Election of Boehner as House Majority Leader Is an Affront to Voters

Feb. 2, 2006

Election of Boehner as House Majority Leader Is an Affront to Voters

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

Today’s election of U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to be the next House majority leader over Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a Tom DeLay protégé, was a selection of Tweedle Dum over Tweedle Dee. The rejection of Rep. Blunt shows that rank-and-file Republicans are aware the corruption scandal that has shaken Washington could put their majority status at risk. But the elevation of Rep. Boehner, himself a product and proponent of the systemic problem of cronyism and influence-peddling that afflicts our nation’s capital, is not a sign that business as usual will end.

Consider these aspects of Rep. Boehner’s record:

  • He recently characterized House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s plan to ban privately funded travel as “childish” and dismissed the need for a ban on gifts from lobbyists to members of Congress. “If some members’ vote can be bought for a $20 lunch, they don’t need to be here,” he said. Later, Boehner backed away from his characterization of the travel ban as “childish,” but not the sentiment underlying his remark.
  • Boehner’s political action committee collected nearly $300,000 from private student lending companies and for-profit academic institutions from 2003-2004. Boehner has used his chairmanship of the Education and the Workforce Committee to promote their pet causes – legislation that would make it more difficult to cut the fees on government student loans, which would cut into the private lenders market share, and legislation that would provide millions in subsidies to for-profit colleges and trade schools. (Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2006)
  • Boehner has taken more than $157,000 in free trips, placing him seventh among 638 current and former members of Congress, including senators, in the value of privately funded travel accepted between 2000 and 2005, according to American Radioworks. These included a $4,869 trip to Scotland in 2000 and a $9,050 trip to Rome in 2001, both of which were sponsored by the Ripon Educational Fund, a nonprofit group largely run by business lobbyists. Family members traveled with him for free on both trips.
  • An exceptional number – at least 24 – former Boehner staff members have passed through the revolving door from government service to find work in the private sector as lobbyists or corporate public affairs specialists. (The Hill, Feb. 1, 2006)
  • Boehner preceded indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay as the head of the “K Street Operation,” the Republicans’ efforts to coordinate policy and fundraising with well-heeled lobbyists, which since has been dubbed the “K Street Project.” But the Ohioan lost the job to DeLay in 1998 after he was voted out as head of the Republican Conference. (Baltimore Sun, Dec. 21, 1998)
  • Boehner caught a large amount of flack for handing out checks to his colleagues from tobacco company PACs on the floor of Congress in 1995. Although not illegal, it certainly showed poor judgment but was consistent with his role at the time as the party’s chief liaison with K Street. (New York Times, May 10, 1996)

Elevating a leader of the current broken system to be majority leader is an affront to voters and a stain on the Republican Party. If the past is any guide, Boehner will now use this key position to undercut ethics and lobbying reforms in the House of Representatives.

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For more information about government ethics, visit Public Citizen’s new “Clean Up Washington” Web site, at http://www.CleanUpWashington.org.