Donald Trump famously pledged to “drain the swamp” of Washington if elected president, getting rid of all the career politicians and lobbyists who buy and sell access and screw the little guy in the process.
Fifteen-ish months into Trump’s presidency, the swamp hasn’t been drained just yet. In fact, you could argue it’s swampier than ever.
Witness these comments by Mick Mulvaney, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in a speech to banking executives on Tuesday (bolding is mine):
“What you do here matters. We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you. If you came from back home and sat in my lobby, I talked to you without exception regardless of the financial contributions.”
In case you missed it, what Mulvaney said was this: A lobbyist who didn’t donate to his campaigns had a 0% chance of getting into to see him. One that donated to his campaign had a better chance.
The equation outlined in that quote is a simple one: campaign contributions = access to a member of Congress. And there’s nothing swampier than that.
But, but, but – White House allies argued – Mulvaney also said that anyone from “back home” was guaranteed to get an audience with him whether or not they donated to his campaigns! How can he be a swamp creature when he’s saying that he always met with his constituents independent of whether they gave him money?
The answer is that Mulvaney’s comments about his constituents have nothing to do with what he said about lobbyists. Mulvaney was an elected member of Congress. His salary was paid for by taxpayers. He doesn’t get an award from not demanding that his constituents give him money in order to meet with him.
And, on the lobbyist comment, what Mulvaney is saying is the literal definition of pay-to-play politics. If you are a lobbyist willing to make a campaign contribution to Mulvaney, you had better chance of getting an audience with him. Full stop.
It doesn’t matter what Mulvaney said after that – unless it was something like “I totally and completely misspoke just then”). In those two sentences, he confirms what a) most people already believe about Washington and b) makes most people hate the nation’s capitol.
Campaign contributions and access is always an unsavory axis to talk about publicly. But, even more so given Trump’s massive emphasis on getting rid of the permanent political class of lobbyists, politicians (and journalists) that had long dominated Washington politics.
“Our system is also rigged by the donors,” Trump said in an October 2016 speech. “Giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s campaign…It is time to drain the swamp.”
Mulvaney has been one of the faster risers in Trump’s administration. He now not only serves as the interim head of the CFPB but is also atop the Office of Management and Budget. He has been widely rumored as a potential presidential chief of staff due to his close relationship with Trump.
The idea Mulvaney voiced on Tuesday, however, runs directly counter to everything Trump ran on and says he stands for. It is the definition of “swampy.”