Monday, February 12, 2007

 

Pac up your troubles in your old kit-bag


The 110th Congress has reformed, some say revolutionized, the business of lobbying. The new rules prohibit lobbyists from paying for everything from meals and trips to rides on private aircraft for congresspersons. These new rules are designed to appear to limit the influence of lobbyists, and to eliminate some of the recent abuses that really looked bad. Well and good, but many feared the rules would disrupt business as usual, depriving the lawmakers of the wise counsel of the representatives of special interests, and the major recreational aspects of representing the public. Not.

Lobbyists continue of course to be the main conduit of campaign contributions. The process of gathering checks from client PACs and presenting them in one impressive bundle, called, understandably, “bundling”, is not affected by the new rules, and Congresspersons continue to be duly appreciative for this vital service. But what good is all that warm feeling if the lobbyist can’t mingle with the lawmaker? Mingling in pleasant surroundings is where all the important issues are discussed. And you can't really mingle without the surroundings. So who is going to pay for the surroundings?

If you guessed “political action committee” but didn’t specify whose, zero credit. It is not the PAC of the lobbyist, or the PAC of his client. If you said “the lawmaker’s PAC”, you may have a future in the field. You see, the lobbyist cannot legally pay for the surroundings, nor can the lawmaker use campaign funds for it. But there are no restrictions on the lawmaker’s PAC. Nor are there restrictions on donations to that PAC by the PACs of the lobbyist or his clients. How are you doing with 2 plus 2 so far?

Right. The lawmaker picks the trip or event, and specifies a corporate PAC donation sufficient to cover the cost. And of course it wouldn’t be much of a fund raiser if the lawmaker didn’t agree to go along. This time of year hunting and skiing trips are in vogue, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Representative Mary Bono of California has invited lobbyists to join her at a Who concert in D.C., and for a $2500 contribution you can join Representative Eric Cantor at the Starbucks near his office for a Tazo Chai Crème Frappuccino, courtesy his PAC.

Also important is transportation. Lawmakers can no longer fly on corporate private jets at a discounted rate, but the corporation can donate to the lawmaker’s PAC, which can then reimburse the corporation for the full cost of the flight.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R South Carolina, invites lobbyists to join him on fundraising hunting trips, which he considers an “innocuous fact of life”. “If you are not going to have publicly financed elections and you are getting your support from private individuals … I don’t see any problem with having events where private individuals who give you money can talk to you.”

One often overlooked benefit of the new system is that now, after covering the pleasures of the lawmaker, there is usually enough left of the contribution for his campaign fund to wet its beak a little.

Oh, and you remembered the second line to the title, "and smile, smile, smile". But did you remember the first verse of this WWI classic?

Private Perks is a funny little codger
With a smile a funny smile.
Five feet none, he’s an artful little dodger
With a smile a funny smile.
Flush or broke he’ll have his little joke,
He can’t be suppress’d.
All the other fellows have to grin
When he gets this off his chest, Hi!

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