I attended the DNC meetings last week in Las Vegas and — surprise, surprise — there was quite a contingent of lobbyists sitting in many key positions. Even though that’s hardly a shock it was pretty depressing to see, and even worse lobbyists hold sway on the critical Unity and Reform Commission (URC) as well as the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC). Those serving on the latter will hold their positions going into the 2020 primary.
Who’s Who of Lobbyists Running the DNC
Jeff Berman of Bryan Cave has represented Geo Group, a large private prison corporation, and TransCanada, which brought us the Keystone XL Pipeline. He’s a Clinton appointee on the URC as well as a Perez appointee on the RBC. Bryan Cave, LLP regularly contributes money to candidates from both parties, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as well as $181,564 to the Clinton campaign in this last election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Charlie Baker, co-founder of Dewey Square Group, worked to gut healthcare reforms on behalf of health insurers in 2009. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also hired his firm to limit damages awarded in lawsuits. Additional clients include AT&T, US Telecom Association, Bank of America (Countrywide), Citigroup, and Coca-Cola. He’s a Clinton appointee to the URC.
Minyon Moore of Dewey Square has the distinction of being a former lobbyist for sleaze failed mortgage giant Countrywide, from whom she received a discounted loan. She served under Bill Clinton as assistant to the president and is a Perez appointee to the RBC.
Frank Leone of Hollingsworth LLP, a litigation law firm who counts as clients Monsanto, a host of large polluters and pharmaceutical companies. He’s a Perez appointment to the RBC.
Harold Ickes, a partner at Ickes & Enright Group and vile little toad — “Bill Clinton’s Garbage Man,” according to this story. His clients have included hospital associations, pharmaceutical and utility firms. He’s a Perez appointee to the RBC . [Editor’s note: He also suffers from narcolepsy, I’ve just discovered.]
The Astroturfing of Grass Tops Organizing
You often hear DNC insiders refer to “Grass Tops” lobbyists as “consultants,” a more palatable term that masks their true intent. Grass Tops Organizing claims to focus on “influencers” and leaders. But just who are these people? Political activists or passionate volunteers? Nope. They’re lobbyists who advise industries and corporations on how to sell their message to the Democrat base. Their whole focus is to win over progressive constituencies no matter how high the cognitive dissonance.
A great case study of this involves America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Dewey Square and an editor of the Lawrence, Massachusetts newspaper The Eagle-Tribune. The Medicare Advantage program grew out of the the long-time Republican ruse that privatized insurance would increase choice and provide more efficient care.
Instead, by 2007 these private plans were costing the government approximately $1,000 more per enrollee than Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office reported that cutting funding to these plans would save taxpayers $54 billion over 5 years — but savings would cut deeply into the AHIP members profits.
Enter the repellent Dewey Square. The firm developed the perfect argument to sell to the Democrats base, namely that minorities are prone to chronic diseases like diabetes. Medicare Advantage plans are better at managing these diseases, goes the argument. Ergo, the subsidy cuts would result in benefit cuts, hence harming minorities.
To help sell this bogus argument they wrote fake letters to the editors of several newspapers claiming they were written by senior citizens. The ruse was uncovered by Ken Johnson of The Eagle-Tribune when a man posing as the grandson of one of the letter writers placed an odd call inquiring if his grandmother’s letter was going to be published.
Was any of this trumped up argument even true? Well, a quick glance at the data shows that minorities and whites are enrolled in equal numbers. And there is no factual or empirical basis for the claim that Medicare Advantage programs treat diabetes in a superior fashion. Yet, we all know what happened.
Passing the Pelosi Resolution and Squaring the Circle
A rare positive out of Las Vegas was passage of Christine Pelosi’s resolution on lobbyist reform. She had a much tougher resolution shot down at the beginning of the year. [Editor’s note: I had never heard of Christine Pelosi until now. I’m sort of dubious after doing a Wikipedia search and learning that she is “an American Democratic Party political strategist from California; she is the author of Campaign Boot Camp (2007), a guide to successful campaigning. She is the daughter of Nancy Pelosi.” But I will cede to Tina here.]
One of the loudest voices against reinstating President Obama’s ineffective lobbyist ban was Jaime Harrison (of the hated Podesta Group), who was just appointed Associate Chairman and Counselor of the DNC by Perez. Back in January he argued that the DNC needed lobbyist money to pay off debts and rebuild state parties. Seriously? Is lobbyist money the only way to achieve that goal?
Through Bernie Sanders we have seen that you can collect more cash from individual grass roots supporters if you walk away from lobbyist money and the obvious quid pro quo it presents. So while Pelosi’s watered down version does not reinstate Obama’s ban, it does roll back some of the problems by, in theory, banning donations from corporate contributors whose work conflicts with the party platform.
How will Perez’s appointees square this circle?
A fast glance at the current DNC platform makes clear that there are clear conflicts between “consultants” and what the DNC claims to stand for. For example, what do private prisons, extended sentencing and involuntary servitude have to do with “reforming the criminal justice system”? And if you’re advocating for “Building a Clean Energy Economy,” how do you allow consultants who represent oil companies and fracking to have so much influence in your party?
Or what about claims of “Reining in Wall Street and Fixing our Financial System?” Or “Fixing Our Broken Campaign Finance System”? None of these alleged goals are even remotely credible when lobbyists hold key decision-making positions. Give me a break.
I can already hear the justifications for this shitty situation. The resolution only bans financial contributions. Some of these corporate and industry clients are not current. It’s not a problem because the DNC doesn’t create legislation. Blah blah blah.
Does it matter if we ban lobbyists’ money if we allow the actual lobbyists to remain in positions of control? Politics is a social endeavor so that still looks like a problem to me. If you believe that these lobbyists won’t be thinking of their clients’ interests head of the Democratic Base, I’ll happily sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.