Surprise! Big Campaign Gifts Have Strings Attached

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Today, January 6, is the opening day of the new, 114th US Congress. Coincidentally, on the western Christian calendar, January 6 is Twelfth Night, aka the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or the Epiphany, or Kings Day – commemorating when the three kings – the wise men – arrived at the manger in Bethlehem with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

So it seems kind of appropriate that in the spirit of January 6, Bloomberg Politics’ Julie Bykowicz has written a piece speculating on just what gifts big campaign donors can expect from their newly elected legislators, all so grateful for the hefty checks they received just a few months ago.

After all, with Republican victories in the November midterm elections, Christmas came early for the billionaires who poured money into the campaigns of successful GOP House and Senate candidates. And although a quid pro quo exchange of cash for legislation is still against the law, nudge nudge, as Supreme Court Justice John Roberts wrote in the McCutcheon case majority opinion, “Government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.” So let the games begin.

The only problem, Bykowicz writes, is that there are “a lot of moneyed interests to consider, and sometimes they aren’t pulling lawmakers in the same direction.

“What’s a senator to do, for example, if the small-government Koch groups see a federal spending plan as too lavish while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks of it as a win for business?

“Scott Reed, a top political adviser for the Chamber, had this take on donor expectations: ‘We don’t expect the candidates we endorsed to line up 100 percent with us, but we’d like to get them in the 80 percent range.’”

The Kochs “want their senators to be soldiers for less government spending,” but the US Chamber “thinks Republicans should be prepared to fund infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, casino magnate and megadonor Sheldon Adelson “wants to stop what he sees as the scourge of online gambling. He argues it’s not about the bottom line for his international gambling empire, but rather it’s an issue of morality because kids can get hooked on betting.” Of course.

Black pastors in Mississippi who helped Republican Senator Thad Cochran win a tough primary fight last year want “better funding for historically black colleges and universities, policies that bring jobs to Mississippi and federal funding for workforce development” – but no attempt to repeal Obamacare. And Big Energy is “after lawmakers to push back on President Barack Obama’s new regulations limiting smog, which were seen as a direct hit on the coal industry.”

It’s quite a wish list, and standing toward the front of the line is Karl Rove and his Crossroads political groups, “driven less by ideology than by party politics…

“… The Crossroads enterprise spent $100 million on the 2014 races, according to American Crossroads President Steven Law, and wants more than anything to put the party in a good position for the 2016 presidential election…

“Crossroads wants to keep senators from doing politically damaging things that might cost seats or, worse, the presidency in 2016. To that end, Crossroads will spend much of 2015 providing Republican leaders with research to advise them how to broaden the party’s appeal and what kinds of legislation voters would like to see.”

Steven Law told Bykowicz, “Everyone we were helpful to has been very kind about letting us know they appreciated our role.”

You can read her complete piece at the Bloomberg Politics website. Also check out the article she wrote a few days earlier with Bloomberg colleague Annie Linskey, a reminder of just how nice a return mega-rich contributors see on their investments. Among other wealthy donors mentioned, the two point in particular to Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison and Laurene Powell Jobs: “Three of the country’s wealthiest political contributors each saw their net worth grow in 2014 by more than $3.7 billion, the entire cost of the midterm elections. And as the 2016 presidential election approaches, almost all of those donors have even more cash to burn.”

And it’s only January 6.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.
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