Politicians Show Their Gratitude Where It Count$

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There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart, a poet wrote, and as this year’s summer winds toward its end and elections approach, gratitude is indeed what our politicians have flowing from that space where their hearts should be.

As the world burns, our political class whoops it up with the plutocracy, whether in Martha’s Vineyard or at the Kochs’ posh retreat in southern California.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is grateful to his friend Rick Anderson, the CEO of Delta Airlines. In late July, a week after McConnell treated him to breakfast in the Senate Dining Room, checks for McConnell’s super PAC came winging their way from Anderson and his wife, as well as Delta’s political action committee.

“This is the kind of rare access that most of us will never experience.” That’s Sheila Krumholz, executive director the Center for Responsive Politics, the campaign finance watchdog. She was talking to National Journal about Delta’s boss dining in first class with McConnell: “Who makes a good enough breakfast companion for a sitting senator in a highly competitive reelection campaign to take time out of their busy day? It never hurts if the person can follow up with a donation, and all the better if it can be a sizable one.”

President Barack Obama, right, drives a golf cart with businessman Vernon Jordan, left, while playing golf at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

President Barack Obama, right, drives a golf cart with businessman Vernon Jordan, left, while playing golf at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Tuesday, August 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

McConnell’s even more grateful to the Brothers Koch, and so are some other conservative Senate candidates — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Colorado’s Cory Gardner. All of them gave command performances at the Kochs’ secret annual retreat and strategy conference in June. Billionaires, millionaires and the officeholders and seekers who love the cash the superrich can offer gathered to celebrate the privileged.

By now you’ve heard about the surreptitiously recorded audiotape of remarks about campaign finance reform that McConnell made at that cozy confab. Thank goodness the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision leveled the playing field for corporate speech, he said: “The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law.”

As Lauren Windsor at The Nation noted, “To put that in perspective, Mitch McConnell’s thirty-five-year career in the Senate saw the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans, the 2008 housing meltdown that threatened the entire economy and Barack Obama’s election, to cite a conservative bête noire. But it was McCain-Feingold, the bill that banned soft money and unlimited donations to party committees, that constitutes the worst day of his political life.”

Sadly, when it comes to lobbying and the lucrative lifestyle it affords, Barack Obama and his White House have devolved from an alleged zero-tolerance policy to acquiescence, an attitude of freewheeling laissez-faire that’s already lining the pockets of administration and campaign alumni and to hell with principle.
Yikes. But lest you think the largesse and gratitude are only piling up on the GOP side of the ledger, note that in July, Democratic fundraising committees raised more money than Republicans, this in the face of fears about dire results for Democrats come November. And whilst resort vacationing amongst the grandees on Martha’s Vineyard in August, President Obama had time amidst a world of crises to hang out and show his gratitude at an intimate birthday party for 150 nearest and dearest that Washington’s premier rainmaker and fixer Vernon Jordan threw for his wife, Ann, at the Farm Neck Golf Club.

Jordan, who like the Quakers of Philadelphia came to do good and did well — very well — has had a distinguished career in Washington as a civil rights leader and friend to presidents. But the man who worked his way through college as chauffeur to an Atlanta banker and former mayor has become rich selling his influence in DC: Jordan is senior counsel at the powerful law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which recently became the most lucrative lobbying operation in America, earning $8.6 million in the second quarter of 2014 and for the first time nosing out its closest K Street competitor, Squire Patton Boggs. (They did this by poaching many of Squire Patton Boggs’ health care industry clients.)

Akin Gump handles Beltway business for everyone from Amazon and AT&T to UPS and the US Chamber of Commerce (ah, that champion of the people!), along the way making generous campaign contributions – hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth — to candidates of both parties.

Sadly, when it comes to lobbying and the lucrative lifestyle it affords, Barack Obama and his White House have devolved from an alleged zero-tolerance policy to acquiescence, an attitude of freewheeling laissez-faire that’s already lining the pockets of administration and campaign alumni and to hell with principle.

Campaigning in 2008, Obama proclaimed, “Make no mistake about what we’re up against. We’re up against the belief that it’s all right for lobbyists to dominate our government, that they are just part of the system in Washington. But we know that the undue influence of lobbyists is part of the problem, and this election is our chance to say that we are not going to let them stand in our way anymore.”

When he took office the following year, an executive order was signed banning registered lobbyists from the administration. But then exceptions were made, and exceptions and exceptions. Just a couple of weeks ago, Politico calculated that “the Obama administration has hired about 70 previously registered corporate, trade association and for-hire lobbyists. And many of these former lobbyists work at the highest levels of government.” What’s more, Mark Felsenthal at Reuters recently reported that, “President Barack Obama is loosening restrictions on lobbyists who want to serve on federal advisory boards.” There are more than a thousand such committees, room for plenty of mischief.

