Anonymous Industry Sources Control Congress

by: Matt Stoller

Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 14:43


There's a widespread debate in media circles about how often to use anonymous sources, and I understand why it is sometimes necessary.  That said, the practice is now so commonly abused that many journalists feel no compunction whatsoever in passing off anonymous rumors as credible news.  Take this 'article' by Peter Cohn of CongressDaily, which purports to be about a possible successor to Charlie Rangel on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but quickly devolves into a gossip-y and entirely anonymous set of industry lobbyists unaccountably sniping at the progressive Democrat next in line for the job, Pete Stark.

It starts with an anonymous Republican lobbyist - who has no vote in Congress - discussing elected official Charlie Rangel.

"He's a long way from going down," said a GOP tax lobbyist.

Then an anonymous Democrat - aide, member, lobbyist, someone - goes on to attack Stark.  Apparently they are close to leadership, which rules out, well, perhaps Dennis Kucinich.

"The conventional wisdom is he would have a tough time getting elected chairman," said a Democrat close to leadership.

Then it moves to a nice claim by 'sources' that Stark is prone to 'gaffes', ie. statements that make people in DC uncomfortable.

From suggesting Republicans were sending troops to Iraq to die "for the president's amusement" to referring to a former GOP lawmaker as a "little fruitcake," Stark is prone to gaffes, sources said.

Of course, anonymous industry lobbyists must have their say, and the anonymous business community registers its firm disapproval.

"The guy behind [Rangel] is just not tenable. Republicans would have a field day," an industry lobbyist said, while noting the business community would "go nuclear. It would just be open warfare."
Matt Stoller :: Anonymous Industry Sources Control Congress
Anonymous industry sources then discuss which popularly elected member of Congress they will agree to work with.

He is also seen as very much in tune with the labor movement, although industry sources said Levin was someone they could work with, as opposed to Stark.

Then anonymous sources put forward their 'too liberal' ideological screen against Jim McDermott, who apparently isn't gaffe-prone, just liberal.

Next is Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who is seen as a bit more of a pragmatist than Stark but still in the too-liberal category. He also is a highly partisan figure, and sources said there was generally little reason to reach down the seniority list to tap McDermott.

Anonymous industry sources continue discussing how elected Democratic lawmakers need to manage Congressional relations.

Then there is Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis, D-Ga., the well-liked, highly respected former civil rights leader whose selection could smooth over relations with the Congressional Black Caucus if Rangel were nudged out. "Rangel is the dean of the CBC, and that's nothing to be smirked at," an industry source said.

And then industry sources give their seal of approval to the one popularly elected Democratic lawmaker they will agree to work with.

Finally, there is Select Revenue Measures Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., who is the favorite of the business community among potential successors and has labor bona fides as well. Neal is seen as a bright, active and relatively young chairman-in-waiting, but as fifth in seniority after Rangel, the time may not yet be ripe to choose him, sources said.

And anonymous industry source also points out that Rangel is in trouble, which, while widely known, this must be said anonymously.

But another industry source, while noting the lack of a smoking gun, referred to the steady drumbeat of allegations as potentially damaging. "In this town, impression often matters more than fact," the source said.

And there we go.  'Journalist' Peter Cohn puts together a wholly conventional ideological hit job on Democrat Pete Stark using nine anonymous quotes or statements attributed to 'sources'.  Not one single person will go on the record to discuss why the seniority system shouldn't work in the case of Stark, not one policy idea is considered in the article vis-a-vis Stark or anyone else's record, and the reader learns nothing about the tax writing committee from it other than nine anonymous sources in Congress think something.  Apparently, the amorphous business community will 'go nuclear', whatever that means, Stark is gaffe-prone, but neither the public, policy, or the shift leftward in Congress as evidenced by Waxman's recent committee victory in the Energy and Commerce tussle are even referenced.

And this is the point.  One of the most insidious aspects of DC is how the conventional wisdom that dominates policy-making is shaped by an interplay between reporters and lobbyists, with ideas and voters entirely cut out.  Based on this article, I have no idea if Stark would write good tax law or manage the committee well, I have no idea who the people are that are criticizing him and so the criticisms are entirely devoid of context, and Stark - Air Force vet, successful businessman, and experienced legislator - is completely powerless to respond.  This unaccountable and unelected system, where industry lobbyists and their incestuous journalistic partners directly contradict the power vested by the public in our elected officials, is why the public hates the Beltway and its trappings of power.  


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Stark speaks truth to power (4.00 / 3)
I have admired him since he put a peace symbol on his bank back in the early 70s.  It may be he is too prone to bluntly speak his mind to be the best chair.  But in these days, we need someone who has not sold his soul for campaign contributions as it appears that Rangel has done.

And this anonymous crap spreads acroos ALL major papers, (4.00 / 1)
even those who have explicit policies against such unnecessary granting of anonymity. How to stop this? Obviously, the "Brad DeLong approach" of crying "why oh why can't we have a better press corps" doesn't work. :D

Maybe an orchestrated effort to spam the ombudsmen with critical letters would make a difference?  


