The Washington Monthly's Who's Who
April 2004

Well-connected Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff came into the news lately when it turned out he had collected more than $9 million in fees from various Indian tribes during the past two years, although tribal interests faced little political opposition at that time. (He was dumped by his firm, Greenberg Traurig, which cited "personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable to the firm." Abramoff responded with a statement noting that Washington lobbying "is different from other areas in the practice of law." Indeed.) But while Abramoff is far from Washington's first corrupt lobbyist, he's among a troika of right-wing operatives who exemplify a more recent trend: the political decadence of late-stage conservatism. Along with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and political consultant Ralph Reed, Abramoff came of age at the dawn of Reaganism, helping to stage an early-1980s putsch at the College Republicans that evicted moderates from the group's leadership. Each rose to prominence during the 1990s, Reed as head of the Christian Coalition, Norquist and Abramoff as allies of Reps. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Tom DeLay (R-Texas). But like Abramoff, Reed and Norquist have lately hit a few bumps in the road. Norquist was so eager to rally Muslim immigrants to the GOP camp that he famously lobbied to include three American Muslim clerics in the audience when President George W. Bush gave a speech proclaiming that "the teachings of Islam are teachings of peace and good"--without telling the White House that all three were known for rabidly anti-American or pro-terrorist rhetoric. Reed spurned God for Mammon, earning tens of thousands of dollars lobbying for Enron up until the company collapsed in late 2001.

Beltway denizens were somewhat surprised when, soon after John Kerry officially launched his search for a running mate, a boomlet erupted around vanquished candidate Richard Gephardt. After all, neither Gephardt's alleged strength in the Midwest nor his close ties to organized labor prevented him from finishing an anemic fourth in January's Iowa caucuses. So why did the dailies and newsweeklies start bandying his name about as potential veep nominee for Kerry? It can't have hurt that, shortly after Gephardt dropped out, his campaign manager and longtime aide Steve Elmendorf signed on to the Kerry campaign as deputy campaign manager.

Speaking of Elmendorf, the Kerry campaign has lately relied on him and campaign strategist Bob Shrum--talented political operatives, but not especially telegenic ones--to wage war on the chat shows. But some political reporters and political operatives are wondering why the campaign hasn't put press aide Stephanie Cutter or senior advisor Michael Meehan on more often. She's a young, attractive single woman; he's a good-looking Irishman. Both appeal to the working-class demographic Kerry hopes to win over.

To those who've been keeping track at home, it was no surprise when the Bush administration dropped renowned cell biologist--and proponent of embryonic stem-cell research--Elizabeth Blackburn from the President's Council on Bioethics, in favor of Diana Schaub, a political scientist who believes cloning to be "evil." The White House makes a habit of stacking federal agencies and scientific advisory committees with political appointees willing to disregard or manipulate fact when it doesn't comport with ideology. The Union of Concerned Scientists has documented some of the most egregious recent examples. James L. Connaughton, former power-company lobbyist and now chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, reportedly requested so many qualifiers and significant changes concerning climate change in the Environmental Protection Agency's June 2003 Report on the Environment that the entire section was cut from the final draft, issued shortly after EPA administrator Christie Whitman resigned. When findings from an independent study on the flow of the Missouri River did not fit Bush administration policy objectives, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson authorized a new "SWAT team" of scientists to review the findings. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Paul Hoffman asked the U.N. World Heritage Committee to take Yellowstone National Park off its endangered sites list, despite a report written by the park's professional staff that had cautioned against such a move. In February, Arthur J. Lawrence, a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, reworked an HHS report to downplay evidence of racial disparities in health care. Under the supervision of Jeffrey Holmstead, the EPA's assistant administrator for air programs, a dozen paragraphs in Bush's recently-proposed legislation on mercury pollution resembled or duplicated memos from leading D.C. corporate environmental law firm, Latham & Watkins, for whom Holmstead and his chief counsel, Bill Wehrum, had previously worked. And the Food and Drug Administration, whose advisory committee for reproductive-health drugs is chaired by anti-abortion activist W. David Hager, postponed this month their approval for over-the-counter sales of an emergency contraceptive known as "Plan B," despite findings from the agency's scientific advisory panel that the pill is safe and effective.

Add Karen Weldon, daughter of Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), to the list of congressional sons, daughters, spouses, and in-laws whose lack of credentials, experience, or expertise hasn't stopped them from enjoying lucrative careers as government lobbyists. Among the 29-year-old Weldon's clients, the Los Angeles Times recently reported, are Dragomir and Bogoljub Karic, members of a wealthy Serbian family with close ties to famed ethnic-cleanser Slobodan Milosevic. Thanks to Rep. Weldon's efforts, the two brothers are given special attention by the State Department. For those keeping track at home, others on the list include Ben Stevens and William H. Bittner, the son and brother-in-law of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ala.); Rory Reid and Steven Barringer, the son and son-in-law of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.); John Breaux Jr., son of retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-La.); Chester T. "Chet" Lott Jr., son of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.); Joshua Hastert, son of Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.); and Scott Hatch, son of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Never go against the family!

Watching the 2004 campaign shape up couldn't have been easy for Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Thanks to the campaign finance legislation that bears the senator's name--along with that of Republican Sen. John McCain (Az.)--Feingold's party has scrambled desperately to raise money for the fall elections, while President Bush has broken fundraising records without a sweat--a disparity, we're told, that has caused a few spats between Feingold and his colleagues during Democratic caucus meetings. But when Kerry visited Capitol Hill in March for a unity meeting with Senate Democrats, Feingold didn't say a word as Kerry explained how left-leaning 527s--which many reformers, including Feingold, believe unlawfully circumvent 2002's reform law--would help keep pressure on Bush from now through the Democratic convention.

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