Pay to Play, Federal Level

Martin Schram offers his view of how “pay to play” operates at the federal level.

The senators and representatives telephone the lobbyists. They tell the lobbyists they have to pay off big debts from their last campaign – or they are facing a tough opponent in the next election – and they need a campaign contribution of, say, $10,000.

Timeout. Let’s see how this is looking from the other end of the telephone line.

We are now in the office of a lobbyist for a big-industry special interest. He has gotten this phone call from a senator who chairs a subcommittee that can be crucial to this industry. First, the lobbyist does not miss the irony (see also: duplicity) in the laws governing what is taking place. The senators and representatives have righteously banned themselves from accepting a steak dinner that is paid for by this lobbyist. But Congress carefully kept it legal for a senator or representative to ask (and sometimes demand) $10,000 in campaign money from this same lobbyist.

Now, the lobbyist has no immediate legislative problem that requires help from this senator. But he knows that something is sure to come up in the future – and when it does, he’ll need to meet with this senator or a top staff member to make a pitch for help – maybe a clause in an amendment, maybe a telephone call to urge an agency regulator (whose budget is also controlled by this committee) to ease up.

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