Many things grab my attention on my weekend runs around Washington. But Saturday afternoon, one sight almost made me trip because it shocked my political sensibilities during this time of heightened concern about money and the access it buys in politics. It was a Bentley parked on the plaza in front of the House side of the Capitol.
The license plate reads “BIPAC.” That’s the acronym for the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, a 51-year-old group of member businesses that describes itself as “the premier clearing house for tools, strategies and political intelligence, committed to increasing the political effectiveness of America’s job providers.” In addition, the group declares, “We work to improve the political climate in America for the business community and help job providers play a more active role in the public policy and political process.”
BIPAC calls itself “an independent, nonpartisan group,” but on a timeline celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, the organization highlights that in 2003 “Alabama becomes the first state to pass a Voter ID law.” That issue has always been a Republican-pushed solution in search of a problem. That being said, BIPAC uses its Action Fund to financially support Democrats and Republicans who “demonstrate a willingness to support issues that benefit the business community.”
The beautiful Bentley belongs to Gregory S. Casey, the president and chief executive of BIPAC and the president and chief executive of the Friends of Adam Smith. Casey has extensive Republican connections in his home state of Idaho and at the federal level, including serving as the chief of staff to former senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and as the 34th sergeant at arms and doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate (1996-1998). This explains his sweet parking spot on the Capitol plaza. In response to an e-mail yesterday inquiring about the car, Casey gave a complete and reasonable explanation for the Bentley’s Capitol appearance.
Given the good weather, my son and I decided to take her out for a day and drove to the Hill so he could work the rehearsal for the Memorial Day concert. He worked the full event yesterday [Sunday] as well, although we left the Bentley at home. We spent about 7 hours there Saturday and another 8 yesterday. As a Veteran, I believe these Concerts are fitting tributes to our returning and serving men and women in uniform and I’m committed to helping in whatever meager way I can.
The cynic in me assumes, however, you may not be as interested in my Bentley as much as using it to pursue some other story line. Given that, let me provide you some additional perspective. BIPAC doesn’t lobby Congress or any policy making body. Neither I, nor my Bentley, were at the Capitol for any other reason than to work at and support the Memorial Day concert. [It’s] a classic automobile to be sure, but hardly different than taking any other classic car out for the weekend.
As to the parking, as a former officer of Congress, I am permitted to access the plaza for parking, as are hundreds of others. I do not abuse the privilege. I suppose I park there maybe three times a year.
As the driver of a Porsche, I’m the last person to tut-tut Casey’s automobile choice. And in a city where parking is a premium, I certainly don’t begrudge him rock-star parking like that. But the Bentley’s six-figure price tag and sleek lines scream one-percent exclusivity. To see one parked in front of the Capitol struck me as a troubling symbol of money, power and access in Washington. And for the folks who saw Casey’s Bentley that day, it could be seen as the latest example of how the one percent have 100 percent access to whatever they want.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj