GOP Freezes Jobs List, a Vestige of the K Street Project

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who is seeking reelection, chaired meetings on the Hill at which lists of Republican staff aides looking for work were distributed to lobbyists.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who is seeking reelection, chaired meetings on the Hill at which lists of Republican staff aides looking for work were distributed to lobbyists. (Kevin Lamarque - Reuters)
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006

Republican lawmakers yesterday ended their long practice of routinely summoning lobbyists to the Capitol to try to persuade them to hire their aides and colleagues, in the wake of the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal.

GOP lawmakers for years have regularly presented lists of job openings on K Street to lobbyists to encourage them to hire Republicans over Democrats. The program is a remnant of the K Street Project once championed by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as a way to coerce trade associations and companies to hire Republicans as their top lobbyists and to warn firms that hired Democrats that they would not be welcome.

Yesterday, the staff director of the Senate Republican Conference said that a K-Street-job-vacancies memo -- the heart of Congress's remaining involvement in the effort these days -- will no longer be distributed during high-level meetings hosted by the conference on Capitol Hill between lawmakers and lobbyists. Responsibility for the listings migrated from the House to the Senate several years ago, according to lobbyists.

While lobbyists and others could still obtain the information elsewhere, the change removes the formal involvement of lawmakers from the process and any implied encouragement by them to transform K Street into a Republican bastion.

In addition, the decision could provide a public relations benefit to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), the conference head and the person who has long chaired the lobbyist meetings. He is facing a tough reelection fight this year that has been made even tougher by Democratic accusations that he is too close to lobbyists and the GOP's K Street jobs operation.

In recent years, the effort has become less aggressive and now includes in its non-congressional component a job listing service on the Internet.

Participants describe the meeting as an information exchange at which Santorum and other GOP senators discuss their priorities and collect intelligence from lobbyists. Toward the end of the meetings, which begin at 8:30 a.m. every other Tuesday, a representative of the Republican National Committee distributes the document that lists who in Congress is looking for work and what jobs are available. A discussion of jobs sometimes ensued.

Asked whether the document will continue to be passed out during those meetings, Mark D. Rodgers, the conference's staff director, said, "Since the RNC is already widely distributing the jobs list, we have decided it is duplicative to hand it out and will no longer do so." But Brian Jones, a spokesman for the RNC, said the data were not easily obtainable. "It's not public information," Jones said.

The decision to drop the list comes as Santorum is being disparaged by his opponents in Washington and at home as the "liaison to the K Street Project." Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) last week said Santorum is "as responsible as anyone in the world for the K Street Project." He added that Santorum was unsuited to serve in his current role as the Republicans' point man in the effort to overhaul lobbying laws.

Those sorts of assertions are "one of a series of problems" Santorum has in his race this year against Pennsylvania state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., said Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan election analyst. "Santorum at the moment is the No. 1 most vulnerable Republican senator seeking reelection," Rothenberg added.

A Republican Conference aide said there is "no connection" between Santorum's meetings and the K Street Project, and Santorum has said that everything he has done in the meetings is appropriate. Last week, Santorum characterized the meetings as a way for Republicans to get their points of view disseminated in Washington.

"If you're going to affect public policy in a positive way, you've got to get your message out," Santorum said. "That's what the project that I've been involved with has been about, period."

Democrats have also been passing around jobs memos of their own during Monday meetings between lobbyists and congressional chiefs of staff. A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said the "job bank" document -- as the Democrats called their listing -- has not been distributed for months and "there's no plan to put it back in place."

But Democratic attacks on Santorum and the K Street Project will continue, lawmakers said. Yesterday, Reid and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, to ask for an investigation of the project. "What we seek to do is just shine a little sunlight on this K Street Project and have one of our committees investigate what happened so that we can see if there's legislation needed," Schumer said.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said that he pioneered the project in the late 1980s and continues to urge companies and associations to hire free-market advocates via a Web site called the K Street Project. But when Democrats and others refer to the project, they speak more generally about the efforts of DeLay and his colleagues on Capitol Hill after the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. The House ethics committee privately warned DeLay in 1998 about threatening the Electronics Industry Alliance with retaliation for hiring a prominent Democrat.

Yesterday, Collins's committee held a hearing on lobbying legislation that highlighted the range of opinions Congress will have to bridge if it is to pass a bill that deals with abuses of travel, fundraising and other matters. Former senator Dick Clark (D-Iowa), director of the nonpartisan Aspen Institute Congressional Program, urged a ban on lawmakers' trips that include "in any way, shape or form the participation of lobbyists."

But John M. Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said information-gathering trips are essential for lawmakers. Private groups should be allowed to fund some of them, within ethical guidelines, he said.

Staff writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.

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