decades, though it has accelerated in recent years. During the course of my research on how the conservative movement rebuilt itself in the aftermath of the 2008 elections, I found myself digging through many historical files that show this dynamic repeating itself like an endless feedback loop.
On the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s passing this week, it is worth remembering that many American conservative organizations opposed his struggle by fighting against sanctions and divestment from the apartheid regime that oppressed him.
For ALEC, that meant partnering with corporations that faced calls for South African divestment and creating template legislation to block the pro-Mandela movement.
Below is a camera phone picture of one Legislative Update from ALEC describing its campaign in the 1980s to block South African divestment. During this period, ALEC’s corporate membership included a number of businesses with interests in South Africa, including IBM:
For more on how the recent history of the conservative movement, including the role of ALEC and SPN, my book The Machine: A Field Guide the Resurgent Right delves much deeper. Also, The Nation has a thorough investigation of SPN/ALEC in the April 15 edition, which you can find here.
If Third Way is truly concerned about electing Democrats, they chose a strange fundraising firm to partner with.
When Third Way’s president and senior vice president of policy published a Wall Street Journal opinion piece this week decrying the economic positions of Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren, namely, taxing the rich and expanding entitlement programs, their arguments rested on (weak) grounds that such ideas are bad for Democratic Party electoral prospects.
Earlier this week, TheNation.com obtained the latest disclosure forms for Third Way and reported that the think tank relies on a corporate lobbying firm called Peck, Madigan & Jones—a company featured by The Hill as among the “Top Lobbyists” of 2013—to raise more than half a million dollars a year. What makes Peck, Madigan & Jones such a top player on K Street?
Peck, Madigan & Jones’s largest client is the US Chamber of Commerce, a corporate trade group that represents large corporations like AIG, Bank of America and Dow Chemical. The Chamber, through its financial policy and legal affiliates, has paid Peck, Madigan & Jones $570,000 this year alone.
While the Third Way op-ed made a point of claiming that progressive economic policies wouldn’t play well with voters in Colorado, in 2008, their fundraisers’ client ran nasty attack ads against a Third Way leader in the state. When Third Way co-chair Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) first ran for the Senate, the US Chamber sponsored an advertisement against him on energy policy, declaring, “Every time he’s blocked American energy production, he’s made the tyrants and sheiks happy. But we’ve paid the price.”
Last year, Third Way co-chair Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) faced a barrage of attacks from the Chamber. One ad during the election last year instructed viewers, “Call Claire McCaskill. Tell her Missouri doesn’t need government-run health care. Support the repeal. We need jobs!” Watch it:
As The Huffington Post’s Luke Johnson reported, other Third Way co-chairs have commented on the growing controversy over the Wall Street Journal column. Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) and Ron Kind (D-WI)—all Third Way co-chairs—have distanced themselves from the arguments laid out in the piece.
We noted earlier this week that several Third Way trustees gave campaign money to Mitt Romney. But it might be even more problematic for the group that it has ties to the US Chamber, an organization that is dedicated to unseating Third Way leaders.
Peter Rothberg lists the top ten songs about Nelson Mandela.
Fox Business, an affiliate of Fox News, has responded to the rise of worker protests across the country by inviting on a finance industry trader to trash them.
The network aired several segments this week designed to criticize efforts to raise the minimum wage. In one, guest Jonathan Hoenig made a range of strange and misinformed comments, including a declaration that “every prominent economist over many, many decades has agreed [that] the minimum wage is discrimination.”
In reality, more than 100 economists have called for raising the minimum wage to benefit workers. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz signed onto a letter last year arguing that “a minimum wage increase would provide a much-needed boost to the earnings of low-wage workers.”
Hoenig then argued, “Only about 4 percent of people making the minimum wage are actually supporting a family full-time.” The Economic Policy Institute notes that over a quarter of those who would be affected by increasing the minimum wage are parents, and a third are married. Also, one in every five children in the United States has a parent who would benefit from a federal minimum wage increase.
