Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Airline Firm Pays A Lobbyist To Have A Sexual Relationship With The Chair Of The House Transportation Committee


Shuster and his lobbyist have red circles around their heads

Bill Shuster couldn't have turned out not to be corrupt. The Pennsylvania Republican is the antithesis of a values-driven political leader. He's a grubby deal maker whose father Bud Shuster suddenly resigned from Congress at a pique of anger with the GOP over his lucrative committee chair and his son Bill, a car salesman, inherited the deep red seat-- complements of shady backroom deals-- and, eventually the graft-producing committee chair his father was angry about being retired from. Pennsylvania's 9th CD is the leftover bits and pieces of the southern and central parts of the state, Altoona, the exurbs south of Pittsburgh, Chambersburg halfway across the state. Only 3% of the population is black and less than 2% is Latino. The political complexion is dark red (PVI +14, the worst in the whole state) and has been since the Civil War, when being a Republican meant the polar opposite of what it means today. No one told them yet. Shuster inherited his seat in 2001 and got the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairmanship in 2013. This is how bad it is: the top U.S. airline trade association pays a lobbyist to sleep with him in return for legislation to serve their own interests! (Shuster dumped his wife of 27 years, Rebecca, almost 2 years ago, just when his affair with the lobbyist became public. They have two children, Ali and Garrett, a lobbyist for ALTZ Investment Strategies.) Shuster has been notorious for having sex with female lobbyists for years and was threatened by Boehner to stop or risk losing his chairmanship. He didn't stop and didn't lose his chairmanship. People in Washington say her firm "owns" Shuster and he does whatever they want.

Shuster doesn't have anything to worry about in terms of a Democrat, but this year he has a Tea Party extremist challenging him again-- the same Tea Party extremist, Art Halvorson, who challenged him in 2014 (pre-Trump).
Halvorson is challenging the incumbent’s conservative bona fides and his ethics, too, after reports that Mr. Shuster was cavorting with a top airline lobbyist and vacationing in Florida with another while he was pushing aviation reforms through Congress.

With voters railing against the establishment, Mr. Shuster, 55, is a consummate insider. He’s been in Congress for 15 years, he is chairman of one of its most powerful committees, he has been involved in classic Washington deal-making, and he is from a political family. His father, Bud Shuster, previously held both his son’s congressional seat and his chairmanship.

“The establishment is in some ways on trial this year, and people that have establishment attributes including Shuster” are vulnerable, said Chris Borick, professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “He should have a sizable degree of concern.”

Republican strategist Charlie Gerow said anything can happen.

“It’s been such a topsy-turvy political year, you just don’t know what can happen. Ordinarily I would say [Mr. Shuster] is in no danger but this year perhaps it’s a little bit different,” Mr. Gerow said. “I’m not advising him but if I were I would tell him to visit every wake and wedding in the district over the next three weeks and make sure folks back home know how hard he works.”

Mr. Halvorson is trying to deliver to voters: He’s been telling them that Mr. Shuster isn’t conservative enough-- or ethical enough-- to represent the district.

Mr. Shuster has been dating Shelley Rubino, a lobbyist for Airlines for America, and socializing in Miami with her boss, Nick Calio, while working on sweeping reforms for which the aviation industry has been pressing. Meanwhile, Mr. Shuster hired another former Airlines for America lobbyist for his committee staff.

He declined to say how he and Ms. Rubino met.

“It’s a private and personal relationship,” he said Wednesday during a telephone interview. “It’s a private matter. Let’s move on to something else, some other questions.”

Mr. Shuster has said there’s no conflict of interest because he has an office rule that prevents Ms. Rubino from lobbying him or his staff, adding that her job is to lobby Democrats, not Republicans. He said most of the lobbyists he sees are from individual airlines, not associations like Airlines for America, that represent the industry as a whole, including most major commercial passenger and cargo carriers.

“They get their legislation pushed through and fast-tracked through Mr. Shuster’s committee, and it’s absolutely corrupt. We need to stop it,” said Mr. Halvorson, 60. “He represents the Washington cartel and the pay-to-play fix in Washington where lobbyists have direct access and taxpayers have no access to Washington.”

Mr. Shuster said there’s only one motivation behind his FAA proposal, which would privatize air-traffic control: “I’m doing what’s right for this country, and I believe that from the top of my head to the tip of my toes.” That also includes standing up for the Second Amendment, opposing abortion, building a wall along the Mexican border, closing immigration pathways for Middle Eastern refugees who cannot be thoroughly screened and reducing the size of government, he said.

As of December 31, Shuster had raised $1,890,292 and had spent $931,235. He still had $1,374,354 in his campaign account. PA-09 is a really inexpensive media market but a tricky one because it's no big and uncentralized geographically. Still, Halvorspn hadn't even brought in the $5,000 that would have triggered a mandatory FEC report. He raised an spent $264,898 in 2014, although two-thirds of that ($178,673) was from his own bank account. The NRA and the National Association of Realtors did some independent expenditures for Shuster and the Madison Project attacked him on Halvorson's behalf, but only spent $10,000. So far this cycle, no outside group has spent anything on either candidate.

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