It's incredibly myopic (4.00 / 4)
The anonymous quotes seem to view links to organised labour as a black mark. This is ridiculous and shows a mindset still stuck in 2005.

Just about all non-Southern Democrats have good links to labour and Democrats won big in 2006 and 2008. Labour's star is in the ascendant. Big business can whine and scratch, but the unions were backing Democrats long before they were so I don't quite see how they could expect to have it granted that the head of Ways and Means would not be a friend of labour.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog


I Like Stark's Politics But (0.00 / 0)
I find his behavior boorish and immature.  I don't think he would be a good Chair of the Ways and Means Committee because of his temperment.  Regardless of people's political views, I do think members of Congress should uphold some standards of decorum which Stark is incapable of doing.

I do not think it is appropriate to accuse a female member of Congress (Nancy Johnson) of learning all she knows about health care from "pillow talk" with her physician husband as Stark did during health reform in 1994.  I also don't think it is appropriate to call another member of Congress (Scott McInnis) a "fruitcake" during a debate as Stark did and then challenge him to a fight.  

I don't agree with either on substance but smart people can find a way to make good strong arguments without insulting their opponents.

Waxman and Stark are polar opposites when it comes to temperment.  Waxman is going to be a good Chair of Energy and Commerce because he holds progressive views, is tough and can make his points without demeaning his opponents.  I don't see Stark being able to do the same.


Because Stark Is 1/100th The Bare Knuckle Boor That Gingrich Is (4.00 / 3)
We should ignore the normal seniority system, and bow to the wishes of the GOP and business lobbyists.

Good to know!

Why don't we just have a rule that no Democrat can run for Congress if they raise their voice above 30 decibles?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
It Is Not About (4.00 / 1)
raising your voice.  Lots of people do it but people like Waxman seem to be able to do it without using personal attacks.  In fact, most people would tell you Waxman is a far more effective legislator than Stark and I am sure his temperment has something to do with it.

I am all for a good, tough debate.  In fact I love a great political/policy argument but you step over the line when you attack people personally and Stark does it pretty regularly.  I saw it in my former life when I worked in Congress.

In the end I have no bone in this fight and really could care less what the lobbyist think.  However, a large part of Obama's agenda has to move through the Ways and Means Committee and I don't think Stark has the people or political skills to move major legislation through the Committee and that worries me.  Time will tell if I am right.


[ Parent ]
well (0.00 / 0)
If you said that anonymously, you might be quotable.

[ Parent ]
LOL! (0.00 / 0)
One of my goals in life has been to be quoted anonymously in an article.

[ Parent ]
definition of a gaffe (4.00 / 2)
it is amazing what constitutes a gaffe and what is considered to be a hilarious joke.

This Is Proof Positive That Stark's The Man For The Job (4.00 / 5)
The notion that Republicans and business lobbyists should determine who the Democratic leadership is may be "common sense" in Versailles, which is precisely why we should follow George Costanza's lead, and do "The Opposite."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Two observations ... (4.00 / 5)
1. Lobbyists, with the help of a complicit reporter, are trying to influence who gets chosen for a top Congressional Committee chair.

2. The assumption is that the Committee Chairperson works to serve the interests of the lobbyists/industries that the committee represents, and is not working to serve ordinary folks.

I don't think that's too big a stretch from reality. I mean, I think these Congressional chairpersons actually consider it their job to serve the interests of the industries that their committee represents.  


Are You INSANE??? (4.00 / 1)
2. The assumption is that the Committee Chairperson works to serve the interests of the lobbyists/industries that the committee represents, and is not working to serve ordinary folks.

Have you been totally brainwashed by the GOP?

Committees in Congress do not represent "lobbyists/industries".  This is Gingrich-speak.

They represent the people in addressing the particular subjects that are the concern of the committee.

The capture of committees by corporate special interests is a diseased state indicative of a deeply dysfunctional democracy.  And you are treating it as if it were perfectly normal.

So I reapeat: Are you insane?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Paul, honestly (4.00 / 3)
He was referring to the tone of the article, not his own beliefs.

[ Parent ]
Well, Then He Needs An Editor (0.00 / 0)
My rates are surprisingly competitive, to use GOP-speak.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
talk about needing an editor (0.00 / 0)
Do we really need this juvenile crap of yours?

I was so pleased to see the "flamewars" diary. And there's this. What a shame.  


[ Parent ]
thanks (0.00 / 0)
you're right

[ Parent ]
flamewar, anyone? (0.00 / 0)
My point was that this is a sad fact of life in Congress -- that THEY, the Congressman, think that they're there to serve industry, and not us.

I especially think it's true of career politicians, the folks who've been there for 15 - 20 years.

It's up to us to remind them that they're there to serve us.

Paul, you should calm your ass down.  


[ Parent ]
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