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Pay to play policymaking is rarely spelled out as clearly in public as it was in a just-released fundraising email sent to financial industry lobbyists on behalf of Senator Corker, a key Republican negotiator on finanicial reform. As reported in Politico:

Sen. Bob Corker’s reelection campaign offered donors a chance to
have a meal with the Tennessee Republican for $10,000, or attend “small
meetings” with him for $5,000, during his visits to New York and
Chicago next month.

The solicitation — provided to POLITICO by a lobbyist who works for
financial firms and others — comes at a time when Corker is one of the
leading Republican negotiators on a bill that would dramatically
overhaul regulations on Wall Street.

“During the Easter recess, Sen. Corker will be in Chicago and New York,
and we have a few openings in the schedule,” wrote Corker fundraiser
Kim Kaegi in an e-mail to potential donors. “We are hoping for $10,000
for meal events or $5,000 for small meetings.”

“Please let us know if you have any members or clients who might be
able to fill the open times with a small fundraising opportunity,” the
e-mail said.

This is why, 18 months and trillions of tax dollars later, we still don't have Wall Street reform. We call it fundraising while legislating -- donation appeals and offers of face time with politicians just as, not coincidentally at all, those same politicians are making big decisions on issues important to the industry being solicited.

Senator Corker has been a key roadblock to several central aspects of financial reform, including creation of an independent consumer regulator to oversee financial products. Corker's objections pushed Sen. Dodd to locate the agency in the Federal Reserve (despite its dismal record on consumer protection) and to strip it of critical enforcement and rulemaking authority.

Dodd should seriously reconsider the worth of his concessions, considering Corker probably got those talking points at a $5,000 "small meeting" with banking industry lobbyists.

It's safe to assume that this is the type of solicitation happens all the time. Lobbyists just don't always share them with reporters:

 The e-mail offended the lobbyist who received it. “It’s the ultimate
cynical move,” the person said. “I lobby the Banking Committee. What am
I supposed to do — say no?”

Corker tried to distance himself from the email calling it "grotesque" and saying he wouldn't attend any of the meetings. But his statements were more of a wink and a nod than admonition considering his ebullient praise for the fundraiser:

Corker said he did not see the e-mail solicitation before it went out.
Kaegi, the e-mail’s author, is a fundraising consultant to Corker’s
campaign and a veteran of many Republican statewide contests in
Tennessee. “She does a great job, and I think she just got in a hurry,”
Corker said. “She’s the very best there is in Tennessee.”

You don't sell your boss's time by accident, and it's highly unlikely you do it without his knowledge. Fundraising from companies politicians oversee is at the heart of the current system and is a tried and true way to fund political campaigns. Freshman Sen. Corker is obviously a quick learner: he took $2.9 million from the financial sector since 2005, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

 

Such behavior should be both unnecessary and illegal. Consumer Watchdog supports two key reforms. One for the short term: public financing of Congressional campaigns to give politicians the opportunity to say no to special interest campaign cash and the unavoidable influence that goes along with it; and one for the long term: a consitutional amendment to eliminate the ability of corporations to buy elections.

 

Both are critical to remove the taint of corruption from the halls of Congress.