Making New Friends

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Can you rub your stomach and pat your head? Can Congress cut tax breaks for oil companies while taking campaign cash from Shell and Chevron? According to the oil lobbyists (and business and pharmaceutical lobbyists) Tom Hamburger and Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times talk to, Democratic congressional leaders are more than willing to try and do both.


Lobbyists for powerful industries looked with fear upon the dawning of the 110th Congress, thinking increased attention to corruption and new regulations on lobbyist activity would cut off the access they'd previously enjoyed to members of Congress. It would appear those fears have been laid to rest as the ever-present need for support from lobbyists and industries in the form of campaign cash - consider that the oil industry, for instance, poured over $17 million into the 2006 elections, as did the pharmaceutical industry * - has led Democratic leaders to temper their legislative ambitions.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) plan to roll back tax breaks for oil companies was scaled down following meetings with lobbyists from the major oil companies. The minimum wage bill and prescription drug bill taken up by the House were similarly adapted following an industry lobbyist onslaught. And business interests are keen to turn Democrats' willingness to compromise on their behalf into, as they say, a beautiful friendship. Consider these last paragraphs:


Like other industries, drug companies are hiring Democrats as lobbyists and ramping up Democratic campaign contributions. For example, lobbyist attendance at fundraisers for Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) has skyrocketed. Organizers had to add tables at a breakfast fundraiser Thursday at the Phoenix Park Hotel because twice as many people as expected showed up.

Rangel was not previously close to the drug industry, whose lobbyists had battled his efforts on Medicare benefits in the past. Last week, however, a source close to Rangel said the industry's leading trade group had offered to hold a fundraiser for him; Rangel had not decided whether to accept.

"I've got so many new friends these days," he told one reporter.


Fair-weather friends at any rate, and ones who will be looking to see their generosity rewarded with a few favors down the line.


* Campaign contribution figures courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics.


UPDATE: Read more discussion of this article and its subject matter from Matt Stoller at MyDD, who cites the work of Public Campaign Action Fund's David Donnelly in his enthusiastic support of public financing here.