BOEHNER GETS BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS LOBBYISTS…. John Boehner first gained national notoriety in 1996, when the chain-smoking conservative congressman, shortly before a key vote, walked the House floor distributing checks from tobacco industry lobbyists. Boehner, an up-and-coming member of the GOP leadership at the time, later acknowledged that his money-distribution scheme didn’t “look good.”
But that didn’t stop the Ohio Republican from forging close, almost inseparable, connections to Washington’s lobbyists. As Americans just start getting to know the dim-witted man who’s likely to be the next House Speaker, perhaps no trait is more important to Boehner’s persona than his love of lobbyists.
He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.
They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed.
To a certain extent, this isn’t new.. When Congress worked on a jobs bill, Boehner and congressional Republicans huddled with corporate lobbyists. When work on Wall Street reform got underway, Boehner and congressional Republicans huddled with industry lobbyists. When Congress worked on health care reform, Boehner and congressional Republicans huddled with insurance lobbyists. When an energy/climate bill started advancing, Republicans huddled with energy lobbyists.
But arguably no one in Washington better epitomizes this borderline-caricature than Boehner — who literally meets in smoke-filled rooms to scheme with powerful lobbyists.
While many lawmakers in each party have networks of donors, lobbyists and former aides who now represent corporate interests, Mr. Boehner’s ties seem especially deep. His clique of friends and current and former staff members even has a nickname on Capitol Hill, Boehner Land. The members of this inner circle said their association with Mr. Boehner translates into open access to him and his staff.
It’s the kind of scenario Americans claim not to like — a powerful politician has put together a network of lobbyists, some of whom are his former aides, who reward him with campaign cash. The politician in turn gives them unrivaled access and does their bidding on the Hill. The whole gang likes to golf, smoke, and drink together, and dash off to beautiful locales on corporate jets.
It just screams “man of the people,” doesn’t it?
There’s a very real chance that voters aren’t bothered by any of this. For all the faux-populism of Tea Partiers and alleged disgust throughout the electorate for business as usual, many Americans seem to have developed quite a tolerance for the blurred line between politicians and lobbyists. In Indiana, I thought Dan Coats (R) might have trouble running for the Senate as a corporate lobbyist, but voters don’t seem to care. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) hopes to parlay his career as a corporate lobbyist into a likely presidential campaign, and few seem to find the idea silly.
Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times, then, that the congressman who serves as King of Boehner Land would become Speaker of the House at a time when Americans at least pretend to want the opposite.