Thursday, January 22, 2009

Republicans Begin Building Up A New K Street Project


Yesterday, President Obama announced new strict lobbying rules that “could usher in an era of openness in federal government.” For example, administration officials are banned from accepting gifts from lobbyists and will have to wait two years before lobbying the government when out of office. Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said that the restrictions constitute “a major step in setting a new tone and attitude for Washington.”

Congress, however, isn’t so ready to move away from the old Washington. Roll Call reports today that the GOP is building a new K Street Project to cozy up with lobbyists:

Senate Republicans have tasked Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) with beefing up the party’s outreach to K Street, business groups and grass-roots organizations, hoping to maintain critical alliances built up over eight years of White House control.

Primarily, Thune said he hopes to create new alliances and fortify old relationships in order to sell the party’s priorities to the masses as it tries to reinvent itself after suffering bruising Congressional losses in the past two election cycles.

The previous version of the K Street Project, established by Tom DeLay and his cronies, set up a pay-to-play machine that self-admittedly operated by the old adage of “punish your enemies and reward your friends.” Lobbyists were given influence over legislation in return for donations to Republicans and a refusal to hire Democrats. DeLay’s influence is still felt on K Street, where there remains a “collective griping” at the dominance of Republicans.

House Republicans already have a running start on their Senate colleagues. Lobbyists “willing to pay a $25,000 fee will mingle with House Republicans at their annual winter retreat” next week in Hot Springs, VA. Only some of the lobbyists — on the board or advisory committee the nonprofit Congressional Institute — are listed on the group’s website, so it’s not clear who will be attending the GOP retreat. One lobbyist who has attended the retreat for years told the Hill, “Of course it’s about access and building relationships — that’s what this town is all about.”

Some congressional Democrats may also be getting in on the action. Reports indicate that the new administration will be a “boom” for K Street, which expects that interest groups will want help trying influencing the upcoming agenda. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invited top lobbyists to join him for an inaugural brunch where he pledged that he will still do plenty of business with them. “People should understand that lobbyists, per se, are someone’s father, mother, son, daughter,” said Reid. “They work for a living.”

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