Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 22, 2010

THE FAMILIAR RING OF THE K STREET PROJECT.... The notorious K Street Project became synonymous with Republican excesses of the Gingrich/DeLay/Bush era, and for good reason. Among its components was a heavy-handed scheme to "encourage" corporate PACs to contribute to Republican candidates, or face adverse consequences.

It became a devastating scandal for the Republican Party, and Exhibit A in the culture of corruption that drove the GOP from power in 2006. Indeed, when John Boehner (R-Ohio) sought a leadership post in January 2006, he vowed that under his guidance, "[T]here will no longer be a K Street Project, or anything else like it."

The elaborate scheme has not been resuscitated, at least not yet. But corporate PAC money has shifted heavily in Republicans' direction this year, at least in part because of the kind of tactics we saw when the K Street Project was in full force.

Corporate America is gambling on the minority in its political giving this year, assuming that Republicans will win big in the November midterm elections, an analysis of campaign finance reports shows.... The change comes as top Republicans lawmakers appeal more directly to business leaders, putting them on notice that the GOP is keeping track of the corporate donations ledger and will remember who stood by the party.

As part of an effort dubbed "Sell the Fight," House Republican leaders have met privately with corporate executives and lobbyists to argue that their giving has tilted too far toward Democrats and that they need to steer more money to industry-friendly GOP candidates in key races in 2010.

"These corporate leaders and lobbyists have got interests and clients they need to look out for, and they are reading the tea leaves just like everyone else," said Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the deputy chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who has made several private pitches to corporate PAC leaders.

When the K Street Project began, part of the larger scheme included Tom DeLay keeping a list of corporate lobbyists categorized as "friendly" and "unfriendly" based on campaign contributions. "Friendly" corporate lobbyists who directed PAC contributions to Republicans were rewarded with influence and access. "Unfriendly" corporate lobbyists and those who dared to donate to Democrats were locked out, or in some cases, blacklisted.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest these tactics have been brought back in earnest. But we're starting to see hints of the old, ugly, corrupt machine when Republicans leaders not-so-subtly remind business leaders that the party is "keeping score." In other words, GOP officials expect to be back in the majority in 2011, and if corporate lobbyists want to start writing legislation again, the way they did before there was a Democratic majority, they'll have to buy that influence again.

When the NRCC's Greg Walden met with 80 corporate PAC leaders in March, for example, he said he wasn't making any threats. He simply said Republican leaders are "evaluating giving patterns," and in the next breath, he pointed to competitive congressional races where these lobbyists "can make an investment in a Republican candidate you will like."

I seem to recall subtle messages like these being featured on "The Sopranos." I can hear Boehner now, "That's a nice amendment you want in the appropriations bill. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

Republicans gave the American political system a bad name during their reign of error. There are already hints that the sequel will be more offensive than the original.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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It is hard not to conclude, based on their ignorance of and lack of interest in policy and governance, that the GOP's single-minded focus on regaining the majority is about using the levers of government for personal gain.

Remember, almost all of these guys are products of the post-1994 majority mindset when it comes to understanding what being a federal office holder means.

Posted by: hoi polloi on May 22, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

If handled correctly, receiving the most corporate donations should become a net liability.

We really need Howard Dean back at the DNC.

Posted by: bdop4 on May 22, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

"...make an investment in a Republican candidate..."

So what the Republicans are saying is that their principles are for rent or lease at reasonable rates?

Posted by: RepubAnon on May 22, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Your country is well on it's way to being a fully FASCIST STATE. How much longer do you think it will be before the total takeover of your government by the Corporations will be ?

Posted by: blue on May 22, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

America is no different than the rest of the world. India has its cast system, Europe the landed gentry and the peasants; Lords and Serfs.

In America we have the Haves and the Have Nots. The only difference here is that the "Peasants" , "Serfs" "Untouchables", have the vote.

So sad that they give it away for nothing in return. . .

Posted by: DAY on May 22, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

The K Street project went much further than keeping lists of friendly and unfriendly lobbying shops. The designation could be given as a result of refusing to take in former GOP hill staffers; it was an attempt to actively take over K Street.

Posted by: MMonides on May 22, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

But they're not selling influence, because that would be wrong.

Posted by: Daddy Love on May 22, 2010 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

How much longer do you think it will be before..

You mean it hasn't already happened?

Posted by: grape_crush on May 22, 2010 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

banana republic?

yeah, I'll keep pushing that meme...