Finally, Hoenig said his opposition to increasing the minimum wage stems from his belief that doing so would prevent workers from becoming the CEO of McDonald’s and other fast-food chains. One has to wonder if Hoenig, a financial investment advisor based in Chicago, has ever bothered to meet with the McDonald’s workers in his city who are gainfully employed, yet, homeless.
Gabriel Thompson goes on NPR to discuss how Walmart is exploiting its warehouse workers.
Third Way, a centrist think tank that portrays itself as a Democratic group, has some advice for the party: avoid economic populism at all costs. In a column for The Wall Street Journal today, the group argues that the party should steer clear of creating a strong safety net, and criticizes Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s call for universal pre-K funded through an upper-income tax increase as a foolhardy idea for national Democrats.
As many have noted today, in reaction to the column, Third Way’s attacks on Social Security and Medicare fail on the merits. It’s bad policy, and it’s equally bad politics.
But for Third Way, a group founded in 2005 that is highly active on Capitol Hill, the think tank is merely defending the special interest groups that allow it to exist.
Buried inside the annual report for Third Way is a revelation that the group relies on a peculiar DC consulting firm to raise half a million a year: Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart. Peck Madigan is no ordinary nonprofit buckraiser. The group is, in fact, a corporate lobbying firm that represents Deutsche Bank, Intel, the Business Roundtable, Amgen, AT&T, the International Swaps & Derivatives Association, MasterCard, New York Life Insurance, PhRMA and the US Chamber of Commerce, among others.
The two organizations complement each other well. Peck Madigan signs as a lobbyist for the government of New Zealand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal; Third Way aggressively promotes the deal. Peck Madigan clients push for entitlement cuts, and so does Third Way.
Notice that Humana, a major health insurance company, lists its $50,000 donation to Third Way not as a donation to a think tank but as part of its yearly budget spent on lobbying activity, up there with the Florida Chamber and other trade associations. The company views financial gifts to Third Way as part of its strategy for increasing its profit-making political influence.
What’s more, Third Way’s leadership has tenuous connections to the Democratic Party it hopes to shape. Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager listed as a trustee on Third Way’s 2012 annual disclosure, bundled $556,031 for Mitt Romney last year. Third Way board member Derek Kaufman, another hedge fund executive, also gave to Romney.
There is a long and storied tradition of corporate, right-wing interests seeking to shape the economic policies of the Democratic Party. The DLC, another Third Way–style group that folded in 2011, was funded by none other than Koch Industries. Richard Fink, a strategist to the Koch brothers who helped found what is now known as Americans for Prosperity, was on the DLC’s board.
Washington’s Big Business–friendly press has greeted the Third Way column as a “game changer.” But these arguments aren’t new, and neither are the strategies. Large corporations have many ways of finding useful surrogates, and Third Way is a prime example.
UPDATE: Daily Kos’s Hunter has a nice post noting how Third Way’s hatred of Senator Elizabeth Warren may relate to the fact that Third Way’s board is made up almost entirely of investment bankers and other Wall Street executives. Also worth considering, the anti-privatization drive of those “economic populism” types might rub some Third Way board leaders the wrong way—especially the one who sits on Correction Corporation of America’s board.
More Lee Fang: how the Turkey Lobby blocked child-labor regulations.
When Congress moved to regulate most child labor in 1938, an exception was carved for the agriculture industry. Children as young as 12 are allowed to engage in dangerous farmwork, which has lead to dozens of deaths and serious injuries for America’s rural youth. Though the Obama administration’s Labor Department moved better regulate child farm labor, industry pressure forced officials to back down. Mariya Strauss published a deeply reported investigation into the matter for The Nation earlier this month.
Like most economic issues, the child farm labor regulation came down to a contest of money and influence in Washington. Children and their advocates have little political resources, while the big agriculture industry hires lobbyists, bundles donations to lawmakers and shapes media coverage through slick public relation campaigns.
A little-known fact about the annual presidential pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey is that the bird is provided by the industry trade association for turkey farms, including Cargill, Perdue Farms, Dakota Provisions and Willmar Poultry Company. The industry group, the National Turkey Federation, presented Obama with two white turkeys, Popcorn and Caramel. While the event certainly provided light-hearted publicity for the turkey industry, it’s worth taking a look at the National Turkey Federation’s agenda.
