I want to tell you a secret about what really happens in Washington. You won't hear about it in the news or even hear it mentioned at your congressman's local town-hall meeting. The secret involves money, power, and influence. It's an insider's game, played in tight-knit circles of power.
I call it the "dollar dash." Members of Congress host fundraisers - located just off the Capitol grounds - attended by Washington's most influential and well-financed lobbyists. A $1,000 campaign contribution is the entrance fee and a guarantee that "the congressman appreciates your support and will be sure to keep in mind your positions." In between sips of wine and promise-making handshakes, the lawmakers sprint to the capitol for votes and scurry back to the fundraisers for more contributions.
The congressman's thoughts are on the election, the flight home, and his children. But his staff reminds him that his poll numbers are low and he needs money for eleventh-hour ads. He's trapped.
Both the lawmakers and special interest groups are caught in a system that rewards compromise and punishes independence. Money is what wins elections, the consultants say. Who has the big money? Special-interests. The money comes with expectations, however. Once elections are won, lobbyists expect a return on their investment. And ultimately, the American family pays the costly price of the system.
Who has more access? Who wins the congressman's ear? The house wife's phone call or the lobbyist's campaign contribution? A constituent may forget about a bad vote, but a lobbyist's memory is refreshed by computer data bases tracking voting records. Lawmakers can either choose to align their vote with the special interest or risk being cut off the donor list.
The system is broke and the priorities are out of balance. But both the Senate and House have failed to fix the problem. Earlier this month the Senate lost an opportunity to pass legislation to overhaul our failed system and on Friday the House postponed votes on several overhaul packages. By refusing to work together for a much needed clean-up, the Republicans and Democrats have reinforced the public's perception that asking political leaders to reform campaign laws is like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop.
The people don't believe it will happen and the politicians fear a compromise would threaten their source of campaign money.