Rick Santorum and the K Street Project (Fact Checker biography)

at 06:02 AM ET, 01/09/2012


(Eric Thayer, Reuters)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of columns this week examining how factual former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been in describing his career in politics. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Santorum’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Santorum talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt RomneyRick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

--Glenn Kessler

***

“I had absolutely nothing to do -- never met, never talked, never coordinated, never did anything -- with Grover Norquist and the, quote, K Street Project.”

-- Rick Santorum, during an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 25, 2006

“I have never called anybody or talked to anyone to try to get anybody a position on K Street with one exception, and that is if someone from my office is applying for a job and an employer calls me.”

-- Santorum, in an interview with The Washington Times, Jan. 30, 2006

Santorum made these comments while trying to distance himself from the so-called “K Street Project,” an effort by key Republicans to place party loyalists in top lobbying positions. The program, led by conservative activist Grover Norquist and former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), took place to varying degrees from roughly 1995 until about 2006. Its name refers to the D.C. corridor where lobbyists have set up shop in large numbers.

Santorum and other Republicans first defended the project as a mere job-listing program, but critics said lawmakers were threatening to block government access and jobs from those who didn’t cooperate. The effort turned politically toxic after federal authorities indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff for corrupting public officials. Most lawmakers disassociated themselves from the program at that point.

We reviewed the K Street Project to determine whether Santorum and Norquist were involved in identical efforts. We also wanted to know whether the former senator violated any rules while trying to strengthen the GOP lobbying presence.

Santorum has not publicly discussed the K Street Project since 2006, so his quotes are obviously dated. We’ll re-visit the issue if more information emerges or if he characterizes his involvement differently.

THE FACTS

Republicans launched an initiative in 1995 to change the makeup of K Street, which had supposedly become flush with Democrats after four decades of congressional dominance by the Democratic party. DeLay helped spearhead the effort by starting a dossier that listed the campaign contributions and party affiliations of lobbyists, presumably to help GOP officials block non-allies from government access and jobs.

Norquist asked lobbyists for help completing the profiles during a private meeting in June 2002, according to a report that year from the Post. Santorum, who was serving as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, hosted the gathering, the article said.

The previous year, Santorum had started holding twice-monthly conferences with handpicked lobbyists and GOP officials to review job openings in the lobbying world. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted the former senator referring to those discussions as the “K Street meetings.”

Former GOP congressman and lobbyist Rod Chandler explained to Washington Monthly how the gatherings worked. “The underlying theme was [to] place Republicans in key positions on K Street,” he said. “Everybody taking part was a Republican and understood that that was the purpose of what we were doing.”

Santorum acknowledged his involvement with the routine lobbyist meetings, and even admitted to holding conferences with Senate Republicans to discuss the appointment of Democrat Dan Glickman as head of the Motion Picture Association of America.

“Yeah we had a meeting, and yeah, we talked about making sure that we have fair representation on K Street,” he told Roll Call in 2004. “I admit that I pay attention to who is hiring, and I think it’s important for leadership to pay attention.”

Santorum also used the term “K Street Project” at one point to describe his job-placement discussions. “The K Street Project is purely to make sure we have qualified applicants for positions that are in town,” he told the Post-Gazette in 2005. “From my perspective, it’s a good government thing.”

The former senator later said he had thought of the term as a generic reference that could include his outreach efforts, suggesting he believed Norquist’s initiative was separate from his own.

The Senate ethics committee issued a letter in 2002 warning lawmakers not to use the lobbyist dossiers to block people from government access or jobs based on party affiliation, which would violate Senate rules.

Santorum ended his routine lobbyist meetings in early 2006, as the Abramoff scandal sparked public contempt for coziness between lobbyists and politicians, and after Democrats targeted the Pennsylvania senator for a takedown in the upcoming election — they succeeded.

Santorum defended his lobbyist meetings during an interview with the Post-Gazette, saying they involved “no pressure to put Republicans in those roles, period — no pressure.” He added, “I absolutely abhor that.”

As for Norquist, he readily admitted to working on the K Street Project, and even tried to trademark the name. The conservative activist described his program as an effort aimed at “companies and trade associations who are blithely unaware that they are being represented by former aides who passed the laws that are now bankrupting them,” the Post reported.

Norquist told the Post-Gazette in 2006 that he attended one of Santorum’s meetings to explain the K Street Project to lobbyists, but he said the former senator never helped in creating the dossiers.

Santorum’s campaign did not respond to questions for this column.

THE PINOCCHIO TEST

We can’t prove definitively whether or not Santorum collaborated on the K Street Project. He did and he did not, depending on how you define the initiative.

No one has established that the surging GOP candidate threatened to limit government access for Democrats, but we know that he took steps to improve the odds of a strong Republican presence in the lobbying game.

Still, Santorum’s remarks about Norquist don’t match the facts. Norquist himself acknowledged that he attended at least one meeting with the former senator to discuss the K Street Program. Santorum earns two Pinocchios for denying his connection with the lobbyist initiative and one of its primary leaders.

TWO PINOCCHIOS

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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