A Jan. 11 article incorrectly said that Abigail Blunt, the wife of acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, no longer lobbies Congress. Since Roy Blunt assumed his temporary position Sept. 28, she no longer lobbies the House but continues to lobby the Senate.
Lobbying Colors GOP Leadership Contest
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
In years past, when the House recessed for its winter break, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) decamped for warmer climates and a sailing trip to the Caribbean with some of the city's top lobbyists, including Henry Gandy of the well-connected Duberstein Group and Timothy McKone of SBC Communications.
Over the summer, they discussed a trip for this year as well, Boehner said yesterday, but last week the lobbyists weighed anchor without him, content to communicate by telephone while the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee rushed to Washington for a high-stakes run to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as House majority leader.
The annual vacation, dubbed a "boys' trip" by detractors, points to an issue underlying the current House leadership race: Both Boehner and his rival for majority leader, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), have extensive ties to the same K Street lobbying world that stained DeLay's reputation and spawned the Abramoff corruption scandal.
"Do I have K Street friends? Yes, I do," Boehner said. "Do I have relationships with them? Yes. And every one of them is an ethical relationship."
In another year, that answer might have sufficed, given how many lawmakers maintain such cordial ties. But with all of Congress anxiously awaiting the testimony of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partner, former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon, the atmosphere has changed.
The concern over lobbying "is palpable," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), a candidate for the House GOP's number three spot of majority whip who yesterday unveiled a broad proposal to change congressional lobbying rules. "This has become a matter of public trust."
Both camps this week have been pointing to the other's well-documented connections and activities, some of which are the stuff of legends. They include Blunt's failed effort to insert a provision benefiting Philip Morris USA into the massive bill creating the Department of Homeland Security and Boehner's distribution of checks from tobacco concerns in 1995 to lawmakers on the House floor. Also of note are both men's prodigious fundraising activities, some of which involve individuals and clients with ties to Abramoff.
Lobbying activity has become "one of the defining issues in the race so far," conceded Blunt spokeswoman Burson Taylor.
Some members, such as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), have said the two candidates' ties to K Street are so extensive that the race could still draw in a third candidate, such as Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) or House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). Even some of the candidates' supporters concede victory could hinge on which man can show he can move away from his past.
"It's a concern to both me personally and the [Republican] conference," said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who is supporting Boehner. "Ties to lobbyists have been around since Teapot Dome and the Gilded Age. The question is, the Abramoff stuff specifically were never considerations when we voted on the current leadership team. We have to have a broad reassessment now."
"We will want people who are clean running the House," said Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.), a Boehner supporter.
The stories are numerous. Just hours after Blunt was named to the House's third-highest leadership job in 2002, he unsuccessfully tried to insert a measure benefiting Philip Morris into the 475-page bill creating the Department of Homeland Security. Blunt's ties to the company are thick: He was very close to a company lobbyist, Abigail Perlman, at the time, and married her in 2003. She does not lobby Congress. One of his sons, Andrew B. Blunt, lobbies the Missouri legislature for Philip Morris.