Pimping the Powers Behind the Thrones

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In today’s edition, Roll Call profiles how members of Congress increasingly pimping their top aides as a way to raise campaign cash. The paper quoted one lobbyist as saying the main attractions were “the powers behind the throne.”

Twice over the past couple of months Democrats have used senior staffers as the draw for lobbyists to attend and write checks. In June, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee held a fundraiser featuring Senate chiefs of staff. Also in June, the DCCC held a $1,000 a head fundraiser featuring leadership staffers and committee staff as the draw. Chaired by Yelberton Watkins, chief of staff to Majority Whip James Clyburn, the event raised nearly $250,000, according to the paper. Republicans are “offering up staffers as fundraising bait,” too, according to Roll Call. They’ve held two fundraisers featuring chiefs of staff over the past year.

Roll Call quotes a lobbyist as saying the success of these events point to an irony in the lobbying reform laws Democrats enacted. “By restricting opportunities for lobbyists to mingle with staff, the law puts a premium on these types of fundraisers.”

Defenders of the practice note that chiefs of staff, at least, frequently carry a political portfolio on top of their policy duties. Top staffers for lawmakers of both parties are often on the campaign payroll and play an important year-round role helping their bosses fill their campaign coffers.

Others, including some lobbyists who attended last month’s DCCC fundraiser, said such events can put both solicitors and donors in an uncomfortable position. They ask professionals who are usually careful to keep their daytime conversations limited to legislative matters to engage over the give-and-take of campaign money.

“It did seem a little odd,” said one lobbyist who went to the DCCC event last month. Added another, “I have mixed feelings about it, but it works. It’s totally legal, but it probably pushes the envelope a little bit.”

A Republican lobbyist, who attended the NRSC event earlier this year, called the practice a “gray area.”

“It’s a little uncomfortable. Obviously there needs to be some separation between the money side of politics and the policy side of politics. That’s easy enough for Members of Congress because they’re also candidates. That dance gets a little more diffuse at the staff level,” he said. “But if both sides are doing it – it’s mutually assured destruction.”

This is how Washington works. Money gets you access to power. And real instantaneous disclosure would bring these practices to light more quickly and stop a lot of it.

Hat tip: Matt Stoller

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