Lobbying reports show the group has contacted lawmakers over immigration legislation and rules concerning animal drug use. Perhaps more surprising, and counter to the National Turkey Federation’s family-friendly public image, is the work the group has done to orchestrate opposition to the Obama administration’s child farm labor regulations. The annual report from the group celebrates its role in blocking the rule (emphasis added):
Department of Labor (DOL) Withdraws Proposed Rule on Child Agriculture Workers: The DOL withdrew its proposed rule on Child Labor Regulations in reponse to thousands of comments filed by NTF, other agriculture groups, and farm families across the country. The proposed rule included provisions that defined “parental exeption,” which would have dramatically affected rural communties and family-owned farms.”
Notably, the turkey lobby helped kill the rule by fasely claiming that the labor restrictions would prevent children from working on their own family farms. The Department of Labor rules contained a family exemption.
The National Turkey Federation certainly has the money to make things happen. The group spends over $2.1 million a year, in addition to an affiliated political action committee that doles out over $200,000 to congressional candidates. The NRF also has three registered lobbyists.
Katrina vanden Heuvel writes about the pardoning of the Scottsboro boys. Eighty years too late.
As activists continue to organize demonstrations at McDonalds, Walmart and other low-wage firms, big protests are planned against retailers for mistreating their workers this Black Friday. In response, union-busting consultants are ramping up efforts to marginalize them.
Last night—Worker Center Watch, a new website dedicated to attacking labor-affiliated activist groups like OUR Walmart, Restaurant Opportunities Center, and Fast Food Forward—began sponsoring advertisements on Twitter to promote smears against the protests planned for Black Friday. In one video sponsored by the group, activists demanding a living wage and better working conditions for workers are portrayed as lazy “professional protesters” who “haven’t bothered to get jobs themselves.”
“This Black Friday, just buy your gifts, not their lies,” instructs the Worker Center Watch narrator. Watch it:
Worker Center Watch has no information its website about its sponsors. Yet the group attacks labor activists and community labor groups for lacking transparency. “Hiding behind these non-profits, unions mask their true motivations, circumvent operational requirements and skirt reporting and disclosure obligations,” says Worker Center Watch, referring to labor-supported worker centers like OUR Walmart.
TheNation.com has discovered that Worker Center Watch was registered by the former head lobbyist for Walmart. Parquet Public Affairs, a Florida-based government relations and crisis management firm for retailers and fast food companies, registered the Worker Center Watch website.
The firm is led by Joseph Kefauver, formerly the president of public affairs for Walmart and government relations director for Darden Restaurants. Throughout the year, Parquet executives have toured the country, giving lectures to business groups on how to combat the rise of what has been called “alt-labor.” At a presentation in October for the National Retail Federation, a trade group for companies like Nordstrom and Nike, Kefauver’s presentation listed protections against wage theft, a good minimum wage and mandated paid time off as the type of legislative demands influenced by the worker center protesters.
The presentation offered questions for the group, including: “How Aggressive Can We Be?” and “How do We Challenge the Social Justice Narrative?”
It seems retailers are now experimenting with how aggressive they can be. Today, Parquet’s Worker Center Watch posted a link to a Breitbart News story featuring a video allegedly obtained by someone who infiltrated an Occupy activist group planning to demonstrate against Walmart.
The alarm at how quickly the new organizing model has taken off has sparked anxiety among business executives. Littler Mendelson, a law firm that helps companies defeat labor unions, released a report outlining the challenge for corporate executives. The US Chamber of Commerce, a dark-money group that counts Walmart and McDonalds as members, produced a similar study last week.
Corporations fear that the new wave of activism could have a multiplier effect that goes way beyond better pay and benefits for their workers.
