Washington Babylon — November 16, 2009, 9:53 am

The Washington Version of the Twinkie Defense

The New York Times reported over the weekend that dozens of statements from members of congress printed in the Congressional Record during the House debate on health care “were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.”

“E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans,” said the newspaper. “Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.”

Some members of congress expressed regret for having their statements written by lobbyists, and said they assumed that their staffers had put the words in their mouths, not lobbyists. But an unnamed lobbyist “close to Genentech” defended the practice, saying “This happens all the time.”

It’s good to know that lobbyists routinely write statements for members of congress, but that defense — that these sorts of things “happen all the time” so it must be OK — isn’t very compelling. Try it during your next court appearance and see how the judge reacts.

(A few years ago I found that the lobby firm of Patton Boggs had drafted a statement for Congressman Joe Barton of Texas in support of its client Kazakhstan. “Mr Speaker, if the United States is to become truly energy independent, it must seek non-OPEC alternatives for our supply of oil,” Barton’s statement said. “Kazakhstan can — and is willing to — help greatly in this endeavor.” When asked about this, Barton’s spokesman replied: “Some think Congress has no business listening to people who are paid to know something. They think congressmen would do better to get all their information from newspapers and social activists. We think that’s baloney. We take our facts where we find them, and we use them where we choose.”)

Another version of that defense is when politicians claim that they deeply believe in campaign finance reform but they can’t actually restrict contributions to their own campaigns because that would amount to “unilateral disarmament.” Do a Google search with those words and “campaign finance” and you’ll see that it’s been trotted out forever as a justification for raking in as much cash as possible, by both Democrats and Republicans. There is some logic to the claim, but at bottom it’s simply an easy way to claim virtue and innocence while having neither, and it allows for political grandstanding and complete inaction. The perfect Washington combination.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2015

One Day Less

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dressed to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Wrong Prescription?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Travel Day

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fugue State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Avian Voices·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The mockingbird’s bath is an orgy of thrashing and writhing about. When he has finished, one of the innocents alights on the rim of the basin and looks with disbelief at the thimble of water remaining.”
Illustration by Eric Hanson
[Browsings]
Before the War·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’m worried that what the Houthis did to push Yemen into a civil conflict in September 2014, the Saudis may end up doing again when they end their campaign by eliminating the Houthis.”
Photograph by Alex Potter
Article
The Speakeasy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In order to understand how Marty’s could survive as an institution, I returned a year after my first visit to spend a week at what was sure to be the world’s bleakest comedy club.”
Photograph by Mike Slack
Post
The Lost Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I had first encountered some of these volumes—A Swiftly Tilting Planet, The Giver—as a child, and during adolescence, they registered as postcards from a homeland recently abandoned.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Wrong Prescription?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whatever the slogans suggested, the A.C.A. was never meant to include everyone.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Estimated cost of the environmental damage caused each year by the world’s 3,000 largest companies:

$2,200,000,000,000

Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.

Beekeepers began extracting 1 million honeybees living beneath the siding of a house in New York State.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today