Less than six months after winning seats in Congress partly on pledges to stay clear of corporate campaign cash, many new members of the House Democratic majority are violating the spirit if not the letter of those promises.
The swift movement away from their vows, and toward the special interests they previously spurned, is as clear a reminder as any of this truism of today's threatened democracy: The relentless drive for donations often plows through a politician's promises, including to finance their ambitions without the traditional reliance on the quid-pro-quo-implied generosity of big business.
At least 43 House Democrats, nearly one in five members of the caucus, have pledged not to accept donations from corporate political action committees, according to End Citizens United PAC, which seeks to reverse the Supreme Court's decision that largely deregulated the world of federal campaign finance. So have nine Democratic senators, several of them presidential candidates.
But many of those lawmakers have decided they can rationalize a decision to forswear the corporate PAC money while at the same time seeking contributions from the lobbyists advocating for those companies' interests.
Politico details today a series of fundraisers hosted for House newcomers by the K Street denizens who press the cases for such corporate behemoths as AT&T, Comcast, Microsoft, Pfizer, Verizon, Wells Fargo, Boeing, Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson, Nike and United Airlines. Many of the lawmakers took seats away from Republicans last fall in districts sure to be highly competitive again next year.
And they are being joined by a growing roster who have promised not to take corporate PAC money as they seek Democratic nominations for Congress in 2020, but are happily accepting checks from business lobbyists.
"This campaign is about the people of Arizona, not corporate PACs and the mess they've created in Washington," Mark Kelly, the former astronaut challenging GOP Sen. Martha McSally, says on his website. But, according to an invitation obtained by The Intercept, he was feted at a fundraiser last month at Capitol Counsel, which represents ExxonMobil, JPMorgan Chase and Lockheed Martin.
Some Democratic lobbyists are trying to persuade candidates and members who haven't yet sworn off corporate PAC money not to do so. "We are trying to educate members about the importance of employee-funded PACs to the campaign finance system," National Association of Business PACs President Catherine McDaniel, who leads a trade group for corporate PACs, told Politico.
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RepresentUs acquired 8,000 signatures on a petition asking Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to keep working on a "revolving door" bill. Paula Barkan, Austin chapter leader of RepresentUs, handed the petition to Brandon Simon, Cruz's Central Texas regional director, on July 31.
Remember that tweet exchange in May between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one where they discussed bipartisan legislation to ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists?
To recap: Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support for legislation banning the practice in light of a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which found that nearly 60 percent of lawmakers who recently left Congress had found jobs with lobbying firms. Cruz tweeted back, extending an invitation to work on such a bill. Ocasio-Cortez responded, "Let's make a deal."
The news cycle being what it is, it's easy to forget how the media jumped on the idea of the Texas Republican and the New York Democrat finding common ground on a government ethics proposal. Since then, we've collectively moved on — but not everyone forgot.
The government reform group RepresentUs recently drafted a petition asking Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez to follow through on their idea, gathering more than 8,000 signatures.
Sixty percent of young adults in the United States believe other people "can't be trusted," according to a recent Pew Research survey, which found that younger Americans were far more likely than older adults to distrust both institutions and other people. But adults of all ages did agree on one thing: They all lack confidence in elected leaders.
While united in a lack of confidence, the cohorts disagreed on whether that's a major problem. The study found that young adults (ages 18-29) were less likely than older Americans to believe that poor confidence in the federal government, the inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together, and the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups were "very big problems."