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March 02, 2007

Bad Baucus

There's no doubt that Joe Lieberman is the most loathsome Democrat on foreign policy issues. But unfairly little attention is paid to his domestic counterpart, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. Thankfully, Ari Berman is picking up the slack:

A study last year by Public Citizen found that between 1999 and 2005 Baucus, along with former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, took in the most special-interest money of any senator. He tops the list of recipients from business PACs. And only three senators have more former staffers working as lobbyists on K Street (at least two dozen in Baucus's case). Now that he's chairman, "former aides of Baucus, in particular, have been in demand on K Street by companies that hope to limit damage to their business interests," reports Congressional Quarterly.[...]

In recent years Baucus has not been shy about reaching out to K Street for campaign contributions. In February 2005 he asked fifty lobbyists to raise $100,000 each for his 2008 re-election campaign. Two lobbyists who attended told CNN that they "have never gotten such an aggressive pitch from a senator." In 2006, as the Abramoff scandal heated up, Baucus removed lobbyist William Oldaker as treasurer of his PAC. But his longtime fundraiser, Shannon Finley, recently left to join other former Finance Committee staffers at a new firm, Capitol Counsel, which principal John Raffaelli said will give corporations "the best opportunity to present their case."

Since becoming chairman, Baucus has sent out three invitations to upcoming big-ticket ($2,000 per person, $5,000 per PAC) fundraisers for his Glacier PAC, including "skiing and snowmobiling in Big Sky" and fly fishing and horseback riding at "Camp Baucus" in August. Baucus says that raising money from lobbyists at such gatherings "has no effect, none whatsoever, on my thinking."[...]

Baucus is off to an inauspicious start as chairman, beginning with his handling of minimum-wage legislation. On the day the House of Representatives passed a federal wage increase by a vote of 315 to 116, Baucus held a hearing on Tax Incentives for Businesses in Response to a Minimum Wage Increase. Of the five testifying witnesses, only one expert, Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, advocated a "clean" bill without the tax breaks. "I've been on minimum wage panels for years," says Bernstein, "and this was no better than the ones during the Republican era." The Finance Committee subsequently attached $8.3 billion in tax breaks for small business to the legislation. "People like to vote for tax cuts," Baucus told me afterward.

And this guy chairs what is inarguably the most important domestic policy committee. There's talk of mounting a progressive primary challenge to him in 2008, which would be a very worthwhile endeavor, if only because it would remind him that lobbyists aren't his only constituents. But the end truth is that there's relatively little that can be done to rein in a popular Senate chairman. The question, for Democrats, is how to work around one of their own worst enemies.

March 2, 2007 | Permalink


Full disclosure: Max Baucus is my cousin.

Carry on...

Posted by: Jumbo | Mar 2, 2007 12:31:20 PM

Sunlight is a good cure for flakey fundraising, but I'd advocate that the ethics rules and laws on PACs be changed to outlaw PACs run by Congresspersons and Senators (like the Glacier PAC). They are slush funds of the worse kind.

But, until K Street is put out of biz by very stringent lobbying rules, it may be that all the regs in the world can't stop money that is legally raised from finding its ways to members of Congress, one way or another.

I worry about whether public campaign financing will solve this problem, but a root cause of corruption is still a root cause. We are pruning the tree instead of burning the roots with most of what we do.

As for independent acting committee chairs: All chairs should serve at the pleasure of the leadership and a caucas majority. Off with their seniority heads.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 2, 2007 12:35:48 PM

I have long held not well-defined poorly enunciated, concerns.
My own special was with the BigDrugLobby but this is even better.
My prediction is that Max has a cushy on hold (Billy Tauzin style) to move himself into K street when we
...it COULD happen... Kick him out.

'Embattled' - Reed Point, Montana-.

Posted by: has_te | Mar 2, 2007 1:50:36 PM

Well let's see -- he's not very bright, he's not very courageous and he certainly isn't burdened by superfluous integrity. Yep, our Max, he's the whole

He's a vote that keeps our Senate majority for the moment and that's the best you can say about him. I feel like I've used that criteria somewhere before. Hmmmm.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Mar 2, 2007 2:31:27 PM

There's no doubt that Joe Lieberman is the most loathsome Democrat on foreign policy issues.

If by "Democrat" you mean "person who is not actually a member of the Democratic Party", then yes, that's true.

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