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Washington Matters

Turning Off the Money Spigot

It was only a three-paragraph statement by a head of an industry trade group and it could easily have gone unnoticed. But this was a challenge to The Way Things Are Done. Unhappy that the just-passed economic stimulus plan did not do not do more to help the struggling housing industry, the president of the National Association of Home Builders let it be known that NAHB's political action committee would halt contributions to congressional campaigns "until further notice."


Makes sense, right? You don't pay for what you don't get. But in Washington, lobbyists are not supposed to expect anything explicit for contributions. Legally, that wouldn't be a campaign contribution but a bribe. It's one of the great fictions in Washington that there is no direct connection between campaign cash and legislation -- that lobbyists expect only access to lawmakers, not favors from them. No one believes that but everybody repeats it. To do otherwise would deprive lawmakers of their lifeblood and lobbyists of their livelihood. But now NAHB, one of the largest industry groups in town with a PAC that routinely spreads over a million dollars a year to campaign coffers, is breaking the rules.

NAHB clearly hopes that its sharp message will make a difference. But the risk is that  NAHB lobbyists will be wandering the halls of official Washington looking in vain for an open door.