Bad Congress, No Money for You

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That sound you hear? The death rattle of the "campaign contributions don't buy policy" argument courtesy of this article on the decision by the National Association of Home Builders to stop giving campaign contributions to members of Congress because they didn't get the provisions they wanted in a recent bill.

The organizations political action committee, BUILD-PAC, is halting donations after what it sees as unsatisfactory provisions for its members in recent legislation. The PAC has already poured a couple million into the 2008 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"Lobbies like to pretend that congressional action and their donations aren't tied, " said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "But the home builders just confirmed that they are."

Ethics lawyers routinely warn interest groups to avoid saying or implying that the money they provide to candidates compensates them for taking a position on a particular piece of legislation. Such quid pro quos could be considered illegal gratuities or bribes.

The home builders' statement avoids any reference to specific legislation. "I don't think there's any basis to say that there's a violation of law here," said Robert K. Kelner, a campaign finance attorney at Covington & Burling.

But lawmakers do not like to be reminded in public that lobbyists offer them money in hopes of receiving favorable treatment. "Many PACs use a carrot-and-a-stick approach," Gross said. "But just a stick can boomerang."

The home builders' announcement also explodes the oft-repeated assertion by politicians that lobbyists deal with them only at arm's length. "How many members of Congress have you heard say, 'People donate to me, but it has no effect at all'?" Sloan said. "What the home builders have done is expose the underbelly of the connection between money and politics."

So, the home builder's association is upset about what Congress is doing in the face of recession and threatens to suspend its check-writing operation until it gets its way. Shame that the millions of Americans already affected by the economic slowdown can't wield a similar threat.