John Edwards vs. the lobbyists: a presidential candidate promises to clean up Washington--by trashing the First Amendment.
IT WAS NEARLY an hour into the candidate forum at YearlyKos, an annual convention of liberal bloggers, when John Edwards This article or section contains information about one or more candidates in an upcoming or ongoing election.
Content may change as the election approaches. finally decided to go for the jugular jugular /jug·u·lar/ (jug´u-lar)
2. pertaining to a jugular vein.
3. a jugular vein.
adj. . Chopping the air with his hand, bobbing his head like a racehorse racehorse
refers usually to thoroughbred but may also include standardbred, trotter. , the former senator from North Carolina North Carolina, state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N). Facts and Figures
Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop. challenged Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to turn down donations from lobbyists.
"No more, from this day forward, not a dime from a Washington lobbyist," Edwards roared. "We do not want their money! Their money is no good to us!"
That got a rowdy standing ovation, but Clinton waved it away. "I don't think" she said dismissively, "that based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believe in, that I'm going to be influenced by some lobbyist." A groaning jeer rose up from the crowd.
"A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans," Clinton continued. "They actually do. They represent nurses; they represent social workers. Yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people."
Clinton tried to soft-pedal that last bit about corporations, using the same tone of voice her husband would use when admitting what his brother Roger was up to. It didn't save her: The political press was agog at her gaffe. The Politico's Ben Smith reported that rival candidate Barack Obama's campaign team had joked "about how quickly they would be able to turn her words into a television ad." Pollster poll·ster
One that takes public-opinion surveys. Also called polltaker.
Word History: The suffix -ster is nowadays most familiar in words like pollster, jokester, huckster, Scott Rasmussen This article or section is an autobiography, or has been extensively edited by the subject, and may not conform to Wikipedia's NPOV policy.
Please see the relevant discussion on the . recorded a drop in Clinton's lead in his weekly tracking reports, and he pointed to her lobbyists-need-love moment as the reason.
"Hillary's comment sounded so odd because Democrats don't talk like that," says Robert Bauer, a D.C. lawyer who counts lobbyists on his client list. (He has advised Barack Obama, but his comments do not represent the senator's campaign.) "It's like someone from the Moral Majority talking about atheists and saying, 'Oh, they're not really pagans; they're not so evil. Maybe atheists have a place in society.'"
John Edwards' rhetoric about lobbyists is as Manichean as anything Jerry Falwell This article is about Jerry Falwell, Sr. For the article about his son, see Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Jerry Lamon Falwell, Sr. (August 11 1933 – May 15, 2007) was an American fundamentalist Christian pastor and televangelist. ever sermonized. But try to imagine a government the size Edward envisions--socialized health care, subsidized college tuition--without lobbyists. New government programs breed lobbyists, and for good reasons. People who might be affected by the new programs want to get into the rooms where those programs are devised. And if money is being doled out Adj. 1. doled out - given out in portions
apportioned, dealt out, meted out, parceled out
distributed - spread out or scattered about or divided up , they want a place at the front of the line.
Edwards argues that businesses, interest groups, and even public-sector lobbyists shouldn't be able to influence presidential candidates. He has called for reforms that would end private financing of elections and legislation that would curtail lobbying activity. Lobbyists would get in the way of the "bold, transformative change" the candidate wants to push through Congress. Edwards doesn't want to have to deal with the people who would be affected by those changes. He wants to dictate terms.
Edwards wasn't done grandstanding once the Kos crowd went home. He followed his performance with an open letter to Clinton and Obama demanding that they cut off lobbyists and refuse their donations. The front-runners ignored him. Then Edwards knocked Obama for proposing a law that would merely make lobbyist activity more transparent and records more available. The bill was "an important first step," Edwards granted. But "letting people watch the money game as it's being played simply isn't enough--we need to put an end to to destroy.
See also: End the money game altogether."
You can see how Edwards won huge jury awards when he was a trial lawyer. His smooth talk obscures an illiberal il·lib·er·al
1. Narrow-minded; bigoted.
2. Archaic Ungenerous, mean, or stingy.
a. Lacking liberal culture.
b. Ill-bred; vulgar. idea and allows him to pitch that idea to some of the people most invested in the lobbying system. At YearlyKos, he turned to an audience that included plenty of union members--an audience that, just 24 hours earlier, had attended a luncheon at which Service Employees International Union head Andy Stern For other people with this name, see .
Andrew L. "Andy" Stern (born 1950) is the president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest and fastest-growing union in the United States and Canada. spoke--and asked, "How many of you have your own Washington lobbyist?"
