May 23, 2018
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If you want to be heard in Washington, donate money

A faux pas in politics is often defined as telling the truth, intentional or otherwise. By this definition, Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman and the White House’s budget director, made a faux pas last week when he let the world know that money talks in the nation’s capital.

The substance of the revelation is not shocking; most people know that big donors to campaigns, candidates and political organizations are made in the hopes of influencing policies to be more beneficial to the donors and their interests.

What was surprising about Mulvaney’s comments was how unabashed he was in stating this truth.

“If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you,” Mulvaney said at an American Bankers Association conference last week. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives for six years, representing South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. He served on the Financial Services and Small Business Committees.

The implication was clear — if you want to be heard in Washington, donate money to the people who have the power to do what you want.

Mulvaney appears to have continued that mindset while working for the White House, as both the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the latter on a temporary basis.

According to an analysis by The Daily Beast, Mulvaney has kept the practice of prioritizing meetings with donors. In his first nine months at the Office of Management and Budget, Mulvaney met with eight lobbyists and six executives who had donated to his congressional campaigns, visitor logs show. All had interests before federal agencies or finances that could be affected by the bureau.

“It sounds like Mulvaney is importing his pay to play operation from Congress into the administration,” Brendan Fischner, the director of federal reform programs at the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, said in an email to The Daily Beast.

This is not surprising in an administration that has little regard for ethics. President Donald Trump himself has refused to cut ties with his company, the Trump Organization, and he and his family often appear to be using the presidency to promote their business interests.

The Trump administration may be an egregious example, but buying influence is nothing new in Washington. “Mulvaney’s words, and apparently his actions, are just unvarnished examples of how the entire political system is tilted in favor of deep-pocketed special interests,” Fischner said.

There is one important caveat to Mulvaney’s congressional meeting hierarchy — his constituents were at the top of the meeting list, whether they contributed money or not. “If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talked to you without exception, regardless of the financial contributions,” Mulvaney told the bankers last week.

This is a lesson Rep. Bruce Poliquin should heed. The 2nd Congressional District representative does not allow anyone, including constituents, into his local offices without a pre-arranged appointment. Appointments at offices in Maine are typically with staff members, not the congressman himself.

By speaking the truth, Mulvaney reminds Americans of the sad truth that much of Congress and the White House aren’t working for them, but rather for the deep-pocketed donors who can buy access.

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