DC Super Lobbyists: Yes, Money in Politics is a Problem

Public Campaign Action Fund is now Every Voice. Check out our new website: EveryVoice.org

“50 to 75”

That’s how many fundraiser invites Quinn Gillespie Associates President John Feehery says he gets in a week. QGA Chairman Jack Quinn said for him, “It varies, but I get a lot more invitations than I can afford to respond to.”

The number of fundraiser invites received in a week was was just one of several questions the two answered Wednesday as part of a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), “We Are DC Super Lobbyists.” Quinn previously served as the chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore and later chief counsel to President Bill Clinton. Feehery held several Capitol Hill jobs, including managing communications for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

QGA is a top lobby shop in Washington. The firm has taken in over $10.5 million in lobbying fees from 2012 through the third quarter of 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Big clients include Qualcomm, State Farm, and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Lobbyists like Quinn and Feerehy often get lots of criticism for being seen as part of our dysfunctional pay-to-play political system (that criticism sometimes provided by us), but based on some of their answers—they’re as fed up with the political system as the rest of us.

“I happen to believe that the role of money in American politics is a very significant problem,” Quinn wrote. “Some would say it has reached the point of being a cancer on our democracy.”

According to Feehery, “It is unrealistic to say that all money can be taken out of politics. But I do think Members should spend alot less time raising money.”

As for solutions to undue influence and ethics reform, both agreed to some type of “cooling off period” for Congressional or administration staff who leave for the private sector and Feehery wrote that he was “all for greater transparency” of political contributions.

Quinn went further, writing “The best way to address that would be to prohibit campaign contributions from registered lobbyists or from the clients who hire lobbyists made to members of congress who sit on the committees with jurisdiction over the subject matter of their lobbying.”

He also supports a more systemic change to the system, writing that “I do think the best way to eliminate the appearance of corruption is to get money out of politics or, more accurately, to move to a system of public financing of elections.”

Quinn is right about public financing and it’s great to hear someone called “one of K Street’s all-time greats” supporting this system that would empower regular people to have a bigger say in the political process through a blend of small dollar donations and public matching funds.  

Quinn and Feehery aren’t alone on K Street in these opinions. Just recently, a handful of lobbyists raised concerns about the McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court case that could allow them to give more campaign cash to politicians, something no doubt politicians would ask for.

We’ve always said it’s not simply lobbyists that are the problem with our system. As Public Campaign President Nick Nyhart wrote in 2011, “Congress needs lobbyists, but America needs politicians that are beholden to the people that elected them, not the K Street denizens that fill their campaign bank accounts.”

 It sounds like Quinn and Feehery might agree.