In a webinar hosted this month for business executives seeking a “union-free workplace,” Nancy Jowske explained that the alt-labor model could heavily influence millennials and their perceptions of labor unions. “One of the things to consider about what’s going there with SEIU’s Fight for 15 and all of this is the millennial generation,” said Jowske, a former SEIU organizer turned union-buster, “they are getting a steady diet of pro-union from every possible direction." She added, "this is also a generation that is very class-conscious” and explained that the current alt-labor protests could incite future organizing drives. Jowske also cited a recent In These Times piece to argue that worker centers can be portrayed as “union front groups,” and warned that the alt-labor organizing model could have a long-term impact. For instance, the organizing model appears to help unions and community groups forge close ties that could be later used to deploy activists for political campaigns, workplace NLRB elections and other left-wing causes.
Bryce Covert talks about how women’s eye for the long term makes them valuable workers.
Liz Cheney, running for Senate in Wyoming to oust incumbent Republican Senator Mike Enzi, champions her role in conservative media as a political asset. On her campaign website, she touts her experience in the media bringing “attention to the threats to liberty posed by the Obama administration.”
For a part-time position, Cheney has been paid handsomely: her recently filed candidate disclosure form shows that she received $281,587 from Fox News. In July of this year, Fox ended the contract given Cheney’s bid for office.
Her other sources of income also stem from communications. Assorted speaking fees honoraria and a book advance associated with the book she wrote with her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, resulted in an additional $640,950 in income.
While Liz Cheney has been in the news this week after being rebuked by her sister, Mary Cheney, over her opposition to gay marriage, the disclosure also shows that Liz has been associated with Mary’s consulting firm, Yellowstone Associates, through 2011.
Cheney is not the only candidate to pass through the revolving door between the Republican Party and well-paid positions with Fox News. Disclosures show Rick Santorum was paid $239,153 as a part-time contributor before he ran for president in 2011. Mark Sanford, before he won his special election for a House seat in South Carolina, was paid $130,000 by the network.
Cheney’s campaign had asked for an extension earlier this year for the disclosure that appeared today through the Senate ethics office. The extension was granted, but was due on November 14. Records show the mailing was received on November 19. Her attorney comes from Holtzman Vogel, a law firm that has represented a number of GOP campaigns and secret-money groups, including Americans for Prosperity.
Zoë Carpenter reports from inequality’s frontline.
The break-out success of GasLand and GasLand 2, documentaries by Josh Fox about the dangers of largely unregulated hydraulic fracturing, has prompted the natural gas and drilling industry to adopt an aggressive public relations strategy to combat critics. Last year, at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, a group of high-profile lobbyists and communications staffers celebrated the development of a pro-fracking movie designed to rebut Fox's documentaries called TruthLand, which premiered in January.
Recently filed tax documents show the link between industry and TruthLand is much stronger than previously reported. The movie was funded with a $1 million grant from a DC-based trade group called America's Natural Gas Alliance, a consortium of fracking firms including Devon Energy, Apache, Noble Energy, Range Resources, XTO Energy, Southwestern Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources, among others.
Notably, the tax form shows the million-dollar grant for the film was given to Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an ANGA member company and prominent fracking corporation. TruthLand has gone to some lengths to conceal its ties to business interests. As Ben Nelson of LittleSis reported, the TruthLand website domain was briefly registered to a Chesapeake's Oklahoma office. Shortly after, TruthLand changed the website address to hide it behind a proxy. Nelson also obtained documents relating to the production of the film, which was led by Republican advertising consultant Fred Davis.
The TruthLand movie has been panned by environmentalists for downplaying the risks of methane leaks and groundwater pollution. But it has been widely distributed thanks to the promotional efforts of several oil companies and Americans for Prosperity, whose founders, David and Charles Koch, are deeply entwined with the fracking industry.
The America's Natural Gas Alliance 990 form also shows the industry has increased spending on media and public relations efforts. Other grants include:
§ $864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas;
§ $25,000 to ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod;
§ $25,000 to Environmental Media Association, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of the entertainment industry and the media to educate the global public on environmental issues and motivate sustainable lifestyles";
§ $25,000 to Third Way, a centrist Democratic research think tank;
§ $8,500 to America's Promise Alliance, an education nonprofit founded by Colin Powell;
§ $250,000 to IHS Global, a research company that produced a report last year claiming that the fracking industry will support 1.7 million new jobs.
