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Editorial: Big money drowns out the voices of ordinary voters

As Captain Louis Renault was collecting his winnings in Casablanca, he famously declared that he was shocked – shocked – to learn that gambling was taking place in Rick’s Café Américain, and he shut the joint down. Like Renault, we were shocked to find that some people, quite a few actually, think there’s a link between the campaign contributions and luxury junkets given to members of Congress by lobbyists and a member’s vote on issues.

One such junket, by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, was described in The New York Times this week under the front-page headline “A Loophole Allows Lawmakers to Reel in Trips and Donations.” The loophole is this: Although a 2007 law prohibits lobbyists from giving lawmakers nearly any gifts, they can nonetheless legally donate to political campaigns and so-called leadership PACs controlled by the lawmakers – and those organizations then pay the expenses for catering and lawmakers’ lodging at fancy getaways.

Ayotte’s trip was to a ski resort in Park City, Utah, where she was hosted by a former senator turned lobbyist and joined by executives and lobbyists. When the subject of influence-buying comes up, lawmakers and officials of both parties indignantly proclaim their independence, and those representing Ayotte were quick to do so. But who do they think they’re kidding? Of course there’s a link. That’s why companies, organizations and lobbyists pony up.

The connection is not, in most cases, crude and direct. Favorable treatment is instead the result of relationships formed with members by those willing to spend thousands to, in the words of a health care lobbyist quoted in the article, “get some large chunks of a lawmaker’s time” on the ski slopes or a golf course and in five-star resorts. In exchange for the access, (and the good food, fine wine and other perks), members of Congress get a big pile of money to help guarantee their reelection.

The junkets do something else as well. They separate officeholders, who are treated like royalty, from the hoi polloi, otherwise known as their constituents. They are one reason why studies show that major campaign contributors have far, far more influence with members of Congress than ordinary voters. They also help explain, but only in small measure, why public approval of Congress is at its lowest point in generations.

As offensive as the junkets, which can’t help but have the faint odor of corruption about them, is the fact that massive, non-stop fundraising has become a political necessity. Consider this: So far, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has no major opponent in her re-election bid, but she has already been the target of roughly $500,000 in negative advertising paid for by right-wing groups. She will have to look beyond New Hampshire’s borders for the money to counter such attacks. Similarly, the national Democrats are waging an advertising war against former senator Scott Brown, who hasn’t even decided whether he’s in the race.

As we write, a group calling itself the New Hampshire Rebellion, led by Harvard Law School professor Larry Lessig, is engaged in a walk from New Hampshire’s northern border to Nashua where it will celebrate the birthday of the late Doris “Granny D” Haddock. To call attention to the need for campaign finance reform, Haddock famously walked 3,200 miles across the nation at age 88. Her quest seemed quixotic at the time, but it helped spur landmark campaign reform legislation, later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The hike by the New Hampshire Rebellion seems similarly quixotic, but until something succeeds in stirring the public to demand an end to laws that make fundraising junkets by members of Congress and unlimited political contributions by billionaires legal, the voice of ordinary voters will be only the faintest of whispers in the ears of officeholders.

Legacy Comments19

Dear Kelly -- Hey, I hope you enjoyed the trip. But, you know, we have some pretty great skiing right here in NH. Next time, why don't you bring the whole junket right here to your home state, promote NH skiing, and help the NH economy?

Labor unions drown out my voice. George Soros and the Sandlers drown out my voice. In fact the Monitor drowns out my voice as does the mainstream press. This is little more than a call to drown out the voices of those people who benefit from those corporate donations, the real worker bees of the society, the people who believe that hand ups are more effective than hand outs.

We've posted 188 of your comments since the start of the year - and it's only the morning of Jan. 24. Only one commentator has posted more. (And coincidentally he, too, is represented on this thread.) It's quite a stretch to claim that "the Monitor drowns out" your voice - or anybody else's.

Ah, facts, pesky facts. Logical analysis, like science, is for the uncommitted.

I think this is more an an emotional reaction. You should have read my comments in context. I can't believe that you responded like that Mr/Ms Moderator. And I hope that you will have the intellectual honesty to post this reply (I doubt that you will). My comment had nothing to do with my posts here. My comment was that the letter writer and other posters stated that their voices were drowned out by corporations and big money. My point was that the mainstream press, taking political stands instead of reporting the news, drown out my voice.....period. In allowing people to post their opinions you are very fair but from a standpoint of non-ideological coverage on your news pages you do drown out the voices of half of the population of this state. The NY Times and most other newspapers of record drown out the voices of people as they are slanted as is the mainstream press. You read the comment wrong, took it out of context.....period. It had nothing to do with my posts here. Geeeeeesch!

What about the Union Leader which bills itself as the largest paper in the state. Does it not "drown out the voices of half of the population of this state"? It has a very conservative bias some would say right wing. If you just want to read or watch or listen to opinions that mirror yours go for it, but stop complaining about the Monitor. If someone went by just the online comment I would say between you, Sail and a few others, right wing commentary is over represented.

Yeah, shame on you Moderator, for bringing reality into the conversation LOL!

Hunter, my point in my post had nothing to do with the posts here. My point is that people are upset about corporations (groups of people with a common interest) influencing elections and silencing their voices. Well my point was that many organizations and other groups silence my voice and that of many conservatives and moderates. The press in particular, including the Monitor continues to influence politics negatively. That might include the Union Leader on the other side but my point is that fair is fair. The moderator over reacted and took that as an attack on moderation, it had nothing to do with that.

I think you are getting the worker bees mixed up with the Queen Bee who lives of the worker bees and then zaps them when they are not useful anymore.

Sierra Club, Teachers Unions, Green Peace all consist of citizen voters. Corporations have the same rights as people going all the way back to Supreme Court decisions in the Dartmouth case in ~1819 and the Santa Clare case in ~1880. It is settled law - get over it.

Then maybe you should take your own advice. The ACA is settled law, get over it.


Yes and Citizens United is "settled law" so get over that. You can't have it both ways.

So we are a union supporter now, are we. - " On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns" Just how does this get government back to the citizens, especially when it is funded by those freedom loving Koch brothers. Keep up the record number of useless posts.

FALSE - ACA is as corrupt as the democrats . if you dare to read the following you will find that ACA is the absolute most corrupt law ever passed and it will die from its own slimy weight. No major piece of legislation has ever survived on a 100% partisan vote - I CHALLENGE YOU TO READ THIS to be educated.... - post 3 of 12 on 1/24

Good slam sail! That will keep those pesky liberal kids off your lawn! Your talent for snark is returning!

I read the article, which is so "supported" by conspiracy theories and flat-out accusation masquerading as fact, that only someone who believes that Barack Obama's mother faked his birth in Hawaii could take the article seriously.

I have a bridge to the sky I'm selling there Sail. This article reeks of nothing but falsehoods and outright lies.

Very entertaining, now I see the basis of some of your posts. The article is grounded in a bunch of what if's, they could have's and even more childish rants. We really have to work on the understanding of the terms facts and false innuendo. Nice try but another miss.

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