Friday, June 03, 2005

Republican Control of Washington

One of the more serious threats to democracy under the Republicans has also received much less discussion than their other acts such as lying us into war, promotion of right wing judicial activism, use of Soviet style propaganda techniques, and voter suppression. This is the K Street Project, the topic of an article by Elizabeth Drew in the current New York Review of Books. Here's a section:

The Republican purge of K Street is a more thorough, ruthless, vindictive, and effective attack on Democratic lobbyists and other Democrats who represent businesses and other organizations than anything Washington has seen before. The Republicans don't simply want to take care of their friends and former aides by getting them high-paying jobs: they want the lobbyists they helped place in these jobs and other corporate representatives to arrange lavish trips for themselves and their wives; to invite them to watch sports events from skyboxes; and, most important, to provide a steady flow of campaign contributions. The former aides become part of their previous employers' power networks. Republican leaders also want to have like-minded people on K Street who can further their ideological goals by helping to formulate their legislative programs, get them passed, and generally circulate their ideas. When I suggested to Grover Norquist, the influential right-wing leader and the leading enforcer of the K Street Project outside Congress, that numerous Democrats on K Street were not particularly ideological and were happy to serve corporate interests, he replied, "We don't want nonideological people on K Street, we want conservative activist Republicans on K Street."

The K Street Project has become critical to the Republicans' efforts to control all the power centers in Washington: the White House, Congress, the courts—and now, at least, an influential part of the corporate world, the one that raises most of the political money. It's another way for Republicans to try to impose their programs on the country. The Washington Post reported recently that House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, of Missouri, has established "a formal, institutionalized alliance" with K Street lobbyists. They have become an integral part of the legislative process by helping to get bills written and passed—and they are rewarded for their help by the fees paid by their clients. Among the results are legislation that serves powerful private interests all the more openly—as will be seen, the energy bill recently passed by the House is a prime example —and a climate of fear that is new. The conservative commentator David Brooks said on PBS's NewsHour earlier this year, "The biggest threat to the Republican majority is the relationship on K Street with corporate lobbyists and the corruption that is entailed in that." But if the Republicans are running a risk of being seen as overreaching in their takeover of K Street, there are few signs that they are concerned about it.

When the Republicans first announced the K Street Project after they won a majority in Congress in the 1994 election, they warned Washington lobbying and law firms that if they wanted to have appointments with Republican legislators they had better hire more Republicans. This was seen as unprecedentedly heavy-handed, but their deeper purposes weren't yet understood. Since the Democrats had been in power on Capitol Hill for a long time, many of the K Street firms then had more Democrats than Republicans or else they were evenly balanced. But the Democrats had been hired because they were well connected with prominent Democrats on Capitol Hill, not because Democratic Congresses demanded it. Moreover, it makes sense for lobbying firms that want access to members of Congress to hire people with good contacts in the majority party—especially former members or aides of the current leaders. But the bullying tactics of Republicans in the late 1990s were new.

DeLay, Santorum, and their associates organized a systematic campaign, closely monitored by Republicans on Capitol Hill and by Grover Norquist and the Republican National Committee, to put pressure on firms not just to hire Republicans but also to fire Democrats. With the election of Bush, this pressure became stronger. A Republican lobbyist told me, "Having the White House" has made it more possible for DeLay and Santorum "to enforce the K Street Project." Several Democratic lobbyists have been pushed out of their jobs as a result; business associations who hire Democrats for prominent positions have been subject to retribution. They are told that they won't be able to see the people on Capitol Hill they want to see. Sometimes the retribution is more tangible. The Republican lobbyist I spoke to said, "There's a high state of sensitivity to the partisanship of the person you hire for these jobs that did not exist five, six years ago—you hire a Democrat at your peril."


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