ABRAMOFF AND K STREET….Janet Hook and Mary Curtius have a pretty good story in the LA Times today that ties the Jack Abramoff story to the broader ? and ultimately more important ? story of the K Street Project, a scheme dreamed up by Republican leaders a decade ago as a way of cementing their control of Congress via permanent and ironclad links to pro-business lobbyists:

GOP leaders, seeking to harness the financial and political support of K Street, urged lobbyists to support their conservative agenda, give heavily to Republican politicians and hire Republicans for top trade association jobs. Abramoff obliged on every front, and his tentacles of influence reached deep into the upper echelons of Congress and the Bush administration.

….Critics of the campaign finance system say it would be a kind of rough justice if Republicans were hobbled by their relationships with a lobbyist, because they worked so hard to increase coordination between their party and K Street.

….According to a study by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, 296 members of Congress since 1999 have received contributions from Abramoff, his Indian tribe clients or SunCruz Casinos. Abramoff and his wife contributed $204,253 ? all of it to Republicans.

As always, Nick Confessore’s “Welcome to the Machine” is the best primer available about how the K Street Project was born and how it works. I also recommend Thomas Edsall’s piece in the Washington Post last year explaining how the Project has morphed to the point where K Street lobbyists are now practically an arm of the Republican Party itself, expected to cooperate on cue whenever they’re needed to help intimidate reluctant members into voting with the leadership.

One of the underreported stories of the past few years is the evolution of the Republican Party from being the party of capitalism and free enterprise to being merely the party of whichever business interests can help Republicans get reelected. There’s a big difference between being pro-market and being pro-business ? in fact, they’re often diametrically opposed ? but the difference isn’t always obvious until something like the Abramoff affair shines a bright light on it. If the Democratic Party is smart, this will be a learning moment for the country about not just garden variety corruption, but about the true nature of how the modern Republican Party operates.