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The More Things Change…?

Yesterday’s Roll Call [subscription required], pointed out a remarkable and little-noted fact in the battle for Republican leadership of the House: even as the Republicans struggle to distance themselves from the Abramoff lobbyist scandal that forced out former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), those struggling to replace him are themselves relying heavily on networks of lobbyists to win the majority leader post.

According to Roll Call, "lobbyists are sharing information with Members and their staffs, strategizing on how to rustle up more votes, feeling out uncommitted lawmakers, and trying to plant damaging stories about the competition in the media."

Does this sound like a party that’s ready to break its ties with the K Street crowd?

The reality, unfortunately, is that even with the current storm of bad press for lobbyists, they remain deeply entrenched in the leadership teams of both parties in Congress. And whatever members of Congress say publicly about reforming the system, those vying for leadership of the House Republicans – a race that includes Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boehner (Ohio), and John Shadegg (Ariz.) – are more than ready to use lobbyists to help them win. Boehner and Blunt, in particular, are frontrunners precisely because of their heavy support from the lobbyist community. (Shadegg, for his part, told a Fox news show that he is the right person for the job because his "level of taint" is "dramatically different" than his opponents. How’s that for a positive message?)

For instance, Gregg Hartley, a former senior Blunt staffer who is now a top lobbyist at the firm of Cassidy & Associates, has been seen roaming frequently through Blunt’s leadership and communications offices in recent days. One anonymous Republican aide quoted in the article notes, "he’s there a ton, I can tell you that…. He’s still heavily involved in Blunt’s PAC stuff and fundraising." Another aide notes that Hartley "has been in and out of the Capitol constantly" since the majority leader race began. "He just doesn ’t meet with Blunt, he meets with staff." Hartley declined comment for the article, but all of this is just further evidence of why Blunt is not fit for leadership  – a conclusion reached in a comprehensive Public Citizen report on the congressman.

Conrad BurnsBut as the battle for reform goes back and forth in the nation’s capital, we need to give a tip of the hat to the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, which took the most ethical action we’ve heard about regarding the snowballing corruption scandal. According to NBC News, the council actually refused a donation of $111,000 from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mon.), calling it "tainted money" that needs to be returned to the Native American tribes that originally gave it to him. (Burns, like many of his colleagues in Congress, has been rushing to give away the large sums of money donated to him by disgraced felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff as quickly as he can, and he tried to give the $111,000 to tribes in his home state.)

People refusing contributions they consider unethical?! What a radical idea! Would I be the first to suggest that one of the council leaders challenge Sen. Burns in his upcoming re-election battle? We could sure use some of their wisdom and spirit here in this den of corruption on the Potomac….

-Gordon Clark