When Lobbyists Get Too Close

One of Montana’s top political reporters, Chuck Johnson, has a great piece about how the state’s two U.S. senators are way too close to corporate lobbyists. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) is now fully embroiled in the Jack Abramoff scandal, after Abramoff helped steer money to his Political Action Committee in return for a $3 million grant for one of Abramoff’s clients. In all, Abramoff provided Burns with 42 percent of his entire PAC funds – no small amount.

Meanwhile, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) in January “gathered 50 lobbyists at the Teatro Restaurant in Washington” to demand each of them raise him $100,000 for his 2008 campaign. CNN quoted two lobbyists, without naming them, who said “they’ve never gotten such an aggressive pitch from a senator.” This is the same Baucus who was part of the famous $11 million picture during the Medicare debate.

Johnson has an idea for our two senators: they should:

…trade in their dark blue, pinstriped suits for [s]ome brightly colored NASCAR-style jackets and pants, with patches displaying logos of their sponsors. Burns could sport patches with the logos of AT&T, whose political action committee and officials ponied up $49,000 in his 2000 race, followed by Lockheed Martin ($39,730), BellSouth Corp. ($36,300) and SBC Communications ($36,250). Baucus could wear the logo patches of American International Group, whose PAC and officials coughed up $36,250 in his 2002 race, followed by Microsoft ($26,250), General Electric ($26,000) and Goldman Sachs ($25,000).

The behavior of these two senators wouldn’t be so troubling if they were isolated – but they are not. For too long, the relationship between lobbyists and politicians in Washington has been allowed to be way too cozy. Maybe it’s time for Washington politicians to look to places like Helena for inspiration. Here, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his allies in the legislature have pushed a bill that would crack down on corporations that abuse the system, and restrict legislators from getting too close to lobbyists. The bill would start putting an end to the brazen pay-to-play shenanigans that plague our political system.