February 9, 2012

CPAC Opens With Address By Granddaughter Of GOP President Who Fought Back Against Lobbyists

CPAC Opens With Address By Granddaughter Of GOP President Who Fought Back Against LobbyistsToday, CPAC, the most important conservative convention of the year, opens with an address by Susan Eisenhower. Her grandfather President Dwight Eisenhower represented another era, when many in both parties rebuked special interests.

President Eisenhower despised the growing corporate influence lobbies. In 1956, for example, Senator Lyndon Johnson and Congressman Sam Rayburn, backed by aggressive lobbying from several powerful gas companies, attempted to pass a law that would deregulate the gas industry. Responding to wide reports of influence peddling, including the claim by South Dakota Senator Francis Case that a gas interest attempted to bribe his vote for $2,500, Eisenhower vetoed the bill (even though he supported aspects of the policy). In his veto message, Eisenhower slammed the natural gas lobbyists’ campaign as:

… so arrogant and so much in defiance of acceptable standards of propriety as to risk creating doubt among the American people concerning the integrity of governmental processes.”

Of course, Eisenhower is also remembered for his fiery farewell address, which warned of an unstoppably large military industrial lobby:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Conservatives stand at a crossroads. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has called for weakening the lobbying power of government contractors, while Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) have led on transparency. Despite these bold voices on cleaning up Washington, most establishment Republicans practice secrecy and crony capitalism.

The Stock Act, which receives a vote today in the House, is a case in point. Last week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) managed to attach a strong amendment to the bill forcing K Street firms that relay inside political information to Wall Street investors to simply register as lobbyists. Finance industry lobbyists swiftly lined up against the Grassley measure, according to the New York Times and other reports. The Stock Act today reflects the wishes of the lobbyists. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) stripped out the Grassley amendment.

Eisenhower’s legacy overshadows much of Washington, including CPAC, which now counts Google, Altria, Koch Industries, and other corporations as top sponsors. While some have duplicated his courage against corruption, many have betrayed their small government principles in exchange for campaign contributions and other financial rewards.