The Wholly Unholy, Corpocratic, New Democrat(ic) Party, Had a Beginning – The Anatomy of Betrayal

IMO, a must read stroll through memory lane, tightly clutched barf-bag in hand…

How the DLC Does It


DECEMBER 19, 2001


(Excerpt from a much longer article)

Representative Gregory Meeks, an African-American lawyer and assistant district attorney elected to Congress in 1998 to represent a middle-class black neighborhood in Queens, New York, was undecided last year on the divisive issue of trade rights for China. Lobbyists for big business were battling the AFL-CIO and environmental groups on Capitol Hill for every vote, and Meeks, who’d previously voted against granting fast-track negotiating authority to President Clinton, was a prize.

Sensing an opportunity, Representative Cal Dooley, a moderate California Democrat closely allied with that state’s high-tech sector, moved in. As co-chairman of the House New Democrat Coalition, a bloc allied with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), Dooley was targeting fence-sitters to vote aye. Along with fellow New Democrats Harold Ford, Jr., of Tennessee and Bob Matsui of California, Dooley hooked Meeks up with a stream of corporate officials from Silicon Valley and the New York financial district. “My boss made sure there’d be support for Meeks from the business community,” says a Dooley aide. “He spread the word, through groups like the Business Roundtable, that here was a guy who deserved their support.”

“Congressman Dooley helped bring in businesses who otherwise Congressman Meeks would not have known, and didn’t have a relationship with, to knock on his door. As a result, scores of meetings were held with the congressman,” says an aide to Meeks, citing sit-downs with the CEOs of American Airlines and New York Life Insurance Company. High-tech executives helped ensure that Meeks would be one of two undecided members to accompany President Clinton on his high-profile trip to China before the vote, the aide said; and Meeks also won significant backing from industry political action committees, which ended up nearly matching labor’s donations to Meeks’s campaign treasury. Included were $5,000 PAC contributions from American Airlines and New York Life. And in the end, Meeks voted business’s way.

The DLC’s effort to win Meeks’s vote was part of a vigorous campaign by New Democrats to assure legislators that business groups would replace campaign contributions from labor lost by a pro-business China vote. In The New Democrat, the DLC’s monthly magazine, Washington’s most powerful business lobbyist, Thomas J. Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote that even though some members of Congress risked losing the AFL-CIO’s support, “business will stick by Democrats on the China trade vote.”

Simon Rosenberg, the former field director for the DLC who directs the New Democrat Network, a spin-off political action committee, says, “We’re trying to raise money to help them lessen their reliance on traditional interest groups in the Democratic Party. In that way,” he adds, “they are ideologically freed, frankly, from taking positions that make it difficult for Democrats to win.”

A Business-Led Party

Freeing Democrats from being, well, Democrats has been the Democratic Leadership Council’s mission since its founding 16 years ago by Al Gore, Chuck Robb, and a handful of other conservative, mostly southern Dems as a rump faction of disaffected elected officials and party activists. Producing and directing the DLC is Al From, its founder and CEO, who’s been the leader, visionary, and energizing force behind the New Democrat movement since Day One. A veteran of the Carter White House and Capitol Hill, where he’d worked for Louisiana Representative Gillis Long and served as executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, From helped build the Committee on Party Effectiveness, a forerunner of the DLC, in the early 1980s. To From, a key rationale for establishing the DLC in those days was to protect the Democrats’ eroding bastion in the South against mounting Republican gains, and indeed one of the DLC’s chief projects in the 1980s was to create and promote the Super Tuesday primary across the South, aimed at enhancing the clout of southern Dems in selecting presidential candidates.

Privately funded and operating as an extraparty organization without official Democratic sanction, and calling themselves “New Democrats,” the DLC sought nothing less than the miraculous: the transubstantiation of America’s oldest political party. Though the DLC painted itself using the palette of the liberal left–as “an effort to revive the Democratic Party’s progressive tradition,” with New Democrats being the “trustees of the real tradition of the Democratic Party”–its mission was far more confrontational. With few resources, and taking heavy flak from the big guns of the Democratic left, the DLC proclaimed its intention, Mighty Mouse–style, to rescue the Democratic Party from the influence of 1960s-era activists and the AFL-CIO, to ease its identification with hot-button social issues, and, perhaps most centrally, to reinvent the party as one pledged to fiscal restraint, less government, and a probusiness, pro–free market outlook.

It’s hard to argue that they haven’t succeeded.

