Going Left on K Street
More Democrats Hired to Lobby Despite GOP Efforts to Shut Them Out
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2004; Page E01
After a long hiring drought, Democrats are coming back into vogue on K Street.
The latest sign came yesterday when the Motion Picture Association of America chose a Democrat -- former Kansas congressman and agriculture secretary Dan Glickman -- to succeed its president of 38 years, Jack Valenti.
The recent selection of Glickman and several other Democrats for prominent lobbying jobs indicates a waning of the vaunted power of the "K Street Project," whose goal was to transform Washington's persuasion industry into a Republican bastion. It's also a tip-off that people who make their livings watching government and politics are keeping close tabs on the horse race that is election 2004.
Author and lobbying scholar Michael D. Watkins likens the recent uptick in Democratic employment to a military tactic called "forward placement of supplies." Lobbying managers, anticipating a possible switch in partisan leadership, are simply planning accordingly, he said. "It's also a market indicator of what's going to happen in the election," Watkins added. "People are looking at the tea leaves, and maybe they're beginning to hire from both parties just in case there's a Kerry administration."
This spring the Republican-leaning Business Roundtable ignored well-publicized entreaties by GOP activists and hired a former aide to a Democratic senator to lead its efforts on two of its highest priorities: corporate governance and tort reform. "He was the perfect fit," said Johanna Schneider, spokeswoman for the organization of big-company chief executives.
The Equipment Leasing Association, which represents more than 850 corporations, also disregarded public pressure by prominent GOPers to hire only Republicans and in February named a former Democratic staffer from the Senate. Of his new hire's partisan leaning, Michael J. Fleming, the association's longtime president, said, "I can't say it made much difference."
The choices are part of a broad pattern. According to a review of job listings in Influence.biz, a lobbying newsletter, more than 40 percent of lobbyists with identifiable party backgrounds hired in the past six months have been Democrats. During the same period a year earlier, Democrats constituted only 30 percent of those hired.
During a press conference yesterday, Valenti and Glickman insisted that neither political prognostication nor partisan affiliation had anything to do with the trade association's decision. "This is not a partisan job," Glickman said. But he also said he would "reach out" to congressional Republicans to soothe any wounded feelings. "Some of my closest friends in Congress are Republicans," he added.
K Street Project spokesman Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, fumed that the Glickman hiring was "a mistake. It's goofy. It's a studied insult." The Motion Picture Association's "ability to work with the House and Senate is greatly reduced because they've decided to hire a guy whose claim to fame is that he is a retired Clinton hire," Norquist said.
The K Street Project, which was conceived by Republican leaders in Congress and GOP activists elsewhere, identifies loyal Republican lobbyists and campaign contributors and then encourages lawmakers to welcome them into their offices to the exclusion of others.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Dan Glickman, a Democratic former congressman and agriculture secretary, is taking over as president of the Motion Picture Association of America. Grover G. Norquist, a GOP activist, called the appointment "a studied insult."
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)