Much Ado About Norton

D.C. delegate's call to a lobbyist leaked

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Thursday, Oct 14, 2010  |  Updated 2:20 PM EDT
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Much Ado About Norton

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Washington, DC, Mayor Adrian Fenty (L) speaks as U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) (R) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill February 26, 2009 in Washington, DC. The U.S. Senate earlier passed the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act.

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The Internet, or at least a conservative corner of it, is foaming at the mouth about a message left by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton on the voicemail of an unidentified lobbyist. Gleeful right-wingers are shouting “gotcha” -- because a member of Congress sought a campaign contribution.

The “shock audio” was made public by Andrew Breitbart, the guy who slimed Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod as a racist and who has frankly stated his desire to “take down” the “institutional left.” Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com website breathlessly says that “with their prospects for November quickly deteriorating,” Democrats “are scrambling to assemble the financial resources they hope can stave off their electoral armageddon,” and Nancy Pelosi is putting the screws to safe incumbents like Norton to raise money for the party.

So what exactly did Norton say?

D.C.’s 10-term representative said she noticed that the lobbyist had contributed to many of her colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said she was working on, or in charge of, several projects of interest to the lobbyist, and asked for a donation. “I’m simply candidly calling to ask for a contribution,” she said.

Sure, the practice isn’t pretty. But as Norton’s office said in a statement, it was a “standard request made by candidates to potential donors who do not know the candidates or their work.” The statement noted Norton’s “longtime supporter of public financing of campaigns,” but said that since we don’t have that, “candidates from all parties regularly raise funds in calls by first identifying who they are and what they have done.” Norton placed the call from her campaign office, not her congressional office, and did not violate any laws.

As Politics Daily and even Breitbart’s own site make clear, Norton seemed a bit embarrassed to be making the request. She seems sheepish throughout. (The only “shocking” thing about the call was that the usually eloquent Norton said “uh” 15 times.) It seems less like a shakedown than an attempt to get Pelosi off her back.

Norton’s challenger in this week’s primary, Douglass Sloan, called it “blatant.” He said, “My team had caught wind of shady dealings but we were never able to nail anything down before the primary election. Now we know, about two days too late.”

But it would not have made any difference. Norton is a member of Congress who was acting like a member of Congress. There isn’t any there there.

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