11162019What's Hot:

‘It’s not like she hates lobbyists’: Warren’s Senate record doesn’t match her campaign rhetoric

Elizabeth Warren has proposed outlawing foreign governments from hiring lobbyists if elected. She’s pledged to tax “excessive lobbying” at rates as high as 75 percent. And in a speech in New York last month, she described lobbying as an “industry whose sole purpose is to undermine democracy and tilt every decision in favor of those who can pay.”

Even in a Democratic presidential field in which most candidates have sworn off contributions from lobbyists, Warren’s hostility to K Street stands out.

Story Continued Below

But while Warren’s campaign rhetoric has made the influence industry nervous, many lobbyists who’ve worked with the Massachusetts senator’s office say she’s far from antagonistic when it comes to doing business with K Street.

Six lobbyists who interacted with her office said they’d never had trouble getting meetings. Several of them said that while they’d be reluctant to bring corporate clients to meet with Warren’s leading progressive rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), they’d have no qualms about having them sit down with Warren.

“I don’t think she has anything against lobbyists,” said Camden Fine, the former head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, who worked closely with Warren for years. “It’s not like she hates lobbyists. That’s just not how she operates.”

When Warren was fighting to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2009, she helped persuade Fine’s trade group to not oppose the creation of the agency. She signed off on a deal that Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee at the time, struck with Fine that let community banks avoid being examined by the new agency.

“I actually think she’s more pragmatic than she gets credit for,” said Rich Gold, a longtime Democratic lobbyist and former Senate aide who’s worked with Warren’s office in the past.

Warren has also been accessible to at least some companies based in Massachusetts. She held a previously unreported town hall at Fidelity Investments’ Boston offices last year, answering questions from around 300 employees about financial regulation and other matters, according to a person briefed on the gathering.

While Warren is far from a reliable vote for corporate America’s priorities, she’s refrained from being as antagonistic as she could be, according to lobbyists who’ve worked with her office.

Lobbyists for one Massachusetts-based company met with Warren’s staff in 2015 when they feared she might put a hold on a bill the company wanted to pass, according to one of the lobbyists, who described the meeting on condition of anonymity. Warren voted against the bill but didn’t put a hold on it, allowing it to pass.

Warren’s office dismissed the notion that she’s even a little bit accommodating toward K Street.

“As the senior senator from Massachusetts, Senator Warren and her staff are respectful to plenty of people she disagrees with, but there is no one fighting harder to break the stranglehold of big money on Washington than Senator Warren,” a spokeswoman for Warren’s Senate office said in a statement, citing legislation Warren has proposed to “end lobbying as we know it.”

Like many of the other leading Democratic candidates, Warren doesn’t have much of a network on K Street. Remy Brim, a former health care aide in Warren’s Senate office who’s now a lobbyist at BGR Group, is perhaps the only Warren alumna who’s downtown.

Not every lobbyist who’s interacted with Warren’s Senate office has been impressed. One Democratic lobbyist who’s a former Senate staffer said he’d been shut out of Warren’s office and that he didn’t welcome the prospect of Warren in the White House.

“It was hard to get in to see the Obama people,” he said. “It will be 10 times harder to deal with her.”

Warren has proposed a blizzard of plans designed to make life harder for K Street if she’s elected, and they are popular with voters.

Nearly 50 percent of registered voters back her plan to tax companies that spend more than $ 500,000 a year on lobbying, while only 23 percent oppose it, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted earlier this month.

Her proposed bans on lobbyists representing foreign governments, writing checks to candidates, and hosting fundraisers for candidates are also popular.

Joe Biden also proposed banning foreign governments from lobbying as part of a set of proposals to rein in lobbyists’ influence. His plan also mandates much more extensive disclosure of lobbyists’ interactions with lawmakers and administration officials.

Warren’s plans would be a blow to K Street if Congress passed them into law. Lobbyists registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act have been paid more than $ 1.2 billion since 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That figure doesn’t include lobbying of foreign companies, such as Honda or Deutsche Bank, whose lobbyists aren’t considered foreign agents.

The First Amendment guarantees the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” and it’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would uphold Warren’s proposals if they were passed into law.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor, wrote in a letter to Warren on Tuesday that there were “strong arguments” that her proposal to ban lobbyists from making campaign contributions is constitutional.

And Joseph Fishkin, a University of Texas law professor, told POLITICO that while there’s limited case law addressing how aggressively the government can limit lobbying, most of Warren’s proposals were likely to be considered constitutional.

But Martin Redish, a Northwestern University law professor who studies constitutional law, said that while Warren’s plan to ban foreign governments, political parties and companies from hiring lobbyists is likely constitutional, several of her other proposals might not be. Warren’s proposed lobbying tax, in particular, is “so unambiguously unconstitutional that a court would throw it out in a matter of minutes,” he said. Redish described himself as a lifelong liberal Democrat who’s “much more likely to vote for Elizabeth Warren than I ever would be for Donald Trump.”

Warren, like most of her rivals for the Democratic nomination, has pledged to not accept campaign contributions from lobbyists. She’s also ruled out taking money from PACs and executives of hedge funds, private equity firms, big banks, big tech companies, and the pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries — restrictions that she didn’t place on either of her Senate campaigns.

Warren used some of the money she raised for her Senate campaign last year to kick-start her presidential campaign, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a supporter Joe Biden’s campaign, noted in an op-ed last month in which he called Warren a “hypocrite.”

“Instead of cynically attacking a handful of old donations dwarfed by millions of grassroots contributions in order to deflect from their own practices, every candidate for President should step up, reject federal lobbyist contributions, and support Elizabeth’s comprehensive anti-corruption platform, which would end it permanently,” Saloni Sharma, a Warren campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Several lobbyists said they weren’t especially worried about Warren’s proposals because she’s unlikely to get them through Congress even if she becomes president.

One lobbyist for a Massachusetts-based company who’s interacted with Warren’s Senate office said he didn’t think she was as antagonistic toward K Street as she seemed on the campaign trail.

“I think she’s as hostile toward lobbyists as anyone who’s running for president needs to be these days,” he said.

Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic