HERE'S A MODEST PROPOSAL for the crew of Republicans who want to make sure that the plum lobbying jobs in town don't go to Democrats: What about requiring Democratic lobbyists to pin big blue D's to their chests, the better to identify them. If you think this sounds over the top, consider the report in this newspaper the other day by Kathleen Day and Jim VandeHei, who described how the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio), and his staff have been pressuring the mutual fund industry to bring a prominent Republican onto their Washington team -- and to push aside the Democrat who currently serves as the chief lobbyist for the industry's trade group.
According to the report, two of Mr. Oxley's staffers went so far as to suggest that the committee's recently launched probe of the mutual fund industry might ease if their demands were met. Mr. Oxley himself has yet to be heard from on the matter. His spokeswoman, Peggy A. Peterson, says, "The rumors of some quid pro quo are exactly that -- rumors. The story is groundless."
This approach to legislating would be indecent even if it were an isolated incident that the party's leaders then rushed to decry. But in fact this episode is part of a brazen Republican effort to grab political spoils now that they control the White House and Capitol Hill. The first manifestation came in 1998 when Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) pressured the Electronic Industries Alliance not to hire a conservative Democrat, former representative Dave McCurdy (Okla.), as its president; House leaders went so far as to postpone votes on a treaty the group was backing to demonstrate their displeasure.
The House ethics committee chastised Mr. DeLay, but he had made his point. Now firms must keep in mind "the DeLay factor" -- the fear of being punished for hiring a Democrat. Nor is Mr. DeLay the only one: When Boeing Co. filled its top lobbying job with a former aide to the late Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) in 2001, the then-heads of the House and Senate Republican conferences -- Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.) and Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) -- publicly stated their unhappiness with the choice. Then, as Mr. VandeHei reported last summer, Republicans, as part of what they called the "K Street Project," began compiling lists of the party affiliations and political contributions of Washington lobbyists for the use of lawmakers, administration officials and staff. "What's different this time is you will have this list to control access," one GOP lobbyist working on the document said at the time.
We understand that lobbying is a business of relationships; party affiliation helps determine whom you know, and whom you know helps determine which doors open for you. But there is a difference between choosing to beef up your contingent of Republicans and being told -- explicitly or implicitly -- that you'll be sorry if you don't. If a prosecutor offered to stop investigating someone in exchange for a job or two for friends, everyone would know what to call that. This case has a similar odor, and at a minimum the House ethics committee should investigate. The GOP should start behaving more like the party of Abraham Lincoln and less like the party of Tony Soprano.