Monday, March 19, 2007

Lobbyology 101: the mechanics of power

Some people have trouble wondering how the Lobby, representing less than 50% of a group that compromises 2% of the American population, wields so much power.  From an old (2002!) article (or here) by Michael Lind on the Lobby (emphasis in red):

“Most ethnic lobbies – of which the German and Irish diasporas were the most influential in the past – have based their power on votes, not money. (Most immigrant groups have been relatively poor at first, and have lost their ethnic identity on becoming more prosperous.) The influence of these lobbies has usually been confined to cities and states in which particular ethnic groups have been concentrated – Irish-American Boston, German-American Milwaukee, Cuban-American Miami. The emergent Latino lobby is similar in its geographic limitation. The small U.S. Jewish population (about 2 percent of the total) is highly concentrated in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and a few other areas.

The Israel lobby, however, is not primarily a traditional ethnic voter machine; it is an ethnic donor machine. Unique among ethno-political machines in the U.S., the Israel lobby has emulated the techniques of national lobbies based on economic interests (both industry groups and unions) or social issues (the National Rifle Association, pro- and anti-abortion groups). The lobby uses nationwide campaign donations, often funneled through local ‘astroturf’ (phony grassroots) organizations with names like Tennesseans for Better Government and the Walters Construction Management Political Committee of Colorado, to influence members of Congress in areas where there are few Jewish voters.

Stephen Steinlight, in an essay for the Center for Immigration Studies, describes how the Israel lobby uses donations to influence elected officials: ‘Unless and until the triumph of campaign finance reform is complete . . . the great material wealth of the Jewish community will continue to give it significant advantages. We will continue to court and be courted by key figures in Congress. That power is exerted within the political system from the local to national levels through soft money, and especially the provision of out-of-state funds to candidates sympathetic to Israel.’ Steinlight adds: ‘For perhaps another generation . . . the Jewish community is thus in a position to divide and conquer and enter into selective coalitions that support our agendas.’ Steinlight is the recently retired director of national affairs at the American Jewish Committee (AJC).”

The textbook case of how Lobby power operates is the unseating of Cynthia McKinney, who has now lost two opportunities to run in elections she would have easily won, in both cases losing due to rigged Democratic primaries financed by Lobby money.  In 2002, she lost to Denise Majette.  In an extremely anti-McKinney column, Michael Barone wrote:

“Even larger sums of money poured into Majette's campaign in July and August, mostly from outside Georgia, presumably from supporters of Israel or people repelled by McKinney's radical statements or her support from those linked to terrorism. McKinney's father Billy McKinney, an Atlanta state representative, when asked just days before the primary to explain why she ran, claimed the endorsement of former U.S. congressman and ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young (who had endorsed her in earlier campaigns but declined to do so in 2002), and said in front of an Atlanta TV station camera: ‘That ain't nothin'. Jews have bought everybody. Jews. J. E. W. S.’”

When she returned to Congress in 2004, the Democrats refused to recognize her seniority which would have made her ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee (a position which went to . . . rabid Zionist Tom Lantos).  In 2006, in an exact repeat of the 2002 fiasco, she lost the primary to Hank Johnson.  One of her supporters, Steve Muhammad, was a little politically incorrect, as recounted by the ADL (forcing McKinney to make a cutting apology):

“‘You got what you damn wanted. You got your Uncle Tom, now go put your cameras on him,’ referring to Hank Johnson, the African American candidate who defeated Ms. McKinney. He continued to rant, ‘You ain't in Israel and this ain't no Lebanese people, so back up. Gonna get your Jewish [expletive]… (inaudible)….’”

The Lobby will continue to run American foreign policy until Americans wake up and introduce real campaign finance reform.