Republicans take over K Street
The hottest speculation in Washington isn't over who will fill a possible Supreme Court vacancy, but who will take over Jack Valenti's perch atop the Motion Picture Association of America - and the buzz is narrowing to three Republicans, all present or former members of Congress.Skip to next paragraph
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Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana says he's running for reelection, but insiders say he might yet be open to the top lobby job in Washington, should Mr. Valenti, a Democrat, step down. The others mentioned are former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Rep. David Dreier of California.
It's a sign that the ties between the GOP-controlled Congress and the lobby shops on K Street are getting tighter - with significant consequences for issues ranging from tax policy to healthcare.
While lobbyists have long played a big role in Washington, bending lawmakers' ears and even helping to craft bills, K Street, until the mid-1990s, was Democratic turf. There was little rationale for industry groups, for example, to hire former GOP lawmakers.
But the influence of lobbyists appears to be growing, judging by the flow of money to and from K Street - and the push by Republicans to have members of their party hired for top lobbying jobs.
Some who have led the GOP push for K Street power even talk openly of a career path for young recruits to ponder: Serve in Congress, then "retire" to a pot of gold to follow in a job representing business interests on Capitol Hill.
"The Republicans are putting the Democrats to shame" in forging K Street ties, says Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Project. "The revolving door is becoming more comfortably established and institutionalized."
The trend stems in part from expectations - by both politicians and industry groups - that Republican will retain control of Congress for years to come. In that scenario, K Street can be a fount of money and ideas for Congress, while Congress can supply a stream of experienced and well-connected former lawmakers.
"There are an awful lot of [lobbying] firms looking around and saying, 'Hey, we have no Republicans,' says former GOP House leader Dick Armey. "All of a sudden, after four years, this is a Republican town, not a Democratic town."
Money is another key factor behind the trend.
The growth of lobbying in the 1980s and '90s vastly increased K Street's power as a factor in financing political campaigns. Not only do lobbyists give their own money, but the Washington office also has a big say in directing the contributions of the corporations and interest groups they represent. And those contributions appear to be reciprocated in more business for lobbyists.
"Since 1997, firms that gave over 60 percent of their donations to Republicans saw their revenues increase by over 20 percent; the figure for firms that donate 60 percent or more to Democrats was slightly less than 8 percent," says the Center for Responsive Politics in a 2000 survey of campaign spending by lobbying firms and lobbyists.
Both the volume and direction of funds from K Street has shifted since Republicans took over the House. In 1990, lobbyists contributed $3 million to members of Congress, 26 percent to Republicans. In the 1996 election cycle, that allocation shifted to 50-50. Lobbyists in 2002 contributed $16.2 million to members of Congress; $6.8 million in 2003, with 52 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.