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NY Times: Freshman Party

NY Times - December 06, 2010

Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is one of the new Republican lawmakers swept into office last month on a promise to change the ways of Washington. “If we look like we’re doing business as usual,” the congressman-elect told a reporter last month, “then obviously the American people will say, ‘Well, what was that all about?’ ”

That’s a good question because one of the first things Mr. Kinzinger and many of his fellow freshmen did after examining their new offices on Capitol Hill was to hang out an “open for business” sign to the world of big-money lobbying and corporate fund-raising.

To pay off his campaign deficit, Mr. Kinzinger held a “debt retirement breakfast” on Nov. 19 at the Capitol Hill Club. Suggested donation: $5,000 for political action committees, and $2,400 for individuals. The political action committee of the National Automotive Dealers gave him $2,500 after the election, among other corporate givers.

As The Washington Post reported on Monday, several dozen freshman lawmakers have held these fund-raisers around town in the days after the election, raising at least $2 million in just the last month.

The high-spending campaign that ended in November was odious enough, but there is something even more unsavory about giving to a candidate after the election, when the outcome is known and the link between power and currying favor is even more evident.

That didn’t stop Bill Flores, a newly elected representative from Texas who held a fund-raiser to collect money from ExxonMobil and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Or Dan Benishek of Michigan, who took in money from Delta Air Lines and the K&L Gates lobbying firm. Or Chris Gibson and Michael Grimm of New York, Francisco Canseco of Texas, and David Schweikert of Arizona, among many others.

Representative Eric Cantor, the incoming Republican leader who has also vowed to shake up the ways of Washington, is having a fund-raiser this week at Ceiba, a high-end Washington restaurant, to celebrate the Seinfeld-inspired holiday of Festivus. The minimum contribution to Mr. Cantor’s political action committee is $500, although it is free to those who have already maxed out their donations.

The corrupting power of money in Washington is an old, bipartisan game. But this year’s Republican class ran with such virulence against the establishment that this rush to the trough seems especially hypocritical. “What was that all about,” Mr. Kinzinger, and friends?