Vice President Dick Cheney’s shooting of a man last weekend during what’s being called a hunting accident pointed the way toward an as-yet-unreported example of another Bush fundraiser cashing in on White House contacts. Cheney and company were hunting at the Armstrong Ranch in Texas, which was owned by Tobin Armstrong – a member of the Bush “Pioneers,” the elite fundraisers who raised at least $100,000 for one of the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns – until he died in 2005. But here’s where it gets interesting: His daughter, Katharine, now the owner of the ranch, is also a Bush Pioneer, and became a federally registered lobbyist, without moving to Washington, after Bush became president. As a lobbyist, she is well-positioned to exploit her deep ties to Bush, having received several state government appointments while he was governor and an invitation for a White House sleepover once he became president.
Since she became a lobbyist in 2004, she has registered for only four clients: her ranch, the mega-law firm of Baker Botts, and two of its clients. Why would such a legal heavyweight as Baker Botts need an outside lobbyist with no experience? The answer lies in her Baker Botts lobbying disclosure forms, which state that she lobbied only the White House and not Congress or any regulatory agency. Her activities consisted of “communicating with the White House on behalf of various Baker Botts clients regarding South Korean policy,” the forms say. But Baker Botts’ only obviously South Korean lobbying client, Hyundai, had terminated its lobbying contract months before Armstrong filed her registration. This apparently means that Baker Botts was providing lobbying services for at least one of its clients through the Armstrong subcontract without filing disclosures for those services.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will find out who exactly Armstrong was shilling for on “South Korean policy.” The House and Senate offices that handle lobbying disclosure forms are notoriously lax on enforcement, and Baker Botts is unlikely to face any action for failing to register on behalf of the mystery South Korean client. However, this Google cache page does point to a press release (no longer available directly) on a South Korean “reception” in Seoul attended by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and put on by Baker Botts, Hyundai and a “U.S.-Asia Network” group that the two sponsor. The Network also happens to be co-chaired by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). Sounds like business as usual in Washington, but some of the current lobbying reform proposals could prevent the kind of secrecy in this story by creating an independent body that would audit lobbying disclosures and take action against those that do not follow the law. (See Public Citizen’s profile of Armstrong on our www.WhiteHouseForSale.org project.)
In other Pioneer-lobbyist news, the New York Times has released the first photo of Bush and admitted felon/former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and some of his Indian gaming clients. As we’ve blogged on before, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is sponsoring a Senate motion to demand that Bush release all the details of his meetings with Abramoff, and several Republican members of Congress have been calling for the same. Go to our action page to tell your member of Congress to jump on this wagon.