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Blue America: What Do We Do About The Newly Elected Members?


A friend of mine, a union activist sent me something to read a few weeks ago. It sickened him and it sickened me. It paints a disturbing picture of what the idealistic freshmen class have been up to, in some cases, instead of pursuing their idealism.

Many Democratic freshmen raised tens of thousands of special-interest dollars toward their reelection even before they were sworn in for the 110th Congress.

The numbers show that although they said during their campaigns that they would reform the "culture of corruption" in Washington, many quickly immersed themselves in the town’s lobbyist-dominated fundraising network to fill up their coffers and retire their debt.

Many of us– 581 to be exact— contributed a little over $10,000 to Kirsten Gillibrand in the last few weeks before the November election and she beat arch corporate whore Tom Sweeney in a tough district. Since then — even before being sworn in — she joined both Ellen Tauscher's DLC-oriented New Democratic Coalition and the Blue Dogs. And she raised tens of thousands of dollars… from PACs and K Street lobbyists. The tobacco company Altria, for example, donated $5,000 to help her clean up her campaign debt.

Meredith McGehee, who works for the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group pushing for lobbying reform, said freshman lawmakers cannot do much to avoid becoming part of the system they ran to change.

"It’s next to impossible for a freshman member to arrive in Washington and not become a part of the lobbyist fundraising system," she said. "The minute you're elected, the first thing you're told is that you have to start working on your reelection because you're vulnerable. I think the current campaign-finance system makes hypocrites of all of them."

While I've been on the road — lecturing at McGill here in Montreal — Ken has been doing double-duty at Down With Tyranny. Thursday, he ended the day with a post about how the Democrats are taking over the K Street franchise. But me, I'm not discouraged. In fact, Meredith McGehee's "next to impossible" sounds almost encouraging… glass half full.

I'd like to propose that we see if we can help some worthy freshmen minimize the need to turn to K Street and the corporate PACs for political survival. I think I've identified 11 freshmen who are co-sponsoring anti-war legislation. In fact, one of the new freshmen, Joe Sestak (PA) — someone we had as a guest at Firedoglake — has proposed his own bill to bring the war to an end. The others are Patrick Murphy (PA), Steve Cohen (TN), Mazie Hirono (HI), John Yarmuth (KY), Dave Loebsack (IA), Yvette Clark (NY), Peter Welch (VT), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), Keith Ellison (MN) and Jerry McNerney (CA).

Maybe we could somehow come up with a way to help some worthy freshmen on a grassroots basis. Not all freshmen — just the ones who are living up to our expectations… or even just most of our expectations. I was turned off when I heard how difficult the DCCC makes it for these freshmen. it looks like they may actually be forcing them into whoring themselves out into the corrupt Beltway system. Should I invite a couple of them on for a session? Does someone have a better idea?

I'm proposing a few weeks of getting-to-know-you chats with the DCCC, a chance for our community to get a communications channel open with Chris Van Hollen, the DCCC political director, Jon Vogel, maybe some of the regional directors so we can get a better understanding of how they work and what is behind decisions that sometimes look strange to some of us. It's shaping up… a little slowly but it is coming together. Meanwhile I'd love to get some feedback on what to do about the freshmen.

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Howie Klein

Howie Klein

Howie Klein spent much of his life wandering around the world living in places like Afghanistan, Nepal, Holland and Morocco. He moved backed to America when Richard Nixon resigned and promptly helped start the first punk rock radio show in the country and then a DIY punk rock record label. His adventures in the music business ended a couple of years ago when he retired as president of Reprise Records. He began blogging almost immediately, starting Down With Tyranny. Jane taught him html while he held one of her dogs at a party. He is a raw foodist, lives in L.A., swims and hikes every day, thinks Howard Dean could be a president as great as FDR and will never be completely happy until Bush and Cheney are behind bars.