Today’s is not your father’s Democratic Party. Though the dwindling chorus of party progressives provides counterpoint, today’s Democrats are proud to claim the mantle of budgetary moderation. They oppose President Bush’s $2-trillion tax-cut plan not by arguing mainly for more spending on health, education, and welfare, but because it risks the new sacred cause of paying off the national debt. They are the party of increased military spending, the death penalty, the war on drugs, and partnership with religious faith. They are the party of Ending Welfare As We Know It, the party of The Era of Big Government Is Over.

The New Democrats, who helped bring about this shift, have surged in power and influence. The DLC and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), have blossomed into a $7-million-a-year operation. The New Democrat Network (NDN), which provides funds to dozens of certified co-thinkers in federal, state, and local races, raised nearly $6 million last year. Twenty U.S. senators and 70 members of the House of Representatives have formally affiliated themselves with New Democrat caucuses, and hundreds of state and local elected officials are signing on. The three men who’ve dominated the last three presidential tickets, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Joseph Lieberman, the DLC’s most recent chairman, are all quintessential New Democrats. So are many of the party’s rising stars, such as Senator John Edwards of North Carolina; Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, the DLC’s new chairman; and Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Though the DLC offers a nominal $50 membership to anyone interested, its mass base is minuscule. “There’s a New Democrat audience of about 5,000 to 10,000 people who get our stuff on a regular basis,” says Matthew Frankel, the DLC’s spokesman. And with a nonexistent grass-roots presence, the DLC is generally unknown except to practitioners of “inside baseball” politics. Yet the affiliation of scores of members of Congress has enabled the DLC to establish alliances with Fortune 500 corporate supporters, particularly along the so-called K Street corridor of Washington-based lobbyists and in high-tech enclaves such as California’s Silicon Valley.

Once, the Reverend Jesse Jackson disparaged the DLC as “Democrats for the Leisure Class.” But no one should underestimate the DLC’s role in remaking the Democratic Party. Disciplined and single-minded, working tirelessly to forge alliances between individual Democratic elected officials and business groups, zealously promoting the political fortunes of their stars, and publishing a dizzying array of white papers and policy proposals, the DLC has given strategic coherence to what otherwise would have remained an inchoate tendency within the party. It has become a forum within which like-minded pro-business Democrats can share ideas, endorse one another, and commiserate about the persistence of the Old Guard.

“We’re a party that’s going through a transition from one ideology to another,” says NDN’s Rosenberg. “It was 40 years between the creation of the National Review and Newt Gingrich’s takeover of Congress in 1994. We’re only 16 years into this. Are we challenging old ways and leaders who’ve been around for a while? Are we being contentious? Yes.”

Of course, it is easier to be contentious when you are well financed. And the DLC message of pro-market moderation is just what organized business wants to hear. From its modest beginnings–with a start-up budget of just $400,000 in its first year, cobbled together at fundraisers starring Robb, former President Jimmy Carter, and K Street Democratic eminence Bob Strauss–the DLC patiently cultivated wealthy individuals and corporate backers. By 1990 the combined DLC-PPI operation boasted revenues of $2.2 million, a big chunk of which came from a single source, New York hedge fund operator Michael Steinhardt, who pledged $500,000 a year for three years. (Steinhardt, whose actual donations came to half that in the end, was named chairman of the newly formed PPI’s board of trustees, before falling out with the DLC in the mid-1990s.)

One by one, Fortune 500 corporate backers saw the DLC as a good investment. By 1990 major firms like AT&T and Philip Morris were important donors. Indeed, according to Reinventing Democrats, Kenneth S. Baer’s history of the DLC, Al From used the organization’s fundraising prowess as blandishment to attract an ambitious young Arkansas governor to replace Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia as DLC chairman. Drawing heavily on internal memos written by From, Bruce Reed, and other DLCers, Baer says that the DLC offered Clinton not only a national platform for his presidential aspirations but “entree into the Washington and New York fundraising communities.” Early in the 1992 primaries, writes Baer, “financially, Clinton’s key Wall Street support was almost exclusively DLC-based,” especially at firms like New York’s Goldman, Sachs.

The DLC’s investment in Clinton paid off, of course, after the 1992 election. Not only did the DLC bask in its status as idea factory and influence broker for the White House, but it also reaped immediate financial rewards. One month after the election, Clinton headlined a fundraising dinner for the DLC that drew 2,200 to Washington’s Union Station, where tables went for $15,000 apiece. Corporate officials and lobbyists were lined up to meet the new White House occupant, including 139 trade associations, law firms, and companies who kicked in more than $2 million, for a total of $3.3 million raised in a single evening. The DLC-PPI’s revenues climbed steadily upward, reaching $5 million in 1996 and, according to its most recent available tax returns, $6.3 million for 1999. “Our revenues for 2000 will probably end up around $7.2 million,” says Chuck Alston, the DLC’s executive director.