Another interesting discovery from the disclosure relates to how much America's Natural Gas Alliance has contracted with Democratic political consulting firms to build support for their policies. The 990 shows that ANGA paid the Glover Park Group over $2.9 million for "research/advertising" and Dewey Square Group $738,957 for "grassroots communications." Both firms are run by mostly former Clinton administration officials. Though Glover Park Group is well-known as a lobbying firm, the company did not register for its work for ANGA last year.
Michelle Goldberg on why Alec Baldwin is a national embarrassment.
Yesterday, In These Times’s Mike Elk got his hands on a private document showing how DC-based political groups have moved to block the United Automobile Workers organizing effort at the Volkswagon plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Though workers at the plant, VW and the UAW seem largely in agreement about forming a workers’ council at the factory, prominent anti-union groups have swarmed Chattanooga to obstruct the deal. A consultant named Matt Patterson, formerly with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, authored the document, obtained by Elk, that spells out his efforts to mobilize Tea Party, libertarian, and local media attacks on the VW organizing drive.
In his proposal to donors, Patterson says his plan is to kill the momentum for unionization in the South, noting, “significant impact can made be over the next year in Tennessee, Alabama, and throughout the South to keep the UAW from organizing the foreign-owned auto facilities.”
Though much of Patterson’s tactics have been concealed until now, he did author an op-ed in May that called on Southerners to regard the union-drive as a chance to reenact the “bloodiest days of the entire Civil War.” Patterson wrote:
One hundred and fifty years ago an invading Union army was halted at Chattanooga by the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg. The Battle of Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest days of the entire Civil War, and a resounding defeat for the Northern forces. Today Southeastern Tennessee faces invasion from another union— an actual labor union, the United Auto Workers (UAW). The UAW has its heart set on organizing Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, which employs several thousand and supports thousands more throughout the Southeast. […]
No wonder Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd warns that unionization “will be like a cancer on [Chattanooga’s] economic growth.” Indeed it would be, though perhaps an infection is a more apt metaphor, an infection borne by an invading union force from the North. One hundred and fifty years ago, the people of Tennessee routed such a force in the Battle of Chickamauga.
Let their descendants go now and do likewise.
The battle Patterson romanticizes in his column resulted in over 34,000 casualties. One of the leading officers in the battle, Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest—a wealthy slave-trader—went on after the war to found the Ku Klux Klan, a group that helped powerful elites suppress black-white labor unity through a campaign of terrorism and murder.
While Patterson seems to be making a handsome profit by sowing divisions at the VW plant, some may read his Civil War analogy as an appeal for violence.
Liliana Segura asks why thousands of prisoners should have to die behind bars for nonviolent crimes.
The current conventional wisdom floating around the media, seemingly extrapolated largely from quotes to the press from businessmen and their surrogates, is that “Big Business [is] trying to unseat the Tea Party.” However, there’s no evidence that this is happening.
Remember the first time Tea Party House Republicans held a gun to the US economy, refusing to pay America’s debts unless Democrats accepted a wide-ranging set of demands, and as a result, business leaders promised to spend big to defeat hostage-taking radicals?
“We’ll get rid of you,” said Tom Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce to the Tea Party lawmakers.
That was 2011, during the first debt ceiling stand-off. And the following election year, none of the threats materialized.
In 2012, the Chamber ended up spending millions in undisclosed business funds to help elect Todd Akin, Ann Marie Buerkle, Dean Heller, Connie Mack, Denny Rehberg and other lawmakers who supported taking the debt ceiling hostage. Political action committees for the largest corporate interests in America, including General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, the American Bankers Association and Honeywell, gave several million in direct donations to Tea Party hostage-takers, helping many survive the election last year and repeat their antics this year.
Now, it seems big business is bluffing again and advancing a false narrative that they are flexing their political muscle against the Tea Party. The storyline, boosted by ThinkProgress, Bloomberg, National Journal and the Associated Press, among others, is that corporate America has lost influence with the GOP and is helping to defeat lawmakers who threatened to push America into default.
