By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Standing in front of a poster of Hamer, Lee proclaimed the Black Caucus to be the “conscience of the Congress.” “It is,” she said, “the resistance movement inside the House of Representatives.” But hanging alongside Hamer’s portrait was a blue banner from war contractor Lockheed Martin, the main corporate sponsor of the lavishly appointed event (dinner, booze and entertainment for hundreds). The septuagenarian MFDP veterans were handed their award plaques from a blow-dried hack from Verizon, the event co-sponsor.
There are, of course, two ways to look at all of this. Either you believe that money permeates all politics and that the CBC is only doing what everybody else does and, in fact, has no choice other than to wet its beak with all the others. Or, conversely, you believe that the CBC ought to be, indeed, the conscience of the Congress and that calling upon the likes of Lockheed and Verizon to sponsor an homage to none other than Fannie Lou Hamer is, at a minimum, in abominably bad taste.
Things got worse the next night when I decided once again to follow the money. And it led right to the Wellfleet oysters and mango lobster cakes. And the grilled swordfish. And the stuffed figs and sushi. And to the ham, turkey, pasta, grilled vegetables, smoked duck, jumbo shrimp, fresh clams, cream puffs, napoleons and éclairs. And to the gourmet wine bar and two or three other free-flowing bars. And lapping all of this up late Monday night, the California Congressional Delegation and much of the cream of Democratic “progressivism” — including Dr. Dean and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
By day, they rail against special interests. By night, they party down with them.
This is no run-of-the-mill special interest. The money trail I refer to is the one the L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley has just launched a criminal investigation to sort out. It emanates from the corporate PR powerhouse Fleishman-Hillard, which is at the center of the still unfolding influence-peddling scandal stinking up Mayor Hahn’s City Hall.
That didn’t stop many a California Democrat from accepting the invitation from Fleishman-Hillard to party all night on the 50th “Skywalk” floor of the local Prudential Tower as the flacks picked up the gargantuan tab for what was certainly one of the most expensive, outré spreads thrown this week. There were Representatives Howard Berman, Zoe Lofgren, Ellen Tauscher, Adam Schiff, Lynne Woolsey and former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta as well as the aforementioned Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi.
“We’re here to celebrate the diversity of the California leadership,” said a beaming Bill Black, a Fleishman executive and former assistant to South Bay Congresswoman Jane Harman. Tolerance for diversity, for sure. A California delegation that couldn’t find a way to distance itself from a discredited gang of corporate trimmers, instead ready to be bought off with cream puffs and oysters.
I’m not being a purist or a naif. I don’t expect elected officials to steer completely clear of corporate cash — though it would be nice if they tried now and then. But so brazenly to commingle with such tainted funders at the precise moment that their handiwork is swamping the Democratic mayor of America’s second-largest city is truly mind-boggling.
But apparently, no one wants to offend the sacred cows with the golden teats. As I stood munching on the crisp jumbo shrimp and chewed the fat with Jerry Brown, a Latino delegate from Central California cut in to take his own whack at the seafood. “This must be Bustamante’s idea,” he said happily as he piled some shrimp on his plate. “Weren’t you at Davis’ second inauguration?” he asked me, reading the confusion on my face. “Cruz had this great reception and mounds and mounds of this same shrimp. This must be his idea!”
And who says the Democratic Party is bereft of fresh ideas? The shrimp verily crackled.
Sometime after midnight, both Dean and Pelosi spoke to the partygoers and repeated this year’s usual progre-babble lines about “taking back America.” But just exactly from whom are we going to be taking it back?
Indeed, the gala program was introduced by California delegation chair Zoe Lofgren, who profusely thanked the evening’s sponsors. Not only Fleishman but also SBC, VISA USA, Siemens, PG&E, Fluor, Hewlett-Packard, Technet, eBay, the Wine Institute, Genentech, Intel, Oracle, Symantec. And, yes, the air-traffic controllers union.
In case Lofgren’s list went by too fast, on the way out we were all handed a T-shirt with the same corporate sponsors’ names emblazoned on the back. Proper attire when we stand on the ramparts in that final coming battle to take back our country. See you there. Make sure to wear your shirt so we can recognize you from the enemy.