Congressional Republicans have made it official — rich people matter more than you.
According to leaked documents obtained by The Intercept’s Lee Fang and Nick Surgey, along with the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy, Congressional Republicans are allowing donors to have private access to their top-level staffers if they donate $5,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and/or the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The leaked NRSC document stated all the benefits to staffer access donors would receive:
While the meetings aren’t with the members themselves, the fact that major donors are allowed to have private meetings with staffers who are tasked with handling the grunt work of coordinating investigations, writing legislation and organizing committee meetings could mean that these donors will play a significant role in how the legislative branch operates. According to the U.S. Senate website, this appears to cross the government-instituted boundary between government work and campaign work (emphasis ours):
Senate resources may only be used for official purposes. No official resources (e.g., Senate space, equipment, staff time) may be used to conduct campaign activities… Subject to the restriction on handling federal campaign funds (see discussion below on Political Fund Designees), Senate employees are free to engage in campaign activity on their own, as volunteers or for pay, provided they voluntarily do so on their own time, outside of Senate space, and without using Senate resources. Staff may not be required to do campaign work as a condition of Senate employment.
Another leaked NRSC document suggests that this isn’t new, but is already happening. In February, “Article One” donors were given access to a meeting with Hazen Marshall — a lobbyist whom Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently named as the new policy director for his office:
“This is the first time I have heard of party fundraisers based on pay-for-access to congressional staff,” Public Citizen ethics expert Craig Holman told The Intercept. “It raises serious issues of ethics and corruption.”
However, Republican campaign finance lawyers are standing by the legality of the arrangement. Attorney Chris Ashby told The Intercept that as long as staffers don’t use official emails for donor communication or Congressional insignia on letterhead for documents used in briefings, they’re within the boundaries of the law.
“We allow members to use their titles in political communications, I think the same allowance fairly applies to staffers,” Ashby told Fang and Surgey. “What staffers should not do is use or permit the use of their job titles or any other government indicia — such as official seals or office email accounts — in such a way that expresses or implies the support of the government for their political activities.”
Tom Cahill is a writer for the Resistance Report based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Facebook by clicking here.