"That spoke to his own ignorance" sniffs Jan Beron, a lawyer who has worked for Republicans and private-sector lobbyists. "Who had a lobbyist? They all did! The AFL-CIO AFL-CIO: see American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
in full American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations
U.S. was in that room, for God's sake. When I get questions about who represents the little guy, I say, well, how about the AARP AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national organization dedicated to "enriching the experience of aging"; membership is open to people age 50 or older. Founded in 1958 by Ethel Percy Andrus as American Association of Retired Persons, AARP now has over 30 million ?"
Whether lobbyists are there for the little guy or not, they multiply when government programs appear on the horizon. In 1998 the health care industry spent $204 million (in current dollars) on lobbying. The next year, as both houses of Congress debated a "patient's bill of rights Patient's Bill of Rights,
n.pr a list of the patient's rights promulgated by the American Hospital Association (AHA). It offers some guidance and protection to patients by stating the responsibilities that a hospital and its staff have toward patients and " for health care, the spending rose to $230 million. In 2003, the year of the vast Medicare Part D expansion, the sum reached $304 million. That surge in spending was meant to ensure that various companies got friendly treatment, or at least benign neglect benign neglect Decision-making A stance of nonintervention that a clinician may adopt in the face of lesions and clinical conditions which have an uncertain or stable clinical course. Cf Watchful waiting. , under the final bill. But it was also the only way members of a multibillion-dollar industry could influence legislation that would affect them for decades. You can decry de·cry
tr.v. de·cried, de·cry·ing, de·cries
1. To condemn openly.
2. To depreciate (currency, for example) by official proclamation or by rumor. the outcome, but to restrict citizens' access to the people crafting the bill would be even worse.
Not all lobbying reform impinges on First Amendment rights. But honest reform would be less concerned with limiting people's access to government and more concerned with limiting the amount of government there is for them to fight over. No Democratic candidate is proposing that--certainly not Edwards.
In practice, even Democrats who slam lobbyists rarely try to shut them out altogether. Edwards has vigorously sought support and endorsements from unions, and he hasn't talked about cutting off their lobbying activity, much less turning down their donations. (That goes double for the trial lawyers' lobby.) The Democrats aren't exactly eager to end the money game; they just want to shape the rules to their advantage.
Take the lobbying reform the House of Representatives passed before the August recess, which later failed in the Senate. Its strictures didn't affect lobbyists who worked for the public sector (which would include some union lobbyists) or for universities and cities. It would have allowed the University of California The University of California has a combined student body of more than 191,000 students, over 1,340,000 living alumni, and a combined systemwide and campus endowment of just over $7.3 billion (8th largest in the United States). system to nudge congressmen with gifts but barred the private University of Southern California The U.S. News & World Report ranked USC 27th among all universities in the United States in its 2008 ranking of "America's Best Colleges", also designating it as one of the "most selective universities" for admitting 8,634 of the almost 34,000 who applied for freshman admission from doing so.
This despite the fact that the crooked ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the man whose crimes inspired the latest anti-lobbying crusade, took advantage of the relatively weak rules governing public-sector lobbying in his campaign to bribe Republican and Democratic power brokers. Abramoff mostly gave to Republicans, but public-sector lobbying usually comes from people favorable to Democrats.
In the system we have, there's nothing illegal about that. The City of San Diego has as much of a right to sweet-talk or browbeat brow·beat
tr.v. brow·beat, brow·beat·en , brow·beat·ing, brow·beats
To intimidate or subjugate by an overbearing manner or domineering speech; bully. See Synonyms at intimidate. senators as Exxon or Home Depot does. Any special interest, in the public sector or the private, understands the direct relationship between government spending, which Democrats tend to favor, and the lobbying game, which they pretend to hate. Lobbyists have grown accustomed to anti-K Street campaign rhetoric, and they've grown accustomed to the weak, contradictory reforms that occasionally arrive afterward.
If history is any guide, Edwards' rhetoric translated into practice would look like the lopsided changes the Democrats already have begun to pursue. If that's the case, the "change" candidate is promising the same kind of slanted lobbying reform--tough on interests Democrats don't like, easy on those they do--that Clinton supports. It's the same result with added hypocrisy.
"A lot of this rhetoric about lobbying groups," says Jan Beron, "is just an attack against people who take contrary views." It's an attack on First Amendment rights couched as a defense of Americans' freedoms. Unless Democrats pledge never again to expand a government program or take advice from their good friends at the National Education Association, their attacks on lobbyists will just be an attempt to muzzle the other side. r
David Weigel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate editor of reason.