The favorite senator of Wall Street and K Street explained to a liberal D.C. audience last week how to defang the Tea Party: offer a populist message that splits the grassroots from their wealthy donors.
Republicans should listen to this counsel, and turn the tables on Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
Schumer argued at the Center for American Progress on Thursday that the Tea Party is built on a foundation of deception: “Wealthy, hard Right, selfish, narrow” elites have fooled regular Tea Partiers into hating government. Schumer’s premise is that Big Government is the friend of the regular guy, and only the selfish wealthy elites benefit from more economic freedom.
It seems relevant, then, that Schumer — a dedicated liberal — is the most important congressional Democrat when it comes to fundraising. Schumer headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2006 and 2008 elections.
In 2008, Schumer’s DSCC raised more than $160 million, the all-time record for a Senate campaign committee. The DSCC’s $280 million raised over two cycles was 60 percent more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised over that same stretch.
Schumer, to fund his own elections, taps deep into the plutocracy he condemns. In the 2010 election, Schumer ran basically unopposed. Still he was the No. 1 Senate recipient of money from the insurance industry, private equity, hedge funds, Wall Street, real estate, the cable industry, and hospitals. Schumer was No. 3 in money from lobbyists, Hollywood, and mortgage bankers.
Schumer's Senate office seems to have its own revolving door that exits straight onto K Street. He is tied for third place, in all of Congress, for having the most staffers in the Center for Responsive Politics' revolving door database. Only Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., beat him on the revolving door scoreboard.
And Schumer knows how to profit from this revolving door action. In January 2007, when his party took charge of the Senate, he gathered some of America's wealthiest hedge-fund managers in a Manhattan restaurant and told them, in effect, start lobbying and giving money to politicians.
A few months later, Schumer's top banking staffer, Carmencita Whonder left for the K Street firm Brownstein Hyatt, which immediately picked up a handful of hedge fund and private equity clients. Whonder also became a volunteer fundraiser for Schumer, while other hedge fund millionaires raised money for Schumer's DSCC.
Schumer’s lucrative K Street game sheds light on Schumer’s other tactic for taking on the Tea Party: pass strict campaign finance regulations that rein in activist groups that want to run political ads.
The problem with outside groups engaging in political debate is that they take their case to the American people, instead of taking it to senators. How does its help Schumer if no lobbyists are wining and dining him, delivering him PAC checks, and hiring his staff?
So maybe conservatives shouldn’t put too much stock in Schumer’s comments about those evil wealthy folks trying to rig policy to their benefit.
But still, Schumer’s arguments can teach conservatives something important.
Schumer understands that politics is largely about showing voters that you are on their side. This effort has two parts: First, fight for the regular guy. Second, fight against the special interests. Conservatives need to beat Schumer at this.
Schumer thinks Democrats can split of some Tea Partiers with a bill to extend emergency unemployment benefits. Republicans mostly accept this extension if Congress can pay for its $6.4 billion cost. Here’s one way Republicans could try to to pay for it: kill $6.4 billion of corporate welfare.
Would Democrats really be able to vote "no" on a bill that extended emergency unemployment benefits, and paid for it by taking $6.4 billion out of the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program? Or cut a federal boondoggles such as high-speed rail and fossil-fuel research. Trim a few billion here, a few billion there, and you’ve got the bill paid for.
Of course, Democrats would hate trimming corporate welfare for their clients. Schumer and friends would suddenly find themselves choosing between helping the unemployed, and sticking by their party’s donors.
Republicans could beat Schumer at his divide-and-conquer populist game —if Republicans are willing to actually battle corporate welfare themselves.Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.