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It's Not the Money. It's the Relationships.


It's probably a bit hard to figure out what's going on in the graphic above. Click on it. You'll get the bigger version. Then it'll be all too easy.

What you're seeing is the number of former Senate Finance Committee staffers who have been hired to lobby for the health-care industry. The graphic is attached to this article, where we learn that the industry is spending $1.4 million a day to lobby Congress and is doing so with the help of a raft of onetime insiders. At times, the efforts at influence peddling border on the comic: One June 10 meeting saw Max Baucus's aides sitting down with two of Max Baucus's former chiefs of staff, who were representing different groupings of health-care industry interests.

In some ways, this sort of thing worries me a lot more than the actual money being pumped into the system. Jesse Unruh, the legendary speaker of the California state assembly, famously said that "if you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and vote against ‘em anyway, you don’t belong in the Legislature.” My sense is that there are actually quite a few politicians in Washington who, after years of being badgered by lobbyists and special interests, can do exactly that.

But saying no to your former friends and confidantes is a whole other thing entirely. Suppressing your instinct to trust a former chief of staff and legislative director is a hard thing to do. Refusing to return the calls of favored staffers and colleagues goes against every social grain in our bodies. It should be easy to separate professional responsibilities and personal feelings. But it isn't.

Journalists consistently use this to our advantage: When you hear that someone is well-sourced, it generally means they have good personal relationships that make it more likely that insiders will tell them things. A big part of the job is leveraging social pressures to gain access to protected information. And, somewhat amazingly, it works. But the relationship between a journalist and a longtime source is nothing compared to the relationship between a senator and a longtime staffer. One of the secrets about lobbying in Washington is that money doesn't buy access. It buys people who already have access. And that makes it much more insidious.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 6, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Since we have registered lobbyists, why not registered citizens (grin)?

I get the free speech thingy, but this lobbyist hoard is out of control. We probably can't just forbid the business (make it like drug running?).

But I'd like some deep legal thinkers suggesting some ways to leash the pack more tightly: like having a limit of one Capitol visit per week/month, two phone calls a week of limited length, only face/face meetings with a US Marshall present (and recorded), making lobbyists wear clown suits in the Capitol or Congressional office buildings (big noses required). If SCOTUS threatens the controls, put a pay cut in the judiciary budget for any interference. Or how about some good ol' fashioned court packing?

Best place to start: pass a law (under budget reconciliation rules) that corporate 'personhood' is repealed, wherever found in law or court rulings - so no free speech rights apply. Corporations are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, so they don't exist, right? (strict constructionism).

Then, add a criminal offenses law to officers of corporations that do anything to influence legislation or regulatory rulings (except in permitted testimonial submissions).

I'd never have guessed I would agree with Ross Perot, but we must 'take back our government'.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | July 6, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Completely agreed and blogged a link this morning. If the MSM is ever going to get in front of a big story, this is the one.

"If it's not bribery, what do you call it?"

Posted by: PoliticalPragmatist | July 6, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

This would suggest senators and reps become more susceptible to lobbying over time, right? Because when they come in they don't have a bunch of former trusted staff to lobby them.

Does this match up with your perception of things? Maybe someone (Nate Silver?) could add a *length of service* variable to a vote-prediction regression...

Posted by: chadde | July 6, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Hard to top this as a visual display of corruption. Thanks. One minor quibble:

You wrote:

"Jesse Unruh, the legendary speaker of the California state assembly, famously said that "if you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and vote against ‘em anyway, you don’t belong in the Legislature.”

I'm relying on memory here (always a bad sign) but I recall Robert Caro assigning this legislative analysis to Sam Houston Johnson, "Lying Lyndon's" daddy who served in the Texas legislature back around the turn of the last century. Doesn't make it any less perceptive.

- LittleFeat

Posted by: LittleFeat | July 6, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Think how much the WaPo's new lobbying support program can add to this!

Posted by: bdballard | July 6, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

1. "One of the secrets about lobbying in Washington is that money doesn't buy access. It buys people who already have access." Secrets?!?!

2. "the relationship between a senator and a longtime staffer" -- or the relationship between a recent staffer and a current staffer.

3. If you favor big government, you're going to have to put up with big lobbying. There is zero chance you're going to have the former without the latter. See, e.g., the cap and trade bill.

Posted by: ostap666 | July 6, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Now, post a graphic that show $$$ spent per Health industry. thanks

Posted by: bravov40 | July 6, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

How much is business spending today on health care, premiums, deductibles, AND % of taxes apportioned to pay non-collectible community health care services. Small business is running scared because they don't have the facts on what they are paying today.
Health care and tax increases. Many are confused about increase tax on over $250,000. Many small business owners believe there are taxes are going up because their GROSS income is over $250,000, WRONG. How many small businesses make $250,000 or greater after cost of doing business before taxes, not all of the 3 million businesses opposed to health care and tax increases.
1% of Americans control 45% of wealth. What does that tell you?

Posted by: bravov40 | July 6, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

"Now, post a graphic that show $$$ spent per Health industry sector, i.e, pharma, insurance, hosp maint corp, etc ... thanks"

Posted by: bravov40 | July 6, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

If you have a congress empowered to write legislation affecting 16% of GDP, you're going to have a lot of lobbying expense trying to affect the outcome.

Posted by: veryinterested1 | July 6, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

One interesting note about that graph is that it shows how little power doctors have in Washington. For every doctor lobbyist, there are literally 50 lobbyists for HMOs, big pharma, etc.

Out of all the yellow circles marked as "health care provider" lobbyists, I'd bet that at least 60% of them are nursing lobbying groups. They spend far more money on dues to their lobbying organizations than doctors do.

Posted by: platon201 | July 7, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

It also the fact that big money determins who is eligable to be elected. No big money donors? guess what noe ever hears of you, no matter how good your ideas.

Posted by: SteveBreeze | July 7, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

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