So far, the spin makes the business community appear moderate, though there is nothing backing it up. Despite making statements and sending letters voicing their concern, the Chamber has failed to spend a single penny in advocacy against the Tea Party hostage-takers. It hasn’t rescinded any of its so-called “Free Enterprise Awards,” either. (The award has been given to many Tea Party lawmakers, including repeat hostage-takers like Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA), Tom Graves (R-GA), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), who encouraged a debt default by comparing it to a second American Revolution.)
Contrast this with how the Chamber behaved in 2009, when Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. By November of that year, twelve months before the midterms, the Chamber launched an onslaught of attack advertisements against House Democrats who did not vote their way, after months of issue ads in targeted districts.
Then, after helping the Tea Party seize the House and several governors’ mansions during the midterms, business groups pumped funds into an effort to gerrymander the Tea Party into permanent rule. CitiGroup and the US Chamber—both of which now complain about flirting dangerously close to default—provided huge donations to the RSLC, the political committee devoted to gerrymandering seats to the House GOP and Tea Party caucus’ advantage.
Will we see a reversal? Next year, there are a handful of high-profile primary races in which establishment Republicans are challenging incumbents, but none of them are proof that there is a concerted effort by business to drive out the Tea Party. Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) is being challenged on social issues and for his outspoken views on foreign policy, not on the debt ceiling. Representative Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) has been a target for a primary well before his vote to shut down the government, largely because he is seen as a political novice who doesn’t know how to raise money. Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) is facing an establishment challenge, once again, but because he is an outsider within the party for his persistent votes to regulate Wall Street and crack down on political corruption.
Finally, Representative Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) may lose his seat because of revelations that he pressured a patient with whom he was having an affair to seek an abortion—not for his vote over the debt ceiling.
In fact, in terms of primary challenges, it looks like well-heeled GOP interest groups will successfully oust Boehner Republicans to make way for additional Tea Party–style politicians. Politico reports that Republican Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Bill Shuster (R-PA) face challenges from the right next year. Challengers in these races are calling for more debt ceiling hostage-taking. The Club for Growth, a pro-government shut down group funded largely by wealthy investors and businessmen, is leading the charge.
Here’s the reality: the large political action committee and trade associations that control much of corporate America’s campaign spending decisions will help the Tea Party and House GOP win re-election next year.
Big business political operatives lean Republican, and will stick with the party even if Republicans disrupt the economy for political reasons. Over the years, congressional Republicans waged a multifaceted effort to place partisans in their party in charge of the most influential lobby groups within the Beltway.
In the nineties, a mid-career John Boenher helped oust US Chamber president Richard Lesher—a moderate who sided with Democrats at times—to pave the way for Tom Donohue, a known GOP loyalist. During the George W. Bush era, Rick Santorum, Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Ed Gillespie and others created the “K Street Project” to install GOP operatives into key business lobbying positions.
Tom Perriello, a former one-term House Democrat from Virginia who was one of the first to be targeted by the US Chamber in attack ads aired a year before his re-election, says business leaders are too cozy with the GOP. Now the leader of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, he tells me that he’s “disappointed but not particularly surprised in the business community’s failure to force the Republicans to act reasonably on the CR, default or immigration, for that matter.… there seems to remain a broad cultural and political aversion [among lobbyists] to do anything that seems to help the Democrats and President Obama in particular.”
Still, Perriello thinks a change could be on the horizon. Many traditionally Republican business groups in Virginia have sat out the gubernatorial race, partially out of disgust for Ken Cuccinelli’s Tea Party extremism. Even GOP corporate lobbyists like John Feehery have been vocal in calling for the business community to do more to challenge the Tea Party.
But right now, it’s too early to say if 2014 will be any different than the last few congressional elections. The evidence suggests in fact that radicals are gaining ground within the GOP while facing little accountability. When it comes to taking on the Tea Party, business leaders have a lot of bark and no bite.
Katrina vanden Heuvel says JPMorgan's $13 billion fine was well-deserved.