Posts Tagged ‘Pay to play’

Newt Gingrich, gridlock and “pay to play”

January 28, 2012

Newt Gingrich created the “pay to play” system by which House of Representatives committee assignments and leadership positions hinge on their ability to raise money for the party.  And he also is as responsible as anyone for the partisan divisions that keep the legislative process in gridlock.

Political scientist Tom Ferguson tells the story.

In the mid-1980s, a group of insurgent Republicans broke with the long established norms governing how the U.S. House of Representatives transacted business.  Led by Newt Gingrich, it derided older Republican House leaders as timid, unimaginative, and too inclined to compromise with Democrats.  Self-styled “revolutionaries” launched vigorous public attacks on Democrats as they trumpeted their own agenda of deregulation, budget cuts, lower taxes, and a baker’s dozen of social issues, from abortion to opposition to all forms of gun control.

Result?  The House boiled over.  Statistical measures of Congressional behavior show that party line votes jumped sharply.

Gingrich and his allies were painfully aware that transforming the GOP’s gains at the presidential level into a true “critical realignment” of the political system as a whole required breaking the Democratic lock on Congress.  So they shattered all records for Congressional fundraising in their drive to get control of the House.  Their success in this and their parallel campaign to rally major parts of the media to their standard are what polarized the system.  The GOP insurgents emphasized fundraising, not just through the usual publicly reported vehicles like the national party committees, but also GOPAC, a political action committee that Gingrich had controlled since 1986, which operated mostly in secret.

In 1992, in the midst of a recession, the Republicans lost the White House. But their dreams of a sweeping political realignment did not die.  In fact, by clearing centrist Republicans out of their perches in the White House, the loss probably helped Gingrich and his allies.

Completely undaunted, Gingrich, Republican National Chair Haley Barbour, and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Phil Gramm orchestrated a vast national campaign to recapture Congress for the Republicans in the 1994 elections.  With the economy stuck in a “jobless recovery” and Democratic fundraising sputtering, the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress.

The tidal wave of political money they conjured allowed Gingrich, Gramm, Barbour and Co., to brush aside older, less combative center-right Republican leaders and persist in their efforts to roll back the New Deal and remake American society in the image of free market fundamentalism.  Once in power, the Republicans institutionalized sweeping rules changes in the House and the Republican caucus that vastly increased the leadership’s influence over House legislation.  They also implemented a formal “pay to play” system that had both inside and outside components.

On the outside, DeLay and other GOP leaders, including Grover Norquist, who headed Americans for Tax Reform, mounted a vast campaign (the so-called “K Street Project”) to defund the Democrats directly by pressuring businesses to cut off donations and avoid retaining Democrats as lobbyists. Inside the House, Gingrich made fundraising for the party a requirement for choice committee assignments. Senate Republicans, led by Phil Gramm and other apostles of deregulation, emulated the House.

And so, alas, did the Democrats.

Click on Standstill Nation as the New Abnormal for Tom Ferguson’s full article for the Roosevelt Institute.

Click on Our Polarized and Money-Driven Congress: Created Over 25 Years by Republicans (And Quickly Imitated by Democrats) for more on Gingrich’s legacy on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Click on Newt Gingrich and Our Dysfunctional Congress for an article on Gingrich’s legacy by Lou Dubose of The Washington Spectator.

Click on Newt Gingrich Is a Saul Alinsky Republican for an analysis of Newt Gingrich’s political tactics from the Washington Examiner.

Click on Language: a Key Mechanism of Control for Newt Gingrich’s 1996 GOPAC Memo on political rhetoric.

Thomas Edsall on reinventing political morality

December 6, 2011

Lately I’ve been reading about the Progressive era and the struggle against corruption in politics during the turn of the previous century.  This struggle has been never-ending.  After each reform, some new way has been found to use money to manipulate the political and legislative process.

The whole reform effort started to unwind about 30 years ago, and it seems to me that we Americans are back where we were in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.  Thomas B. Edsall had a good column in the New York Times yesterday tracing some of the steps by which this came about.

  • Robert Perkins, a Republican national committee staff member, noticed that a provision of the 1979 campaign finance law, which exempted grass-roots political activity from federal regulation, could be used to raise unlimited contributions from corporations and other sources for state and local political parties.  The Reagan campaign raised $15 million in “soft money” in 1980, which was considered a large amount at the time.  Twenty years later, the two parties raised more than $240 million in soft money each.
  • Three of Ronald Reagan’s campaign managers — Charlie Black, Paul Montfort and Roger Stone — broke a hitherto unwritten rule and in 1981 formed Black, Montfort and Stone, a firm that combined lobbying with campaign consulting.  They managed Republican political campaigns, and then as lobbyists offered access to the successful candidates they helped elect.
  • Anthony Coelho, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in 1981 created a hierarchy of clubs — the Speaker’s Club, the Chairman’s Club and so on — whose members had access to Democratic House leaders and committee chairs.  The higher the dues you paid, the better the access.
  • Former House Speaker Tom DeLay in 1994 started the K-Street Project, which had three components: (1) Lobbyists who contributed to Democratic candidates were denied access to Republican congressional leaders.  (2) Favored lobbyists were invited to draft legislation and to help pressure congressional representatives to vote for controversial bills.  (3)  DeLay and other Republican House leaders directly intervened to insert provisions in legislation favorable to soft money contributors, without committee review.
  • During the 1980s, Presidential candidates of both parties accepted the limits on spending required for public financing of their campaigns.  But George W. Bush, John Kerry and Barack Obama raised such huge amounts from corporate sources that they did without public financing.

All these were considered morally questionable when they began.  Now they are part of the standard operating procedure of both parties, Edsall wrote.

Then there is the question of simple honesty.