While the DLC will not formally disclose its sources of contributions and dues, the full array of its corporate supporters is contained in the program from its annual fall dinner last October, a gala salute to Lieberman that was held at the National Building Museum in Washington. Five tiers of donors are evident: the Board of Advisers, the Policy Roundtable, the Executive Council, the Board of Trustees, and an ad hoc group called the Event Committee–and companies are placed in each tier depending on the size of their check. For $5,000, 180 companies, lobbying firms, and individuals found themselves on the DLC’s board of advisers, including British Petroleum, Boeing, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Coca-Cola, Dell, Eli Lilly, Federal Express, Glaxo Wellcome, Intel, Motorola, U.S. Tobacco, Union Carbide, and Xerox, along with trade associations ranging from the American Association of Health Plans to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. For $10,000, another 85 corporations signed on as the DLC’s policy roundtable, including AOL, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Citigroup, Dow, GE, IBM, Oracle, UBS PacifiCare, PaineWebber, Pfizer, Pharmacia and Upjohn, and TRW.

And for $25,000, 28 giant companies found their way onto the DLC’s executive council, including Aetna, AT&T, American Airlines, AIG, BellSouth, Chevron, DuPont, Enron, IBM, Merck and Company, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Texaco, and Verizon Communications. Few, if any, of these corporations would be seen as leaning Democratic, of course, but here and there are some real surprises. One member of the DLC’s executive council is none other than Koch Industries, the privately held, Kansas-based oil company whose namesake family members are avatars of the far right, having helped to found archconservative institutions like the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy. Not only that, but two Koch executives, Richard Fink and Robert P. Hall III, are listed as members of the board of trustees and the event committee, respectively–meaning that they gave significantly more than $25,000.

The DLC board of trustees is an elite body whose membership is reserved for major donors, and many of the trustees are financial wheeler-dealers who run investment companies and capital management firms–though senior executives from a handful of corporations, such as Koch, Aetna, and Coca-Cola, are included. Some donate enormous amounts of money, such as Bernard Schwartz, the chairman and CEO of Loral Space and Communications, who single-handedly finances the entire publication of Blueprint, the DLC’s retooled monthly that replaced The New Democrat. “I sought them out, after talking to Michael Steinhardt,” says Schwartz. “I like them because the DLC gives resonance to positions on issues that perhaps candidates cannot commit to.”

A key member of the event committee for the 2000 annual fall dinner was Mike Lewan, who runs a boutique lobbying house that has represented clients such as Oracle and BellSouth. In the late 1980s, Lewan, who joined the DLC because he was “one of those disaffected Democrats,” went to work as Lieberman’s chief of staff–and promptly introduced the Connecticut senator to the DLC. Today, Lewan helps recruit support for the DLC on K Street. “It’s astonishing to me how much support the DLC is getting from the professional Washington people, the lawyers, the lobbyists,” he says. “There’s a relationship and a trust level that’s been built up.”

Joining Lewan on the event committee were several dozen of Washington’s elite lobbyists, including representatives from the Dutko Group, Greenberg Traurig, the Wexler Group, Verner, Liipfert, and SVP Kessler and Associates, all with blue-chip clients, along with lobbyists for Chevron, Citigroup, Salomon Smith Barney, and others. One was Arthur Lifson, vice president for federal affairs at Cigna Corporation, one of the nation’s largest health insurers and a company that stands to gain enormously if, say, Medicare were privatized along the lines proposed by the DLC and by one of its founders, Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. “The DLC is trying to bring some fresh ideas to Medicare and to dealing with the uninsured,” says Lifson, whose company is listed as a member of the DLC’s policy roundtable. “It builds on changes that are taking place in the marketplace, rather than turning everything on its head [like] Hillary Care.” Lifson frankly endorses the DLC as a counterweight to “populists … at the other end of the party.” …continue reading at source:

  • Liberius Cato

    Editing in the snark as I read more of it:

    When Jimmy Carter or Al Gore embrace anything, your first instinct should be to stay away from it. If they’re both pushing for it, don’t walk, run.

    I agreed with Jesse Jackson on something? I feel dirty.

    Am I the only person that reads “counterweight to populists” as “impediment to democracy”, or is that just me?

    • aprescoup

      The New Democrats(publicly sold as rational and reasonable, centrists and moderates) are our own pestilent DINO version of RINOs. The DINO/RINO convergence proposes to sell us all a totalitarian, neo-feudal, reality as TINA (Thatchers preclusion of any other alternative but theirs…)

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