One thing you have to respect about the corrupt lobbying and campaign finance scene in Washington is that it’s creative, and always finding new ways to disappoint you. (You do not, in fact, have to respect it.) The Daily Beast, in conjunction with the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics, reported today that at least nine former legislators have used their campaign cash to donate to current members of Congress whom they also report lobbying on behalf of foreign governments. Neat!
According to the Daily Beast, at least 17 former members of Congress who are now lobbying for foreign governments have kept their campaign accounts active, which allows them to donate the money in that account to current members of Congress. Lobbyists write big checks to campaigns all the time—a total of $15 million in the 2018 cycle—and I’m sure that makes a dent in the ol’ wallet, so imagine how great it must be when they realize they can just substitute some of their unused campaign cash instead.
Former congressman Jim Moran, for example, donated his leftover campaign cash to not one but six current members of Congress whom he also contacted on behalf of the Qatari government, asking them to sign onto a letter to the Saudis about travel restrictions between the two nations.
I don’t know if it’s better or worse that these donations were not even that big:
The amounts donated were not huge—$500 or $1,000 is a drop in the bucket for most congressional campaigns—but such contributions can amount to a showing of public support for a legislator. Timed correctly, they can win a bit of favor at just the moment that a donor needs a meeting or a favor.
Just sending $500 to my former colleague to show him I’ve got his back, like when you Venmo your friend $20 with the beer emoji when they get laid off, but it’s $500 in former campaign funds and also it’s on behalf of Qatar. Like former representative Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida:
At the same time, the money from Miller’s still-active campaign committee began flowing. In May 2018, Jeff Miller for Congress contributed $1,000 to [GOP Rep. Joe] Wilson’s reelection effort. That donation came a month after Wilson held a public event with Qatar’s finance minister in Charleston. In October, Miller donated another $1,000.
A heartwarming example of male friendship.
If you were mad about the prospect that these former members of Congress might be using real people’s hard-earned cash, which they donated for reelection and not to lobby on behalf of Qatar or Saudi Arabia, don’t worry. In 2016, less than one percent of Miller’s campaign contributions were from small donors (people donating less than $200), according to OpenSecrets. Jim Moran, another former congressman mentioned in the story, received just two percent of his campaign funds from small donors during his last cycle in Congress.
So, a lesson: If you are considering donating to a congressional campaign, probably don’t donate to members who are also some of the biggest recipients of defense industry cash, or generally anyone who has the vibe that they’ll leave Congress and head straight to K Street. Avoid candidates with Big K Street Energy. Your money is better spent elsewhere.