April 23, 2007

The Culture Of Corruption In High Gear

Maybe we misunderstood the Democrats in the midterm elections last year. When Nancy Pelosi talked about the "culture of corruption", we assumed she meant that the Democrats opposed it. It turns out that they wanted a chance to benefit from it, as their first-quarter fundraising numbers show, as Ken Silverstein at Harper's reports (via Memeorandum)

Last spring, with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, I wrote an item saying that for corporations and federal contractors looking for favors in Washington, it was hardly even worth buying a Democrat anymore. But the November 2006 Democratic victory changed all that. Political fundraising numbers were released last week and they show that during the first quarter of 2007, Democrats raised slightly more money overall ($47.7 million) than Republicans ($47.4 million). Compare that to the first quarter of 2003, when the GOP trounced the Democrats in the hunt for cash $54 million to $19 million.

Fundraising figures for key members of Congress are particularly striking. For example, during the entire 2005-2006 period Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland, then merely a member of the lowly minority party, raised a grand total of $2.3 million. Now that he's Majority Leader, Hoyer was able to raise $929,631 during the first quarter of this year alone—more than any other member of the House of Representatives. At that rate, Hoyer will raise over three times more during this election cycle than he did during the last one.

What makes Hoyer's current pace even more notable is that he raised all that dough during a traditionally light fundraising period. Hoyer won't even face the voters again for another 19 months and he's already got a lock on the seat (he won last November with 84 percent of the vote, versus 16 percent for a Green Party candidate). But of course, Hoyer's donors aren't giving him money for his re-election campaign; they're making tribute payments in recognition of his enhanced status in Congress, and down payments on favors they'll be looking for down the road.

Steny Hoyer isn't alone. Silverstein looks at several Democrats in key positions and finds that their fundraising has improved exponentially as well. Charles Rangel now chairs the Ways and Means Committee, which controls tax policy, and he has raised over $800,000 in Q1, a third of the entire total of his fundraising in the 2005-6 cycle. James Clyburn, now Majority Whip, put over $700,000 in the bank in Q1, more than half of his $1.1 million in the 05-06 cycle. Jack Murtha, whom Silverstein calls the Pork King, collected over $550,000 in Q1, some of which came from companies with business in front of his subcommittee.

Senate Democrats have done even better. Carl Levin raised $1.5 million in the first quarter, or about five times what he raised in the 05-06 cycle. Mary Landrieu raised $1 million in Q1 after raising $1.4 million in the last cycle. She shares a seat on the Appropriations Committee with Tom Harkin, who also had a million-dollar quarter, about half of his total receipts in the past two years. Max Baucus, who now heads the Finance Committee, received $1.1 million, more than a third of what he raised in the last two years.

The Democrats have discovered that it pays to be in the majority -- literally. Silverstein projects that several of the above will far outstrip the $5 million mark in the 07-08 cycle, thanks to their new positions of power. I'm sure that they will, at that point, fight the "culture of corruption", or at least they will tell us that to keep their beaks in the trough for another cycle.

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