You wouldn’t know it from his folksy manner, but Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) is in deep with the telecom lobby, where a whole stable of his ex-aides have gone on to thrive, with good return:
For nearly a decade, a group of former top aides to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) have successfully used personal and professional connections to Burns, Montana State University’s Burns Technology Center and other institutions associated with him to secure more than $20 million in lobbying fees for themselves, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research contracts, tax breaks and subsidies for their clients.
Since 1998, more than a dozen companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sector – ranging from international powerhouses such as Microsoft, Intelsat and Lockheed Martin to homegrown outfits including Montana-based Bacterin and Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Advanced Acoustic Concepts – have paid lobbying retainers to former Burns aides, including Leo Giacometto, William Brooke, Brett Scott, Mark Baker, Randell Popelka, Stan Ullman, Shawn Vasell, Mike Rawson and Robert Arensberg….
Although it often can take decades for major policy or spending bills to move through the Senate, the $20 million-plus investment these companies have made in Burns’ former aides appears to have paid off.
For instance, the satellite giant Intelsat has paid Scott and Brooke more than $1 million as part of its successful campaign to first become a private company in 2000 and then to stave off potentially crippling financial requirements that Congress had built into the original privatization bill that was championed in the Senate by Burns.
Other companies have secured plum Department of Defense, Energy and National Institutes of Health funding as a result of Burns-authored earmarks in spending bills, while still others have had their regulatory and spending priorities championed in the Senate by Burns.
DeLay Staggers from the Ashes
Tom DeLay won a solid 62% of the vote yesterday in his primary – well, “solid” for an indictee. His main challenger Tom Campbell only came out with 30%. Said DeLay: “This race was about who can effectively represent the values and the priorities of the people in this district, and I’m proud to have earned, and overwhelmingly kept, that trust among Republican voters.” (Houston Chronicle)
Hotline says that DeLay has an uninteresting Republican primary race for governor to thank. Voter turnout was low, which favored DeLay. (Hotline)
Steven Clemons thinks DeLay’s win is good news, meaning we’ll all have Tom DeLay to kick around some more. We agree. (Washington Note)
Democrats and Lobbyists
In a lengthy front page piece, The Hill recounts the friction between Democrats and Democratic corporate lobbyists. Dem lobbyists never quite got the love that their Republican counterparts got from the Republicans, but it seems they were gaining ground until this whole Jack Abramoff story screwed it all up. The “Monday Meetings” between Senate Democrats and lobbyist allies were going well, or as one Dem lobbyist put it:
“If you could lay out the team concept on a spectrum, from one end – which is, ‘you’ve gone to the dark side,’ to the other end – which is, ‘give me the bill language, I’m going to the floor to introduce it’ – we [were] moving up the spectrum,” said Chuck Brain of Capitol Hill Strategies, who lobbies for Wachovia, Amgen and Prudential.
Now that’s not so clear. (The Hill)
Fight Over Corporate Jets
Lawmakers frequently use them, some saying that it would be impossible to get around any other way. Sen. Obama (D-IL) disagrees and wants to stop it. Color me skeptical that such an effort will get very far.
My favorite detail from the piece:
The trips are so ingrained that last year Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the former House Republican leader, was transported to Texas by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, a subsidiary of Reynolds American, to his arraignment on charges related to campaign financing.
Brent Wilkes – California Edition
Even though Wilkes’ business was federal contracts, he gave California a fair shake for a shakedown. Wilkes and his associates gave Gov. Schwarzenegger $87,000, and they spread a good bit of money around the state legislature too. One legislator in particular seems to have been a favorite, a man named George Plescia, who now seems primed to rise to Minority Leader in the California House. Besides $19,000 in contributions from ADCS, Wilkes’ company, Plescia’s wife Melissa was “the governmental affairs manager for Wilkes’ company, and Plescia kicked off his re-election campaign at the ADCS headquarters.”
It’s not clear what Wilkes’ money bought him, though. He only got $1,050 in contracts from California. Ouch. (The Rest of Us)
Reform – Where’s McCain?
Courting K Street, says The Hill:
Good-government advocacy groups working on lobbying reform say their longtime ally Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has played a smaller leadership role on the issue than they had expected.
McCain’s lower-than-hoped-for profile on the sensitive subject coincides with what prominent lobbyists describe as a quiet effort by his political team to court inside-the-Beltway donors and fundraisers in preparation for a possible 2008 presidential run….
…lobbyists say that McCain has been reaching out to K Street to strengthen his national fundraising network.
Grassroots groups are livid that lobbying reform legislation in the Senate may require disclosure of their activities. “The measure would require the disclosure of money received and spent to organize telephone banks, mass mailings and other campaigns aimed at rallying citizens to express their views to Congress and the White House in key policy debates.” The groups, from the left and right, say the measure would violate their 1st Amendment rights. It looks like they’ll ultimately be successful in getting that item yanked out. (LAT)
Members of the House Appopriations Committee are not happy that earmark reform has been mostly concentrated on their committee thus far, so new reform proposals are likely to extend to tax and authorization bills in addition to spending measures. The Bridge to Nowhere was tacked onto an authorization bill. (Roll Call)
Roll Call reports that the consolidation of the telecom industry has led to less competition in the industry, but greater competition among lobbyists for fewer jobs, since there are fewer companies. (Roll Call)
“Virtual” Line-Item Veto?
This seems like it could make some people angry:
Pointing to a technicality of the appropriations process, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) wants the Bush administration to utilize a “virtual” line-item veto. Under DeMint’s plan, the president would direct agency chiefs to ignore spending directed by committee reports that accompany legislation but are not included in the text of the spending bills themselves.
In Other Muck
A “Washington lobbyist” writes in the Chicago Tribune that “our political system is cleaner than it has ever been.” (CT)
Rep. John Conyers’ (D-MI) ex-aide is still angry and plans to file an ethics complaint against him, “alleging that the congressman compelled his staff to work in election campaigns and to do personal errands for him.” (WaPo)
Covered Yesterday on TPM & TPMmuckraker
The Texas K Street Project…Gov. Perry reiterated his support for hiring connected private Republican lobbyists, even though they seem to be doing nothing but aiding Texas Republicans. (TPMmuckraker, Houston Chronicle)