What Makes Special Interests Special?

At her LinkedIn profile, Helen Milby is coy about her line of work. “Non-Profit Organization Management”, she calls it. Her company’s web site is more blatantly uncommunicative with the public. It’s been almost 5 years now since Helen Milby registered the domain that she and her colleagues use for business emails. Still, the web site claims to be “under construction”.

helen milbyIt’s not really Helen Milby’s business to communicate effectively with the public in general, though. The point of her profession is to communicate behind the scenes with power brokers in government and in the corporate world, and create events so that they can come together to make exchanges of money and influence.

Helen Milby is in the business of arranging meetings where members of Congress and their aides come to meet with corporate executives and their lobbyists. The corporate team members bring hundreds of thousands of dollars with them, often in groups to multiply their purchasing power. What’s being purchased? In the most generous interpretation, time to talk with a member of Congress about important issues is what’s for sale. It doesn’t take much work to see, however, that more practical, profitable legislative products could be put on the auctioning block.

Unlike most people in her profession, Helen Milby has spoken in public about her work. That took place years ago, before she opened her own company, back when she was arranging events of meeting between sources of money in the corporate world and sources of government power in the Democratic Leadership Council, a collection of right-leaning Democratic politicians like Joseph Lieberman (now a member of the Joseph Lieberman Party).

Milby told a writer for the Colby College alumni magazine that, yes, she arranged parties at which lobbyists gave money to members of Congress. Still, Milby insisted that the Democratic Leadership Council “isn’t funding negative political ads or gobbling up special-interest money.” Instead, the Democratic Leadership Council, she said, was “trying to make Democratic policies more business-friendly”.

Helping to arrange for business lobbyists to give money to members of Congress, in exchange for business-friendly legislative activity? How does that not qualify as gobbling up special interest money? Apparenty, Milby didn’t regard big business as a special interest group so much as a source of power naturally entitled to purchase influence over the United States Congress.

These days, Milby’s own company is making direct connections between members of Congress and lobbyists, setting up occasions masquerading as parties or meals. At one such meal, people were asked to write checks for 500 to 1,000 dollars for a “breakfast” with Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell that was arranged with Milby associate Elysia Petru. Last summer, Milby was working to arrange pay-for-play access at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado, creating the opportunity for representatives of the rich and powerful to meet with Democratic Party bigwigs at a “Roundtable Forum on Competitiveness and Innovation” at the Oxford Hotel – for the price of $50,000. More recently, Milby associate Adrian Tworecke arranged for a “reception” at the Monocle Restaurant in Washington D.C., where lobbyists representing political action committees could pay $1,500 to network with Senator Senator Daniel Inouye.

If these interests aren’t special, what does it take to be special these days?

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