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Rep. Blunt Not Fit for Leadership in a Reform Era, Represents More of Corrupting Big-Money Politics, New Public Citizen Report Shows

Jan. 13, 2006

Rep. Blunt Not Fit for Leadership in a Reform Era, Represents More of Corrupting Big-Money Politics, New Public Citizen Report Shows

Blunt Has Strong Ties to Lobbyists and Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, Doled Out Favors to Campaign Contributors, Accepted Corporate-Funded Travel and More

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is vying to be House majority leader, is unfit for leadership because he represents more of the same corrupting, big-money politics that the American public has become disgusted with and that many reformers in Congress are trying to clean up, a new Public Citizen report shows.

The report, Rep. Roy Blunt: Ties to Special Interests Leave Him Unfit to Lead, details how much money Blunt has collected from lobbyists and corporate political action committees (PACs), the favors he has done for contributors, the trips he or candidates he has paid expenses for have taken on corporate jets, and how members of his staff have gone to work for major corporations that later donated thousands of dollars to Blunt’s political committees. The report also delves into the unsettling nature of Blunts’ ties to the fundraising apparatus of indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and admitted felon and former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“If Republicans are serious about making substantive changes to the current corrupt system, in which money flows freely from lobbyists to lawmakers and then back to lobbyists again, courtesy of the federal treasury, they should not select Rep. Blunt as their next majority leader,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Electing Rep. Blunt means choosing more of the same corruption plaguing the system now.”

Added Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, which produced the report, “Rep. Blunt’s tenure in Congress has been marked by exchanges of favors between himself and special interests and a deep embrace of lobbyists. He is an architect of today’s sleazy, big-money politics, not the agent of change that Congress so desperately needs right now to regain credibility with the public.”

Main findings of the report are:

  • Seventy-three percent, or $9.2 million, of the $12.8 million in contributions received by Blunt’s political committees since 1999 have come from business PACs and from lobbyists who very often control the PACs. Capitol Hill lobbyists have made personal contributions of at least $429,000 since 1999.
  • Forty-three percent – 13 of 30 – of Blunt’s biggest contributors have hired his former aides as their lobbyists.
  • Blunt and congressional candidates for whom he has paid airfare have taken at least 140 subsidized flights on corporate jets since 2001. Blunt personally flew on at least 99 of the flights. His political committees have reimbursed the jets’ owners $193,744 for the trips, which represents the cost of first class plane tickets. Public Citizen estimates the actual costs of leasing these jets at the more expensive charter rate was, depending on the method, between $925,000 and $2 million. Blunt’s reimbursements were often dwarfed by the companies’ campaign contributions to him – essentially making the trips free.
  • PACs run by the “Baby Bells” – the local phone providers that descended from the breakup of AT&T, have contributed nearly $540,000 to his campaigns since 1999. Blunt co-sponsored a bill to exempt the companies from sharing lines with competitors, and he co-signed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission demanding the agency justify a rule requiring the Bells to lease portions of networks to competitors. Similarly, Blunt played a leading role in securing a highly inflated $15 billion airline bailout bill after the Sept. 11 attacks and a $3.8 billion bailout two years later; four airline companies contributed $102,000 in cash, including what appear in campaign finance records to be 16 free flights.
  • DeLay facilitated Blunt’s rapid rise and Blunt tapped into DeLay’s enormous fundraising machine, especially the Alexander Strategy Group (ASG), founded by former DeLay staff. Ten of Blunt’s biggest contributors have hired ASG as their lobbying firm. Blunt’s committees paid ASG $485,485 since 1999 for fundraising and consulting services. ASG’s clients, meanwhile, have funneled $581,866 into Blunt’s committees. ASG was forced to shut its doors in January 2006 because of its connections with the DeLay-Abramoff lobbying scandal. Moreover, at least one of Blunt’s PACs operated out of the same townhouse as an illegal soft money operation connected to DeLay operatives.
  • Blunt provided access to Abramoff and his employees in connection with the NorthernMarianasIslands, which hired Abramoff to block U.S. labor standards from being imposed on the U.S. territory. Blunt also wrote three letters to the Interior Department on behalf of the Louisiana Coushatta tribe, an Abramoff client, opposing a rival tribe’s efforts to open a casino. Blunt dined free at Abramoff’s now-defunct restaurant, Signatures.

Public Citizen’s report on Blunt was the result of work that began last fall, when it appeared as though DeLay might have to step down from his position as majority leader. Public Citizen did not investigate the other lawmaker who has recently emerged as a top candidate for DeLay’s job, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), because he was not an obvious pick for the majority leader’s slot.