Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Revolving Door Takes A Notorious Blue Dog For A Spin


Crooked Alabama Blue Dog to head sleazy lobbying firm

"Washington lobbyists are not generally deemed to be a group with high ethical standards, and foreign lobbyists, with their track record of working for Nazis, drug-running despots and death squad dictators, are widely thought to be the lowest type of Beltway pond scum."
-- Ken Silverstein, Turkmeniscam

And when pond scum comes to mind, what better match could a lobbying firm specializing in international chicanery like Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates find than just retired reactionary Blue Dog Bud Cramer? They hired him as their new chairman.
The move is part of a wave of Democratic hires that has washed over Washington’s lobbying community since November’s election. Another just-inked deal will send [corrupt Blue Dog] Rep. Melissa L. Bean’s chief of staff, John Michael Gonzalez, to Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart.

Gonzalez, who has worked for the moderate [that's "raving right-wing asshole" in Beltwayese] Illinois Democrat for four years, said he can help his new clients navigate the political and policy cross-currents facing centrist [that's "treacherous Republican-lite" in the secret language spoken Inside the Beltway] Democrats.

“I know how moderate [see above] members think, and I know the kind of pressures that they face from leadership,” he said. “And I know their ability to impact legislation on Capitol Hill.”

One of Cramer's many attributes to a shady firm whose existence is based on selling out America's best interests to corporate and foreign interests is that he's a favorite of many of the most corrupt members on both sides of the aisle and, in fact, is close to both of Alabama's crooked Republican Senators, Richard Shelby, a shill for foreign auto manufacturers, and Jeff Sessions.
Cramer’s relationship with Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, is likely to be particularly important as Congress looks to overhaul the regulations governing the nation’s financial system.

So after Cramer announced last March that he planned to retire at the end of his term, Wexler and Walker executives let him know of their interest, said firm president Jack Howard, who’s been a Cramer fan since his days working for President George H.W. Bush.

The firm, like virtually all the for-profit Inside the Beltway lobbying firms, is one of a peculiar genre of Washington, DC Culture of Corruption anomalies. One of the interest-peddlers' specialties is obtaining earmarks for... well, for whomever pays them the most money. They trade on their "influence" to rip off billions of dollars from the American taxpayers for those clients in a process that "is so willfully murky that abuse has become not the exception but the rule. Earmarks are added anonymously, frequently during last-minute, closed-door sessions of the appropriations committees [from which Cramer will now be cashing in and becoming very, very, very rich]. An especially attractive feature for those private interests seeking earmarks is that they are awarded on a noncompetitive basis and recipients need not meet any performance standards. In other words, applicants need not demonstrate that their project, program, or company actually delivers a useful good or service.
As earmarking has proliferated, it has become less ad hoc and more efficient; it is now an accepted Washington industry, with its own standardized rules and procedures. Whereas in the past we had isolated thefts on behalf of constituents, what we have today is a professional crime syndicate with tentacles not only in long-established pork-barrel sectors such as public works and defense but in such relatively unspoiled fields as academic research and community programs. Those seeking government largesse no longer need to procure backroom meetings through congressional aides; most members of Congress now have simple “appropriations-request forms,” which are as easy to complete as a typical job or credit-card application...

By far the most significant change of recent years has been the incursion of lobbying firms, many of which have been set up expressly for this purpose. Like attorneys at hospital bedsides, earmarking lobbyists aggressively court customers with boasts of their ability to deliver easy cash. “Shepherding appropriations requests through Congress is a priority for many clients,” trumpets the website of B&D Sagamore, one such earmarking specialist. B&D's site furthermore promises to arrange “discussions between clients and members of Congress” and track legislation so that the firm can intervene “at critical points in the process.”

Last year more than 3,000 private companies or institutions hired lobbying firms such as B&D to pursue earmarks. Because federal disclosure laws are minimal, to say the least, it is difficult to estimate exactly how much money in total was doled out to lobbyists. But Keith Ashdown, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington group that tracks the earmarking process, says the typical earmark seeker pays a retainer ranging from the tens of thousands up to more than $100,000 per year, with the total easily reaching tens of millions of dollars. Large though that sum may seem, as investments such retainers are undeniably savvy: the overall payout in pork is many times that, totaling into the billions.

