By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the man one step behind Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) in the Republican leadership, has built a political machine of his own that extends from Missouri deep into Washington's K Street lobbying community.
Blunt, who entered politics as a protege of former senator John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.), has assembled an organization of whips and lobbyist vote counters that has delivered more than 50 consecutive victories for the GOP leadership on tough fights over issues including tax and trade bills, District of Columbia school choice and tort reform -- without a single defeat.
Working outside the glare of public attention, Blunt has maximized the organization's influence by delegating authority to Washington business and trade association lobbyists to help negotiate deals with individual House members to produce majorities on important issues.
Blunt's organization in scope has begun to rival "DeLay Inc." -- the political fundraising committees, extensive favor-giving and alliances with Republican lobbyists that the majority leader has used to become one of the most influential leaders in memory.
Business and trade association lobbyists representing a broad range of corporate interests have used their leverage in lawmakers' districts to persuade them to cast difficult votes for Republican budgets and against politically popular Democratic amendments.
These lobbyists are "willing to work with leadership, in a broad generic way . . . [and] we have a commitment from them to whip the vote on the outside," said Gregg Hartley, who ran the operation for Blunt until going to K Street himself.Building 'Blunt Inc.'
Blunt, 55, was handpicked by DeLay in 1999 to become chief deputy whip and then assumed the majority whip's post in 2003 after DeLay became majority leader. Blunt has been a loyal defender of DeLay, despite the majority leader's mounting ethics problems.
Many lawmakers and political analysts agree that Blunt would probably succeed DeLay if the majority leader were forced to step down. Blunt declined to comment for this article. One of his aides said Blunt refused to be interviewed "because he supports Tom DeLay and believes DeLay will remain majority leader."
DeLay, in turn, said: "Roy Blunt has done a tremendous job. . . . His leadership is vital to our cause."
Both "Blunt Inc." and "DeLay Inc." reflect the growing importance of commanding multimillion-dollar funds and having reliable loyalists in Washington's lobbying community. Blunt and DeLay are fundraising powerhouses. Their political organizations use multiple fundraising committees, have rewarded family members and have provided an avenue to riches for former aides now in the private sector.
In Missouri, the Blunt organization is a family affair. His son Matt, 34, is governor, and his son Andrew, 29, is a top state government lobbyist whose client list is studded with major donors to his father.
Here in Washington, Blunt has converted what had been an informal and ad hoc relationship between congressional leaders and the Washington corporate and trade community into a formal, institutionalized alliance. Lobbyists are now an integral part of the Republican whip operation on par with the network of lawmakers who serve as assistant whips.
Blunt began moving up the leadership ladder two years after taking office in 1997. A former Missouri secretary of state, Blunt was chosen by DeLay to become chief deputy whip after House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) voiced concern that there "was a vacuum in the outreach to K Street," Hartley said. Blunt was given the responsibility for the day-to-day meetings with lobbyists and for targeting members wavering in their votes on specific bills, said Hartley, who is now a lobbyist with Cassidy & Associates.
In effect, Blunt, in his second term, became the House GOP's key liaison with the lobbyists who not only represent clients in virtually every member's district, but also direct the flow of individual and political action committee contributions from the 1,600 corporations and 1,200 trade associations with PACs.K Street Committee
At the top of the Republican leadership's K Street lobbying arm, there is a de facto "executive committee," a hard-core base of about 25 lobbyists.
Among them are Ed Gillespie, former Republican Party chair; Mark Isakowitz, formerly with the National Federation of Independent Business; Samantha Poole, Blunt's former senior legislative assistant; former DeLay aide Tony Rudy; Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores; and Ralph Hellmann, senior vice president of the Information Technology Industry Council.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Blunt's deputy whip, said he meets regularly with the lobbying community and, as different bills come up, "we go over lists to see who knows this member, how can we get that person feeling more comfortable, can we get him more information." These drives are conducted "on bills that are big -- tax, energy, bankruptcy, class action, tort reform. The whole world swoops in," Rogers said. For each bill, a steering committee is created that "hands out assignments, coordinates activities."
