In politics, the theory of 'six degrees of separation' is often used to link candidates with unfavorable companies, donors, or other elected officials. The world of Washington is a small one, and many times this intricately spun web, as critical as it is to furthering an agenda, can also damage its maker. Much of the time the silky threads remain unseen, until someone comes along and shines light behind them, making the connections visible to all.
Late last week, ABC News obtained an event invitation sent out by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential-nomination campaign that asked its recipients to join 'Rural Americans for Hillary' for lunch and a briefing by members of Congress and senior campaign staff. The meeting will be held not in a small town in the Hawkeye State or Ohio or Kansas but in Washington, D.C. - a strange place to discuss issues affecting rural voters. Beyond strange is awkward, a word that could be used to describe the specific address for the event - the offices of Troutman Sanders, a lobbying firm. More specifically, the lobbying firm heavily relied upon by agribusiness giant Monsanto. Monsanto leads the industry in genetic livestock breeding and Superfund violations, and it will likely see a ban this week on one of its seed types in France because of health concerns. Monsanto was promised more than $680,000 in tax breaks Monday night, courtesy of the town of Ankeny, Iowa, just for promising to bring new jobs to the area. We're guessing this isn't the photo op Rodham Clinton wants for leaflets in Iowa, exchanging ideas over coffee and sandwiches with suits rather than John Deere hats. Maybe that's why Rodham Clinton herself won't be at the event, a wise choice considering how it might look.
Rather than defend the choice to the ABC journalist, Rodham Clinton spokesman Phil Singer pointed out that Fortress Investments, the hedge fund John Edwards used to work for, has invested in Monsanto and did so while employing Edwards. Singer also said the manager for Edwards' vice-presidential campaign in 2004, Peter Scher, is the managing partner for fellow Monsanto lobbying firm Mayer Brown. Singer continued, 'In 2004, Edwards said, 'If you are looking for the candidate who will do the best job of attacking the other Democrats, I am not your guy.' But he's become that guy now that his 2008 campaign has stalled.'
For the Rodham Clinton machine to completely ignore the question at hand and deflect attention from the 'Rural Americans' event is suspect, but to do so by attacking another campaign on similar lobbying links is bizarre and more than slightly hypocritical. Edwards' associations aren't being denied, but they aren't what's being questioned, either. The Rodham Clinton campaign is the only operation of the three Democratic front-runners to take money from lobbyists, and for its success' sake, should keep such contact to a minimum. Meeting with lobbying interests in Washington under the pretense of taking interest in rural issues is a good way to offend Iowans, not gain their votes.