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.
July 6, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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