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Herb Palmer: Peck's Bad Boys create drama in Congress

A short time ago, this columnist commented on a touring stage play "Peck's Bad Boy," which was a big hit on Broadway in the early 1900s. Later it was presented in small towns and large cities across the nation. The plot line of the play revealed ...

A short time ago, this columnist commented on a touring stage play "Peck's Bad Boy," which was a big hit on Broadway in the early 1900s. Later it was presented in small towns and large cities across the nation. The plot line of the play revealed the peccadilloes and mischievous behavior of the younger generation in a roaring hee-haw manner that delighted audiences.
Well, it looks like young Peck and his playmates are still with us, today. They've been elected to Congress. With the battle escalating for control of the House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats are giving business leaders unprecedented access to influential policymakers in Washington, D.C., in return for campaign donations. A few weeks ago, House Republicans raised a million dollars in one day by inviting 500 donors to express their ideas about tax policies to Republican members of the House Ways and Means committee and other GOP leaders. It was a gala clap-hands lovefest held in the Mayflower Hotel.
House Democrats, in turn, created a business forum for $10,000 contributors that raised $2 million to date. Such efforts reflect the ardent wooing of the nation's "Big Business" interests by both parties and represent an acceleration of fund-raising schemes that are becoming more aggressive every year. Providing access in exchange for campaign funds is now being done openly and brazenly without any sense of embarrassment. Lawmakers defend the practice as "required customer service" for supporters who want a forum to express their views. Some say it would be unrealistic to deny big donors this platform.
David Ely, who operates Deco Lighting Design in Detroit, attended one tax summit and pushed for the adoption of a national sales tax. Democrats are also aggressively courting corporate America on Web sites reaching African Americans, Hispanics and women's groups. House Democratic caucus chairman Martin Frost of Texas and other committee chairs have held 15 bagel breakfasts with industry leaders, half of which focused on the technology sector.
"We are treating them now more like customers and shareholders," says Erik Smith, "and we are keeping them better informed on our progress by making the pact that we are protecting the resources they give us," he said. Republicans have now taken to rewarding political action committees (PACs) that send at least 75 percent of their contributions to GOP candidates.
There is also another important angle. Republican state attorneys general staffs are soliciting large contributions from corporations that are embroiled in or seeking to avert lawsuits by the states. The GOP Attorneys General Association is expected to collect $550,000 in chunks of $5,000 and up from various companies that gathered in Austin, Texas, for a recent session.
The meeting featured a political briefing by Karl Rove, who is Gov. George Bush's chief political strategist. Membership in the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) costs from $5,000 to $25,000, with increasing levels of access to the attorneys general offices, depending on the size of the donation. Microsoft Corporation, the target of an anti-trust lawsuit by the Federal Justice Department and 19 states, contributed $10,000 last year, it is rumored.
Officials of the Republican National Committee say that RAGA raised $100,000 last year, but they refuse to identify where the money came from. The donations are used for state attorneys general races. Contributions solicited by the group go into the "soft money" account of the Republican National Committee and are reported.
Several present and past attorneys general from both parties complain that RAGA puts them in the position of asking for money from potential or even actual defendants. A former Massachusetts Attorneys General Scott Harshbarger, a Democrat who is now president of Common Cause, says, "If you don't prosecute a case against someone when people think you shouldn't, that's your job. But once somebody thinks one of us is doing it for political reasons, it affects us all."
In most states, the job of attorneys general is an elected position, and those seeking the post raise money just like any other politician does. So far, RAGA has enlisted seven of the 15 Republican attorneys general in recent years.
A number of states have banded together in lawsuits against such companies as cigarette makers and car manufacturers. The group is part of a backlash against activist attorneys general who have teamed up against Big Business on issues from false advertising to price fixing in women's shoes, and in tobacco settlements and the manufacture of lead-based paint.
(Editor's Note: Material for this column was obtained from two articles, "Congress is open for Business" by Juliet Eilperin and "Strong Arm of the Law" by George Lardner Jr. and Susan Schmidt in The Washington Post national weekly edition.)
On the lighter side . . .
Swede: "Do you know da difference between a Norvegian and a canoe?"
Ole: "No, I don't."
Swede: "A canoe will sometimes tip."
One of Ole's cousins, Lee "Swede" Johnson from Minneapolis, describes his favorite drink: vodka and catsup. Swede calls it a "Blood Clot."
-- Ole and Lena Joke Book

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