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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

by Benjamin Landy

Policy Associate, The Century Foundation

With the possibility of comprehensive tax reform finally on the horizon, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)—the man in charge of overseeing any revision to the nation’s tax code—has found himself in the harsh glare of the national spotlight. Several media profiles in the past month have called into question the senator’s relationships with the corporate interest groups most likely to be affected by any tax changes emanating from his office. Indeed, a list of his top campaign donors, obtained from the nonpartisan Center on Responsive Politics, reads like a veritable “who’s who” of Big Business:

Equally troubling are the 28 former Baucus aides currently lobbying on tax issues on Capitol Hill—more than any other current member of Congress, according to a recent New York Times exposé. “K Street is literally littered with former Baucus staffers,” brags one executive who retained the services of Mary Burke Baker, a former staffer who helped pave the way for millions in corporate tax perks secured by the senator as part of last year’s fiscal cliff deal.

“Sean Neary, spokesman for Baucus, does an able job defending his boss, offering examples of times when ex-Baucus aides lobbied for tax changes that Baucus ultimately rejected,” writes Ezra Klein in an expert analysis of the ongoing controversy. “And Neary is right: Baucus doubtlessly ignores endless entreaties from former staffers and current contributors. But the point of hiring Baucus’s former aides isn’t that they can seamlessly insert any language they want into the final legislation. It’s that they have a direct line to Baucus, and to the people around Baucus, and that gives them a huge advantage.”

The fact is that human beings are more likely to find arguments convincing when they’re coming from friends rather than strangers or enemies. That’s the key to most of the lobbying in Washington. It’s not about leveraging bribes so much as it’s about leveraging relationships—and that makes it harder to stamp out.

In that sense, there’s nothing particularly unique about the Baucus affair. Money has always acted as a megaphone in Washington, giving outsized influence to those interests—corporate or otherwise—that can “pay to play.” But it does call into question whether Congress is even capable of the real tax reform that would truly benefit the public at the expense of their political patrons.

  • Lynda Groom

    Seriously? A totally redundant question. They (Congress) will follow the instructions of those who own them on the issue of tax fairness. It is painfully obvious that our Congress, if they accomplish anything it will be to the benefit of the well connected and moneyed interest. Business as usual.

  • Faraday_Cat

    Public campaign finance ONLY…unless anyone has a better idea, I think that’s the only way we are going to have representatives who actually work for those they represent.

  • Sand_Cat

    Can Congress be trusted with anything? That’s the question.

  • I am more worried about Barack Obama’s flip flopping on the centerpiece of Democratic Party values – our Social programs – than whatever Congress has in mind for the future. At this point the choice for the averge voter is who do you mistrust the least.

  • Pamby50

    If Elizabeth Warren was re-writing the tax code, I could go for it.

  • margie

    AS long as the lobbyists are in control of our government we the people have little say in what takes place. WE NEED TO GET RID OF THE CORRUPTION BY THE LOBBYISTS SO THE GOVERNMENT IS RETURNED TO THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE! NO MORE POLITICIANS THAT ARE BOUGHT AND PAID FOR! GET THE MONEY OUT OF GOVERNMENT!

  • there is not a one of them I would trust to do the right thing for this country, they are there for the money and the perks and freebies, nothing more. not a one of them have morales or scruples or american values. shame on the whole damned bunch of liars and theives