Posted by: golack on May 22, 2010 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, a couple quick questions:

How likely is it that Republicans will be back in the majority in 2011? I thought that was very much up in the air. Am I missing something?

Posted by: d. b. cooper on May 22, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

D.B. Cooper, I was just thinking the same thing. The Republicans probably will pick up some seats, but it's by no means a done deal that they'll win back the majority. The recent primaries showed, among other things, that Democratic voters are also quite motivated; witness the fact that the winner of the Democratic Senate primary in Kentucky got considerably more votes than Rand Paul in the Republican primary. And if Rand Paul keeps running his mouth, the Democratic voters may find themselves even more motivated nationwide. So, if corporations knuckle under to this pressure and then find that their "investments" got them nothing, then what happens? Here's to the workings of the free market, bless it! Republicans, you may be about to discover its down-side.

Posted by: T-Rex on May 22, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

From the pamphlet rack at the RNC welcoming committee:

"Glossary of Washington Terms for Our Newest Congressional Members"

K Street - the location we'll be sending you to be whored out to the highest bidder.

C Street - the location where we'll be bringing you whores as payment of your good job "servicing" our K street clients.

This pamphlet printed on 100% non-recycled petroleum engineered paper bond.

Posted by: oh my on May 22, 2010 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Now: I seem to recall subtle messages like these being featured on "The Sopranos."

1972: "You do a lot of business in Washington, you'd do well to get in with the right people," Kalmbach told Steinbrenner. In other places, other men, better men than Kalmbach, tell you, "Pay or Die."
-Jimmy Breslin, "How the Good Guys Finally Won"

The more things change...

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on May 22, 2010 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

I am really surprised at what is going on here.

Why isn't this blog commenting more on the gulf oil leak? More and more people are coming to the conclusion that this administration is taking a hands-off approach. It's time for the administration to take charge of the crisis. Did you read what Dr. Sylvia Earle had to say the other day, when she said that she was baffled as to why we didn't have more of a handle on the rate of leakage from the seafloor.

Why did the administration allow BP so use so toxic a dispersant? Why did it take the administration so long to put together a technical team to assess the rate of leakage? Why has the president made little effort to explain what the government is doing? Why did the Coast Guard apparently tell a CBS news team to stop filming?

And why have liberal blogs not made more of a stink about this? Do we just assume that because the Republicans are scientifically illiterate, that the Democrats will handle science-related crises in a more skillful way?

To be fair, I don't know what can be done to stop the leak. But I do have the sense that the administration seems relatively unconcerned and has taken a hands-off approach to managing the crisis.

As James Carville might say, "It's the environment, stupid."

Posted by: Henry on May 22, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

This post lacks some important historical perspective. First, corporate contributions are swinging to Republicans now just as they swung to Democrats in 2007-08. Corporate America likes to back a winner and wants a seat at the table, so they'll always give money to those who they think will win.

Second, before the K Street project, and before the Republicans took Congress in 1994, it was common for Democratic offices to refuse to deal with interest groups that lacked "Democratic" representation. The K Street project was a crass, overt effort to even the score that rapidly led to some of the same sorts of corruption and heavy-handedness that had helped the GOP take Congress in the first place.

This doesn't excuse the K Street project -- and it would be awful if it returned -- but it's not as if the GOP insurgents of the 1990s invented the practice of demanding to be lobbied by their own.


Posted by: Jonathan H. Adler on May 22, 2010 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

'So what the Republicans are saying is that their principles are for rent or lease at reasonable rates?

Posted by: RepubAnon on May 22, 2010 at 11:41 AM'

Republicans have principles?

Posted by: Schtick on May 22, 2010 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

So what the Republicans are saying is that their principles are for rent or lease at reasonable rates?
Posted by: RepubAnon on May 22, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Not their principles (as Schtick, @18:35 points out, they don't have any); it's their *services* that are available. And I'm glad you noticed that those are for rent, not for sale; when you rent, you have to keep paying but never take full possession.

Posted by: exlibra on May 22, 2010 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

"Republicans gave the American political system a bad name during their reign of error. There are already hints that the sequel will be more offensive than the original."

Republicans are nothing more than corrupt slimeballs.....liars, crooks, hypocrites and completely without shame.

A crime syndicate masquerading as a political party.

Posted by: marty on May 22, 2010 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Merchants have no country." - Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: J on May 22, 2010 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

As long as the GOP continues its policy of complete obstructionism, or course, some businesses may not think much of their fundraising. You can only offer sweeteners if you're voting for stuff in the first place.

Posted by: paul on May 24, 2010 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK



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