Is lobbyists’ money dirty money?

Yes. And it’s dirtier than money that comes from corporate executives.

My friend Tom Edsall has forgotten more about the uses of money in politics than I’ll ever know. (He’s the author of the cult classic Money and Power, which traces the fall of the urban political machine and the rise of the fundraising power brokers, much to the disadvantage of the urban working class.)

With that caveat, I have to disagree with Edsall about the significance of candidates taking lobbyists’ money. Sure, they’re all going to wind up getting money from rich folks, including executives of the same firms that hire the lobbyists. But there are two big additional problems when the money comes from the lobbyists themselves.

First, the distinction between contributions and bribes gets a lot fuzzier when the person making the contribution is also the one asking for the favors.

Second, the executives are spending their own money. Yes, a company could offer its executives higher salaries and tell them which candidates to contribute to, and that sometimes happens, but it’s against the law. But when a company pays a lobbyist a ton of money to lobby the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and the lobbyist and six of his associates at the lobbying firm then max out their contributions to the chairman of that subcommittee, that is in effect corporate money going into the chairman’s campaign coffers, and everyone involved knows it. But it’s all perfectly legal.

So I think Edwards and Obama are right, and Clinton is wrong. Her decision to accept lobbyists’ checks is part and parcel of her decision to play the existing crooked game by its current crooked rules, just like her decision to employ as a key campaign adviser the CEO of a PR firm with a lucrative union-busting practice.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com