Failing Upward: Corporate Lobbyists Run the Democratic Party

The line between donors and party officials is increasingly blurry

DNC Chair Tom Perez. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump managed to contrast himself with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party with his campaign promise to “drain the swamp.” Clearly, voters agreed that government is overrun with special interests, lobbyists and Super PACs. Despite voters’ demands to sever ties with donors, the DNC, DCCC, and Democratic establishment have doubled down on their ties to these powerful interest groups instead of enacting reform.

Part of party leadership’s apprehension to adopt reforms stems from their inability to take responsibility for the party’s losses throughout the last decade. Instead, establishment Democrats blame Sen. Bernie Sanders, his supporters, Jill Stein, Russia, and several other scapegoats. Instead of analyzing their missteps, party leadership affirms it did nothing wrong. Arrogance, entitlement, and insults are the Democratic Party’s fuel. The Democratic establishment writes off those who challenge the status quo. However, if Democrats have any hope of escaping irrelevancy, reform is necessary.

The polarity within the Democratic Party is mischaracterized as “infighting.” There are two sides: those who are fighting to preserve the status quo and those who are fighting to change it. The preservationists hold political power and leadership positions, and they prefer to embrace moderates over progressives. They revere people like George W. Bush and nostalgically yearn for a more palatable system that functions in service to the elite. They refuse to support progressive policies like single-payer health care, saying they are intangible or good only in theory. They remain silent on conflicts like the Standing Rock’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline while lobbying firms and corporations profit off such injustices.

The party’s losses have further emboldened these interests to assert their power over the party. In January 2017, a billionaire donor, Stephen Bittel, became the Florida State Democratic Party chair. He has already managed to offend, insult, and ostracize black Democratic leaders in the state. In May 2017, a party insider, Eric Bauman, became California Democratic Party chair. In 2016, he made over $100,000 lobbying on behalf of pharmaceutical companies against a proposition to lower prescription drug costs. A billionaire donor, J.B. Pritzker, is earning party endorsements in his bid to run for governor of Illinois. Pritzker asked former Chicago Mayor Rod Blagojevich, who is currently in prison for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat, to be appointed the Illinois treasurer instead of being given the Senate seat in exchange for campaign donations.

Lobbyists remain top campaign contributors to high-ranking Democrats and the DNC—especially because DNC Chair Tom Perez refused to re-enact the ban on corporate lobbyist and PAC donations that was rescinded to benefit Hillary Clinton’s campaign. These lobbyists have a long record of preventing the Democratic Party from embracing progressive policies and reform. For corporate lobbyists, party lines are blurred—they often pour money into both Republicans and Democrats.

Jaime Harrison, who ran for DNC chair and had Tom Perez pay off his debt after endorsing him, spent most of the Obama administration lobbying for the Podesta Group, serving clients like the coal industry, big banks and big tobacco. Harrison now serves as the South Carolina Democratic Party Chair and was appointed associate chairman and counselor to the DNC by Perez.

Several DNC voting members are lobbyists, including Tonio Burgos, who lobbies for Verizon and Pfizer, Joyce Brayboy, Marcus Mason, and Maria Cardona. These members also serve as DNC superdelegates, as well as several other corporate lobbyists like former DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile, Emily Giske, Jennifer Cunningham, Joanne Dowdell, Bill Shaheen, Dick Gephardt, former Sen. Chris Dodd, and former Sen. Tom Daschle.

Former DNC Chair Howard Dean, who now works for the lobbying team at Dentons with Newt Gingrich, continues to elevate himself as a party spokesperson. Along with lobbyist Minyon Moore, he has been involved in the development of Hillary Clinton’s new Super PAC, Onward Together.

Two former lobbyists were appointed to serve on the DNC Unity Commission. Jeff Berman, a Clinton loyalist and commission member, is a former lobbyist for the private prison company the GEO Group and the Keystone XL pipeline. Berman was also hired by the Clinton campaign to whip superdelegates in her favor. Committee member Charlie Baker, former Clinton campaign chief administrative officer, co-founded the Dewey Square Group, which lobbied on behalf of the health insurance industry during the initial Obamacare debate. The Intercept reported that Baker has also been a registered lobbyist on behalf of the drug firm Medicines Company.

As the Democratic Party cozies up to corporate lobbyists, its relationship with voters has disintegrated. Lobbyists bundle campaign donations to ensure Republicans and Democrats represent their interests, leaving voters feeling abandoned. An investigation conducted by Maplight’s Andrew Perez and IBTimes’ David Sirota found that four lobbyists raised $380,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) between January and March this year—four times more than lobbyists raised for the DCCC in 2016.

It’s not just the Democratic Party; lobbyists are increasing their spending to influence the federal government overall. An analysis conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics found that corporations spent $840 million in the first quarter of 2017 lobbying Congress and the White House—the highest amount in five years. In the first six months of 2017, $1.66 billion have been spent on lobbying.

The Democratic Party hasn’t taken any steps to confront this cycle of corruption that is rotting American democracy from within. In fact, the party embraces it, ignoring its connection to the party’s vast losses.

Failing Upward: Corporate Lobbyists Run the Democratic Party