...[To get an earmark] choosing the right lobbyist is as important as choosing the right lawmaker, if not more important. Because so many lobbyists have past experience on Capitol Hill, they usually have personal ties both to members of Congress and to their key staffers, who vet and prioritize the earmark requests. “You need to hire someone who understands the process and knows the pressure points,” says a Beltway lobbyist who specializes in winning appropriations money. “There's a lot of horse-trading going on, so you need someone who is hounding the staffers, calling up every week or every day if necessary.”

A full taxonomy of the lobbyists of Washington would necessitate a book-length field guide, but a few of the more salient species can be considered here. The most effective ally for the earmark-seeker is a lobbyist who is actually related, by blood or marriage, to a powerful member of an appropriations committee. For years many Alaskan firms, and even huge corporations such as Lockheed Martin, have retained the services of William Bittner, brother-in-law of Senator Stevens. In one case reported by the Los Angeles Times in 2003, Stevens inserted a single line into an appropriations bill that awarded $9.6 million to a program whose chief beneficiary was a Hyundai subsidiary represented by Bittner. The brother of Rep. John Murtha, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, has lobbied for at least sixteen defense manufacturers on appropriations issues. Craig Obey, the son of Rep. David Obey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, seeks money for the National Parks & Conservation Association.

Retired members and staffers from the appropriations committees also make particularly effective lobbyists, because they enjoy guaranteed access to the friends and colleagues they left behind. Jim Dyer, who became the Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee in 1995, was long considered to be one of the most powerful aides on the Hill. “Jim's job was to broker deals between members,” a lobbyist and friend of Dyer's told me earlier this year. “He knew where every dime was. He's been hounded for years with big money offers.” In February , just weeks after we spoke, Dyer was hired by a lobby shop called Clark & Weinstock, where he joined two former appropriations committee members, Vin Weber and Vic Fazio.

...Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates has a flourishing practice in the transportation field. One of the best-connected firms in town, Public Policy Associates' name partners are Anne Wexler, a prominent Democrat who once upon a time helped organize Eugene McCarthy's 1968 antiwar presidential campaign and who now lobbies for a fair portion of the Fortune 500, and former G.O.P. congressman Robert Walker, who was one of Newt Gingrich's closest allies during the latter's reign as House speaker.
Back in 1997, Public Policy Associates put together a musical revue about lobbying that it offered clients as an educational tool, and the show gives a pretty good idea of how the firm courts Washington. One skit, performed for a group of Burger King operators called the National Franchise Association (NFA), included a song performed to the tune of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”:
Congressman, senator we've formed a PAC
Now we can act, no need for tact,
Pooling resources makes very good sense
So we formed a little PAC
When NFA's membership starts to pitch in
Growing the fund, access begins
Should ever a congressman put up his guard
The PAC is our calling card . . .
Any lawmaker ignoring our PAC
Risks being fried like a Big Mac
Working together's the tried and true way to
Deliver the facts, give pats on the back
Favors attract, enemies sacked
Through NFA's brand new PAC!

Public Policy Associates knows of which it sings. During the last three election cycles, the company's own PAC doled out more than $315,000 in political contributions; its employees gave an additional $255,000.

Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics reminds us, in regard to Cramer's new job, that the revolving door always spins a little faster after an election. “While the new administration has laid down some strict rules [well... "elastic" might be a more accurate description] on who’s allowed to join their team and what administration staffers can do afterward, Congress hasn’t really followed suit. From the members themselves to their staffers, there’s a straight route to K Street.” Especially for Blue Dogs and Republicans, for whom political corruption is a religion.

And just to make things more complicated, WPP lists 18 separate Washington-based entities.
They include Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Timmons & Co., Ogilvy Government Relations (formerly the Federalist Group), Public Strategies Inc., the Dewey Square Group and Hill & Knowlton. Also in the WPP fold is Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, whose chief executive, Mark Penn, is a top strategist for Sen. Clinton. In addition, Penn's firm owns BKSH & Associates, run by Charles R. Black Jr., a leading GOP adviser.

Each one of these WPP "tubs" floats on its own bottom. Political action committees pose the sole dicey area. That is because each WPP-owned firm needs to monitor the others' campaign contributions to make sure that they collectively do not exceed the legal ceilings in each category in each election cycle. Records show that in 2006, Wexler & Walker's PAC gave $103,500 to various candidates, with 64 percent going to Republicans and 36 percent to Democrats.

I'd bet that those percentages have turned around now that the Democrats are running Congress.

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