Blunt's mobilization of the lobbying community proved crucial in winning passage of the 2004 bill eliminating business export tax breaks ruled in violation of international agreements by the World Trade Organization.
The measure faced daunting opposition. Rank-and-file Republicans, especially those from midwestern industrial states with large manufacturers in their districts, saw constituent companies taking a tax hit. Eliminating the $50 billion tax break would mean millions in annual losses for such major companies as Boeing, Caterpillar, United Technologies, Honeywell and Emerson.
Any new tax breaks to make up for the $50 billion loss over 10 years would create a whole new set of winners and losers, and every losing company was gearing up to make its views known to Congress.
"When we started, the whip count on that bill looked as bad as I have ever seen," Rogers said. "The coalition [of business and trade association lobbyists] was incredibly important to get us over."
The solution to breaking the logjam: Every major lobbying interest got something, and the Republican opposition in the House collapsed. The manufacturing companies got a three-percentage-point corporate tax cut. Industrial state Republicans from Minnesota to Pennsylvania voted for the bill 52 to 5. Another group of multinational, U.S.-based companies, including General Electric, Coca-Cola, General Motors and Time Warner, won a major tax reduction on overseas revenue. On the final vote, Republicans favored the bill, 203 to 23, while Democrats opposed it 154 to 48.
The task of rounding up the votes was delegated by Blunt's whip operation to a coalition of lobbyists, all of whom had clients with huge stakes in the outcome.
Kenneth J. Kies, representing an array of Fortune 500 companies with facilities in virtually every congressional district -- General Electric, Caterpillar, General Motors, Edison, Microsoft, U.S. Steel -- helped win a host of breaks for his clients and collected fees of $8.69 million. Karl Gallant, a former DeLay aide, represented the Coalition for U.S.-Based Employment, made up of Boeing, Caterpillar, Honeywell, Microsoft and United Technologies, and other companies seeking favorable tax treatment. His firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, received $1.32 million in tax-related fees.
As new tax breaks were added to the bill, the vote count "just got better and better," said Rogers, who worked closely with Blunt on the mobilization of lobbyists. "It was incredible."Family Benefits
The network of political committees with ties to Roy Blunt is complex and elaborate. His campaign committee has raised $8.58 million since 1996. His leadership committee, the Rely on Your Beliefs Fund (ROYB Fund), has raised $1.68 million since 2000. A separate ROYB 527 Committee collected $1.67 million from 2000 through 2002.
Over the years, seven companies with business before Congress stand out as the most reliable Blunt supporters: Altria, SBC Communications, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern, Verizon, United Parcel Service and BellSouth have together given more than $1.2 million to political committees tied to Blunt. Altria is the largest contributor, giving more than $270,000. Blunt, a vocal social conservative, divorced Roseann Blunt, his first wife, to marry Altria lobbyist Abigail Perlman in October 2003.
Blunt's lobbyist son Andrew includes among his clients Altria-owned Kraft Foods, Philip Morris, and 36 percent Altria-owned Miller Brewing, along with SBC Missouri, Burlington Northern and UPS. Hartley has among his clients Verizon (paying $320,000 a year), SBC ($120,000) and BellSouth ($120,000).
Matt Blunt, the governor, has awarded one of the few remaining patronage plums in the state -- franchises to collect fees for driver's license renewals, tax payments for new cars and processing motor vehicle titles and registrations that can provide recipients with as much as $1 million over four years -- to the wife of U.S. Attorney Todd P. Graves, Tracy Graves, and to Graves's brother-in-law, Todd Bartles. The U.S. attorney's office has jurisdiction over Blunt's congressional district and the state capitol.
Responding to a complaint from the Missouri Democratic Party, David Margolis, associate deputy attorney general in Washington, wrote to Todd Graves: "I have determined that there is no existing conflict of interest that requires further action at this time." Margolis noted the procedures for Graves to recuse himself "from any existing or future matters in which a conflict of interest exists."