There were both wings of the Democratic Party: the corporate-center right-Wall Street-lobby wing (the Clintons and Jordan) and the putatively progressive wing (the president) hobnobbing in splendid surroundings with corporate poobahs as police battled residents in Ferguson, Missouri, refugees were being bombed in Iraq, fatal disease plagued West Africa and drought in America dried up 63 trillion gallons of water.
Now the revolving door has started spinning in the other direction, as the Obama campaign and administration insiders hear the siren call of green (and we don’t mean the environment). The website Buzzfeed pointed to Obama adviser and campaign manager David Plouffe’s deal with Uber, the on-demand car service doing its best to please yuppies while breaking the taxi unions. Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and 2012 campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt are being paid to run a PR campaign against the teachers unions and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina is working for the re-election of Britain’s anti-union Prime Minster David Cameron and his Conservative Party. Talk about betraying your base!

“The key staff from Obama for America are translating their political success into personal economic success,” Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen told Buzzfeed. “If anything this points to the need for the rest of us to build a movement that gets big money out of politics so the change we voted for in 2008 can become real.”

But how do we get that change when the candidate who promised it embraces the status quo of the well-heeled elite? After all, there were the Obamas and Bill and Hillary Clinton at Vernon Jordan’s party on the Vineyard, cheek to cheek with the CEOs of Xerox and American Express. Chances are there were no working people at that shindig to present an opposing viewpoint (except for the hired help serving the pasta and surf and turf). But there were both wings of the Democratic Party: the corporate-center right-Wall Street-lobby wing (the Clintons and Jordan) and the putatively progressive wing (the president) hobnobbing in splendid surroundings with corporate poobahs as police battled residents in Ferguson, Missouri, refugees were being bombed in Iraq, fatal disease plagued West Africa and drought in America dried up 63 trillion gallons of water.

As the world burns, our political class whoops it up with the plutocracy, whether in Martha’s Vineyard or at the Kochs’ posh retreat in southern California. They raise their champagne toasts, quietly reinforce their networks and connections, and then return to the “mainland” and the pretense of once again attending to the people’s business, all the while servicing the accounts that pay the campaign bills and nourish all those inside deals — tax breaks, subsidies, contracts — that many would call corruption but Chief Justice Roberts says are merely gratitude.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.
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  • JJ5306

    You an ignorant, worthless, Republican well-known advocate of the ridiculous!

  • Anonymous

    C’mon, Bill! Obama is playing the only game out there. Let the man enjoy his vacation, play golf, and go to a party. There is a difference between Koch dark money and schmoozing with people who can contribute to elections.

  • Anonymous

    You made no mention of the percentage of contributions to democratic fundraising that comes from small amounts. In order to compete with the Koch Bros and others, dems have to play the system and beat it, but their causes generally are much more supportive of working class Americans.

  • JonThomas

    Thanks Bill. Thank you Michael… another good, well balanced article.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know which is worse: the outright craziness of the current Republican Party, or the treachery of the Democrats. For all the MSM blather of “partisan differences,” voting for either seems to get us to the same place.

  • Frank Morris

    But there were both wings of the Democratic Party: the corporate-center right-Wall Street-lobby wing (the Clintons and Jordan) and the putatively progressive wing (the president) hobnobbing in splendid surroundings with corporate poobahs as police battled residents in Ferguson, Missouri, refugees were being bombed in Iraq, fatal disease plagued West Africa and drought in America dried up 63 trillion gallons of water.

  • NotARedneck

    “Perks”?

    Oh Pleeeeezzzzeee!!

    It is the trillion dollar mis-spending on the military, CIA, NSA, Homeland “Security”, DEA, prison industrial complex, subsidies to corporations, subsidies to big agriculture, tax breaks for corporate churches, etc. that have not only caused the deficit but all the debt, plus some.

    Most of the above need a 70% trimming of their budgets and the DEA
    should be eliminated, along with all corporate subsidies that do not
    create jobs and wealth for the middle class and poor.

    This spending is ALL on behalf of the right wing criminal trash (neo-fascists) – a group that is well represented by the RepubliCON party, even if they have bribed some Democrats too.

  • GMA

    Guess that depends on one’s personal history and experience. As an “old gal”, I have observed a tremendous increase in subsidies of various types for a significant number of people…for things we would never have expected the government to pay for “back in the day”. Our solution when the budget was tight was to get a second, part-time job. I understand that is not easy to do in these times.

    I agree with you that the complicated cobweb of tax breaks needs a serious overhaul…but, unfortunately, folks have been asking Congress to do that for a loooong time now. As usual, not much seems to be happening.

