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Big Money vs. Grassroots: The Fight For the Heart of the Democratic Party
Published on Tuesday, September 5, 2006 by the Washington Spectator
Big Money vs. Grassroots: The Fight For the Heart of the Democratic Party
by David Sirota

Every two years since 1992, the Democratic Party has trotted out Fleetwood Mac's classic "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" as the theme song of its campaign. Now, after the party's repeated election losses, polls suggest that the Democrats' "tomorrow" could finally be dawning. November 7 is the big day. Yet even if the Democrats do well on that day, it's not clear that things will change. In fact, there are ominous signs that a Democratic Congress would cause another song to start ringing in Americans' ears: The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," with its harrowing line: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

To be sure, a change in congressional leadership would slow the advance of President George W. Bush's dangerous agenda. And as the Associated Press has reported, the specific Democratic lawmakers in line to take over key committees are among the administration's biggest critics, and among the most ideologically progressive in Congress.

But beyond this, there are troubling signs that the party isn't serious about reforming America's money-dominated politics. Many working-class swing voters are still suspicious of a Democratic Party that promised not to sell them out, and then supported President Clinton's alliance with big business to pass economically destabilizing "free trade" deals. But that doesn't seem to matter to the Beltway's Democratic elites. That voters would be supporting Democrats in 2006 with the specific expectation of reform hardly seems to register with many of the party's Washington insiders.

The arrogance is stunning. Here you have a national political party righteously hammering its opponents' "culture of corruption." Here you have a national party standing at the threshold of an Internet revolution that has shown itself more than capable of democratizing political fundraising by taking in huge sums of money, in small contributions, all without the usual expectation of cronyish legislative favors. And yet here is that same national party bragging to reporters that it is focused on doing everything it can to milk the corporate teat as effectively as Republicans.

FOLLOW THE MONEY—"Democrats' Stock Is Rising on K Street" blared a recent Washington Post story detailing moves by former Democratic lawmakers and staff to cash in as corporate lobbyists. "Corporate Contributions Shift to the Left," read an earlier Wall Street Journal story about how "big companies are boosting their share of campaign contributions to Democrats."

This trend is undoubtedly pleasing party leaders like House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Until he was criticized for doing so, Hoyer proudly posted a Roll Call story on his official taxpayer-sponsored website, headlined "Hoyer's Own K Street Project," about how he was starting a fund-raising operation to shake down corporate lobbyists for cash. Those efforts likely benefited from the services of one Gina Mahoney, who according to the National Journal "does double duty" for Hoyer, serving both as his senior legislative adviser and as his political fund-raising entity's chief "liaison to K Street and the business community." Such "liaising" might explain why, following the indictment of lobbyist-manipulator Jack Abramoff last year, Hoyer made sure he was featured in The Hill newspaper reassuring the corporate community that he "has sought to make himself the first contact for K Street" and that he would continue holding regular meetings with their lobbyists.

David Sirota is an occasional contributor to these pages and the author of a recent bestseller, Hostile Takeover, about the big money corruption that is perverting our democratic system of government. With the prospects good for the Democrats to regain control of at least one chamber of Congress, come November, Sirota says there is a tug-of-war under way for the soul of the party. On one side are Washington insiders, beholden to big money, who seek power for its own sake; on the other are some courageous legislators and the party rank and file, who want a government that serves the needs of average Americans.

Sirota has served as a spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee and was a top strategist for Democrat Brian Schweitzer's successful 2004 gubernatorial run in Montana. He is the co-chair of the Progressive States Network, which provides research and advocacy tools to progressive state legislators.

©Copyright 2004-6, Public Concern Foundation Inc.


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