K Street

Jeffrey Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008; 1:00 PM

K Street columnist Jeffrey Birnbaum was online to discuss lobbying and politics on Tuesday, March 4, at 1 p.m. ET.

A list of Birnbaum's columns can be found here.

The transcript follows.


Jeffrey Birnbaum: Hello everyone. Thanks for writing in today. We have a lot of questions, and they're pretty wide ranging. About lobbying, but also about politics and the outlook. Ask some more! Please. I'm happy to answer. So, let's get started.


New York: Charles Black, McCain's campaign manager, is a lobbyist who works for Mark Penn, Clinton's chief campaign strategist, in his private life. (Penn is the CEO of the firm that owns all of Black's firm). Has this ever happened before, two supposedly opposing candidacies with the same list of corporate benefactors and interests.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Well, they don't have the same clients. Necessarily. Penn is Black's superior. Black's company reports to Penn. But they are mostly autonomous. You are correct, though, that nothing has happened like this before as far as I know. Do you see a problem with it?


Colorado Springs, Colo.: Is it fair to say the mortgage "crisis" really goes back to the Carter administration who first encouraged liberalizing lender rules to make it easy for disadvantaged folks to get mortgages? Is it true that Greenspan's policy of pumping money into the economy also worked toward creating the crisis by making banks lighten up a bit on their rules because so much cash was available for lending?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I doubt it.


Washington, D.C.: How do you think Hillary will fare this evening?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: No one knows, of course. But I am betting on a split decision. Rhode Island is Clinton territory; Vermont is Obama's, according to the polls. Ohio has been favoring Clinton and Texas, Obama. That is the starting expectation. Changes from there will be the story tonight. It ought to be fun and exciting, because so much is at stake (Clinton's presence in the race) and so much is unknown. I'll be broadcasting on Fox News Radio all evening, as I have for all the major contests so far.


Washington, D.C.: I don't understand why the press seems to favor Obama. Can you explain this? I thought the press is suppose to be neutral.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: The press has been working hard to follow the Obama craze and has not had time yet to investigate him. That's about to change, and in fact already has. The press does not favor any candidate. Take my word. We reflect the movement of the voters and do our jobs as best we can. We also do not conspire. We compete. Obama will have his time in the barrel just like everyone else.


Baltimore, Md.: Obama and McCain have been attacking lobbyists all the time. What different will that make ultimately? Will lobbyists be heading out if those are the people running for president?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Don't believe everything you hear. Attacking lobbyists and "special interests" is what candidates for president do and have done for decades. Nothing really changes once they come into office. Certainly, neither Obama nor McCain are proposing any changes that would make a difference. They do not propose to throw lobbyists out or anything close to that. I expect in fact that lobbying will grow larger and stronger in the coming years. Change in government leads to uncertainty and uncertainty leads to more lobbyists getting hired. It happens every time.


Washington: Why is there so much money going into the presidential races? I read that it had doubled since the last election. Can that even be possible.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: One rason is that so much is at stake. Money is pouring in for that reason, nearly double four years ago, which was a record. Another reason is that the amount that can be given per person has increased. A third cause is the Internet, which makes it easy for people to donate using a credit card. Lots more people have Internet access, as well. But do not underestimate the excitement factor. No one could have guessed the drama of the race, or predicted its twists and turns. Everything is upside down, basically. Clinton is on the verge of losing and McCain on the verge of winning. A young African American may be about to become the Democratic nominee, riding a wave of near-cult-like enthusiasm. On top of that, the White House is an open seat and a lot of very important issues are on the line. If that's not enough reason, then nothing is.


Annapolis, Md.: Mike Huckabee is still running. Why is that? Republicans ought to tell him to get out of John McCain's way.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I have said jokingly that he will continue to run until someone gives him a talk show. I think there's some truth to that. He is clearly trying to improve his standing with conservatives across the country and to raise his name identification. That could be to lay the groundwork for a future political race (maybe for president) or some other high office. It might also be to make him a factor in the national discussion, and that has both commercial and ideological implications. A talk show couldn't hurt. Surely he is not running to win the GOP nomination for president. McCain ought to lock that up tonight.


District of Columbia: So what's your guess. Who's going to win in the primaries today?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: I'd rather not guess. I'd rather watch and enjoy. For the big states, Ohio and Texas, the polls are too close to call anyway.


San Francisco, Calif.: Now John McCain has hired a lobbyist to liaison between the campaign and Capitol Hill. Seriously, are there any McCain staffers who aren't (or weren't) lobbyists? Does he have any friends, like a kitchen cabinet, from Arizona? Aren't there any other politicians but Graham and Lieberman he relies on? Why keep hiring lobbyists when their presence is so toxic right now?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: He is surrounded by lobbyists in his campaign, and also people who work for lobbying companies. He also has former members of Congress who are close to him but do not lobby, such as Phil Gramm. Also the current senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. But I do believe that McCain' closeness with lobbyists will be an issue in the campaign. It already is one.


VA: What do you thin of the non-profit study discussed here? are there any study on lobbyists for non-profit organizations and for-profit (law firms, etc)?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Non-profits of the kind discussed in that study draw people that do not do things for money. There are not many of those kinds of people left.


Washington, D.C.: I don't see why anyone needs to write so much about lobbying. The important thing is what Congress does. The Post should write more about that and less about K Street.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: We write plenty about both, and I think that provides a service to people who care about Washington. Any suggestions about good stories on K Street, or more importantly about the interaction between K Street and Congress would be most appreciated. Please send your suggestions to



Old Town, Va.: How do I get a Hire of the Week into your column?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Thank you for asking. I try to focus on just one hire each week. I prefer that it be exclusive to the column, which means you need to call me early in the previous week. It also has to have some kind of story to go with it. Why is this person important? Does the hire say something about the broader world of lobbying. That sort of thing. So please get in touch. The more interesting, the better, from my point of view.


Fairfax, Va.: Do you think Hillary will stay in the race if she loses in Texas and Ohio tonight?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Yes, but not for very long. I think the party bigwigs will pressure her to bow out if she loses both big states tonight. But don't fret yet. She could well win one or both of them, and that's a different story.


Wilmington, Del.: Wouldn't the senator from my state, Biden, make the right kind of vice president for whoever wins? He has a lot of foreign policy experience, which Obama in particular could use.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Yes, he well could. But he also comes from too small a state. No one really cares if they win Delaware in the general election. That's a problem for Biden. I think he might make a better cabinet official down the road if he were interested. But my bet is that he will finish out his long career, happily, in the U.S. Senate.


NYC, NY: How does the present lobbying compare to the lobbying done with the Keating 5?

Jeffrey Birnbaum: What happened with the Keating 5 was improper. Senators cannot take favors like that from a financier. They couldn't do it then; they can't do it now. There is a difference between lobbying and criminality, believe it or not. Lobbyists still sometimes break the law, witness Jack Abramoff, but lobbying is for the most part an information exchange and nothing much more underhanded than that. Sorry to disappoint.


New York: McCain continues to link autism and vaccines on the campaign trail. Big Pharma would be all over this nonsense if it came from a Democrat. But they are silent with their GOoPer McCain. It seems to be an example of what the blogosphere refers to as "IOKIYAR"- it's ok if you are Republican.

Jeffrey Birnbaum: Interesting. I hadn't heard that one as a campaign issue. But you would be wrong to think that Phrma cares only or even mostly about Democrats. It is a very bipartisan lobby now. It likes everyone, or so they say.


Jeffrey Birnbaum: Thanks for writing it. That was a terrific exchange. Let's try it again in a couple weeks. Cheers!


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