  • Anonymous

    Would it have made a difference, if the president would have stayed in the white house or not? Isn’t the president entitled to some R&R or does he have to be at the job 24/7? Can he only think inside the white house? Maybe he thinks better in fresh air? Obama, as all gov. emplyees, gets 4 weeks vacation, take it or leave it. When one consideres he will have to work 18 hour days ones his staff is back in town, a little golf will go a long way.

  • Kevin Plunkett

    Secular Humanist–You apparently didn’t read the piece very carefully, It’s not about vacationing, but who you vacation with and what this shows about hypocrisy

  • DaveinSC

    The whole system is and has been slowly degraded for years. Citizens United has just sped it up, and shows the depths that our political system has sunk to. Even the SCOTUS.

  • NotARedneck

    “I have observed a tremendous increase in subsidies of various types for a significant number of people”

    Time to get your glasses checked. The US is so far from providing effective health, education and basic welfare to its citizens (compared to nearly all comparable economies) that this comment smacks of someone who “observes” only what Faux Snooze wants them to see.

    Such spending is often a pittance compared to the “discretionary” components of the spending that the right wing criminal trash wants, i.e. PR and lobbying.

  • NotARedneck

    The extreme right wing (they once were called fascists but the RepubliCONs consider this accuracy to be unfair and insist on the politically correct term of “conservative”) has known for decades that politics, for them, is a great and very lucrative career choice. 99% of the scum opting for this don’t even have to get elected.

    In the 1920s Germany, Italy, Spain etc., they needed to take to the streets and beat up their honest opponents. Now they are well paid to operate behind the scenes and often in the dark.

  • Leave A Mark

    The situation is so grave, it does not take great political debate for the average citizen to see little real difference between parties. Citizens in majority know all politicians pander to ruling elite. Common among us to view everyday corruption as normal and business as usual. Corporatism, plutocracy, kelptocracy have become mere words to express our frustrations and fears – that we no longer have control – they do.

    The illusion of choice is hard to correct – if not by vote.

  • Anonymous

    If nothing else, let’s at least be honest. Officially strike the word “democracy” from all 21st century (or earlier) references to our political system and replace with “oligarchy”, “plutocracy”, “corporatocracy” or other more accurate term.

  • Luther

    I’m not much for liberals, but I do greatly admire Bill Moyers.

  • Sensia

    The Republicans back in the early 1920′s and 1930′s use to use misinformation tactics, to confuse potential voters, and they would literally use Mafia and Gang leaders to go out and beat up Union Workers and people who didn’t vote the way they wanted to gain an election(s). Not much has changed and even back then it was always the corrupt senators and congressman who were in league with mobsters who were the rich ruling class.

  • Robert Slaven

    Time to party like it’s 1789.

  • Connie Snyder

    When the people have had enough of the corporate oligarchs they will vote their henchmen and henchwomen out of Congress. Until they do, we will get the Congress we deserve. It’s impossible to imagine that Florida citizens are so dumb that they would re-elect that corrupt thief rather than Crist…but never underestimate the stupidity of the right-wing base.

  • Connie Snyder

    Don’t vote and get a Republican Senate and House and we’ll see what the difference is.

  • Connie Snyder

    Thank you for answering GMA’s ridiculous post. I couldn’t do it without losing it! “….A tremendous increase in subsidies for a significant number of people” OMG. If you are calling corporations people, too, like Mittens, then yes….subsidies have proliferated. THEY are the “people” that are lying in the hammock while the working man and woman is paying for the running of the country THEY misgovern from the shadows.

  • Christian Socialist Party

    Chris Van Hollen for President in 2016 and 2020! Elizabeth Warren for Vice-President! God bless our Christian Socialist America!

  • NotARedneck

    The RepubliCONs have always been against working people. They need every penny they can squeeze out of us to subsidize the next 10 generations (at least) of their wealthy financial supporters.

  • Joan Harris

    What is a Democratic Party to do without campaign finance reform? An up and coming Senate vote may make all this dark money unconstitutional but until then I say fight fire with fire. I wrote my Republican and Democratic Senators urging them to vote yes if they want my yes vote for them. Bill, I commend you for the shining sunlight of truth. Let’s hope congress cleans up their act.

  • Anonymous

    Come on, now. Which party supports an increase in minimum wage, or affordable health care (which is working, by the way).. Which party supports rebuilding the infrastructure to increase jobs, but has been blocked by Congress. It’s a copout to sit back and say neither party supports the working class, when there is a reasonable effort being made by one, and blatant obstructionism by the other.

  • Anonymous

    democracy is a lost battle……money is the game everywhere and everybody. no more values, but manipulation, lies, greed and see who talks more… wow, we really need is writing specific things, then there are no deviations.