Long before Senator Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump hit the campaign trail talking about politicians in hock to big-money donors, people knew that what these donors were effectively paying for was some level of access to the person should he or she win their office. Yet a new report suggests that the GOP is being more explicit about it than ever before.
From The Intercept:
Documents obtained by The Intercept and the Center for Media and Democracy show that the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are both telling donors that in exchange for campaign contributions, they will receive invitations to special events to meet with congressional staff including chiefs of staff, leadership staffers, and committee staffers.
While selling donors access to senators and representatives and their campaign staff is nothing new, the open effort to sell access to their legislative staff — the taxpayer-funded government employees who work behind the scenes to write legislation, handle investigations, and organize committee hearings — appears to be in violation of ethics rules that prohibit campaigns from using House and Senate resources in any way.
Congressional ethics rules flatly forbid Capitol Hill employees from engaging in fundraising activities as part of their official duties. Any explicit fundraising work must be done strictly as a volunteer, and there must be a clear firewall separating government work from campaign work.
Specifically, the NRCC is offering a monthly briefing with House leadership staffers and private events with congressional chiefs of staff for members along with other staffers in leadership and on committees. All this costs is a yearly contribution of $5000 to the NRCC’s fundraising efforts.
The website also noted that in 2013, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee held a $1000-per-plate dinner that featured the Chiefs of Staff of Democratic senators. Yet, none of the Democrats’ nor the Republicans’, for that matter, efforts to effectively sell “access” to people of influence have been as blatant as this latest effort.
It is worth noting that recent scholarship has shown that moneyed interests don’t often get “their way” on policy issues (at least when it conflicts with the desires of middle-class constituents) as often as people might think. As we reported in 2016, when their wants conflict both the ultra-rich and the middle class each gets what they want about a third of the time. However most Americans tend to align with the wants of the rich at a rate of about 80 percent.
What makes this access-selling so controversial (despite it being a possible violation of House and Senate ethics rules) is that it has become increasingly difficult for everyday constituents to get the ear of their representatives or their senior staff. During the most recent healthcare debate, elected officials allowed their voicemail boxes to fill-up and/or stopped answering constituent calls altogether.
Just because someone donated to a particular politician doesn’t mean that official will do what that person wants them to. However, if someone has regular access to senior staffers in their representatives’ offices, they are far more likely to have their voices heard than the rest of us.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.