Dem Senators retreat to South Beach with 108 lobbyists

There has been talk about the Democrats moving to co-opt the country’s populist mood. But it is just talk:

The guest list for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s “winter retreat” at the Ritz Carlton South Beach Resort doesn’t include the price tag for attendance, but the maximum contribution to the committee, typical for such events, is $30,000. There, to participate in “informal conversations” and other meetings Saturday, were senators including DSCC Chairman Robert Menendez; Michigan’s Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow; Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; Claire McCaskill of Missouri; freshmen Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska; and even left-leaning Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Across the table was a who’s who of 108 senior Washington lobbyists, including the top lobbying officials for many of the industries Democrats regularly attack: Represented were the American Bankers Association, the tobaco company Altria, the oil company Marathon, the Edison Electric Institute, which has battled climate regulation, several drug manufacturers, the defense contractor Lockheed, and most of the large independent lobbying firms: Ogilvy, BGR, Quinn Gillespie, Heather Podesta, and Tony Podesta.

The retreat’s guest list is a marked contrast to Menendez’s recent rhetoric, which has echoed the White House denunciation of “special interests” and “fat cats.”

Mind you, Menendez spent last week howling about corporations exercising spending money to speak in political campaigns. Apparently, his main objection was that the money should be paid to politicians, primarily the party currently in power, to shore up their incumbency.

To demonstrate the blatant access-peddling at work, I must correct the Politico story in at least one respect. Ben Smith claims that Edison Electric Institute has “battled” climate regulation. Not really. In fact, EEI has been lobbying senators to pass the stalled cap-and-trade bill. Why? Because EEI drafted the method for emission allocations incorporated into the House bill. Small wonder that EEI might want some schmooze time with the senators from Michigan.

Of course, the hypocrisy extends beyond the DSCC. Pres. Obama invited K Street lobbyists to join in private briefings on a range of topics addressed in his State of the Union, one day after bashing them in the speech. With overwhelming majorities of voters skeptical of both big government and big business, the GOP could exploit this hypocrisy in the midterms — if they avoid engaging in it themselves.

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