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Zombie Lobbyists Occupy Washington (cont’d)

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CASE STUDY 2: Born Kenneth Kies

FPG group chart

With the new ground rules of Citizens United in place, candidates and their parties are under pressure to pander to the now-publicly anonymous corporations that fund them. Here is where lobbyists–often ambiguously described as “consultants”–come into play.

Services provided by these consultants include: fundraising, campaign strategizing, political messaging, polling, vetting of campaign platforms and the manipulation of public opinion through “issue-oriented” communications.

For example, between Nov. 23 and Dec. 31, 2010, the RNC–charged with setting the legislative agenda for the newly elected GOP House majority and the Republican Party–employed the “political consulting” and “strategic planning” services of the Federal Policy Group (FPG), a subsidiary of the tax policy advisory group Clark & Wamberg.

For services rendered, the RNC paid FPG $105,657 in 2010, with an additional $75,000 owed to the firm at year’s end. All told, in 2010, 22 corporations and trade associations spent $3.9 million buying FPG federal lobbying services.

True to the nature of the corporate lobby beast, FPG’s managing director and primary lobbyist is Kenneth Kies, who, between 1995 and 1998, served as the chief of staff on a Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Similarly, FPG director and lobbyist Matthew Dolan served as counsel to former Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), chair of the health subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee.

FPG seems a natural fit for the RNC. Since the 2010 midterm elections, the GOP’s political platform has centered around issues of taxation and health care.

Kies told In These Times that his firm provided “technical and policy advice” to the RNC on issues of “tax and budget policy” concerning the Bush tax cuts, which were set to expire in December 2010, and President Obama’s budget proposal–all of this at the time when the outgoing lame duck 111th Congress (then controlled by Democrats) and the White House were engaged in a budgetary battle that resulted in the tax-cut extension.

In 2010, FPG’s top clients included General Electric, which paid $840,000 for FPG lobbying services; Caterpillar Inc., which paid $300,000; Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, which paid $280,000; Association for Advanced Life Underwriting, which paid $260,000; and Overseas Shipholding Group, which paid $240,000. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, these corporations have contributed $610,300 to federal Republican legislative candidates and $288,700 to Democratic candiates so far in the 2012 cycle.

Kies himself contributed $34,900 to GOP campaigns through the first half of 2011. In addition, from January through June, Kies, as a representative of FPG, reported $30,400 in bundled contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a PAC administered in large part through the RNC.

When asked whether the Republican candidates might have gained an economic advantage by employing a lobby firm whose income largely comes from corporations and trade associations, Kies replies: “Well, we do some fundraising, yes … but we don’t control what our clients do with their fundraising.” He adds, “It’s the way all fundraisers in Washington work. You schedule a date. You send out invitations to people you know that you think might be interested in participating,” Kies says.

Are these interested people representatives of FPG corporate clients? “Yeah, sure,” says Kies. “That’s what everybody would do. We don’t invite people off the street. We invite people we know.”

Can the undead be reformed?

“Lobbyists are paid by clients to represent their interests. They are essentially hired guns,” Public Citizen’s Craig Holman told In These Times. “Lobbyists are more marketable to their clients depending on how they can get their foot in the door of candidates and officeholders in order to wield influence. It is all part of the corruption on Capitol Hill. This is the influence-peddling business that lobbyists are in charge of.”

For GOP lobbyists like Wild and Kies, as well as for the clients they serve, peddling influence is lucrative.

In 2007, Holman worked with members of the House Progressive Caucus to draft and promote the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA).

HLOGA called for reform of congressional gifting, lobby disclosure, and greater “revolving door” post-governmental employment restrictions for lawmakers and legislative staffers.

The bill was a reaction to the tremendous unchecked power held by lobbyists such as those exposed in the scandal involving uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Tom Delay (House Majority Leader, 2002 through 2006, R-Texas). This scandal contributed to the loss of the GOP’s congressional majority in 2006, a majority that had been held for 12 years–since the “Republican Revolution” and the coinciding issuance of the GOP “Contract with America” in 1994.

Reforms enacted through HLOGA include the quarterly filing of lobbyist activity reports, creation of a publicly-available online lobbyist disclosure database, online availability of lawmaker statements of personal financial disclosure and greater reporting of lobbyist campaign-contribution bundling activity.

It is worth noting that the information in this article would have been much more difficult to gather had it not been for HLOGA.

As originally introduced, HLOGA extended the standing one-year “cooling period” to a period of two years, during which lawmakers formerly employed by either the House or Senate would be prohibited from lobbying any of their former congressional colleagues. Also, certain senior staffers employed by either the House or Senate would have been prohibited from lobbying the branch of Congress in which they had been employed during the cooling period.

While these provisions were approved by the Senate in 2007 and enacted as law, provisions of HLOGA that pertained to the House in this area were significantly more lax: Former staffers may lobby to their heart’s content immediately following public employment, so long as they do not lobby for one year the office that formerly employed them. As such, HLOGA in the House represented a continuation of the status quo.

Had the Senate’s standards applied to the House, Wild may have thought twice about leaving the Nickles Group, as he took a paycut to work for Boehner.

But the money game in Washington is an equal opportunity corrupter. Attempts by good government groups like Public Citizen to control the infestation of lobbyists in Congress were stalled not by Republican lawmakers, but by Democrats.

As an advocate working for passage of this reform and lobby disclosure bill, Holman noted that the most vehement opposition to the so-called post-public employment revolving-door lobby restrictions came from a contingent of senior Democratic Party representatives.

According to Holman, the members of Congress who spearheaded opposition to these reforms in the House were Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Allen Boyd Jr. (D-Fla). All three of these dissenting lawmakers had substantial ties to powerful committees.

At the time of his opposition to HLOGA’s revolving-door reform, Hastings was chairman of the House Committee on Rules Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process. Hastings also served in 2007 as co-chairman of the Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Election Reform. Abercrombie served as chair of the armed services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces and as Majority Whip-At-Large.Boyd co-chaired the Blue Dog Coalition, a conservative subset of House Democrats who purportedly promote “fiscal conservatism” within the party.

While Hastings still serves in the House and while Abercrombie was elected Governor of Hawaii in 2010, Boyd wasted no time in finding private sector-lobby employment following a failed bid for re-election in 2010.

In February of this year, D.C.-based lobby firm, Twenty-First Century Group, hired Boyd on as a senior advisor. Not surprisingly, Boyd’s biography on the firm’s website touts the former representative’s service in both the House Appropriations Committee, as well as his leadership role in the Blue Dog Coalition. While Boyd is currently not a registered lobbyist in either house of Congress, he will be able to lawfully lobby his former colleagues as of February 2012. Current Twenty-First Century clients include such notable corporate citizens as Time Warner Cable and Verizon.

True to K Street form, the firm is headed up by CEO Jack Fields, formerly Rep. Jack Fields (R-Texas), who served on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and was chairman of the subcommittee on telecommunications and finance. Fields was a leading proponent of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the passage of which marked unprecedented deregulation for both media broadcasting conglomerates and telecommunications providers. In short, the bill was an absolute boon to Twenty-First Century clients Verizon and Time Warner Cable.

And so the business goes: Legislators become lobbyists, and lobbyists become legislative aides or campaign consultants–and increasingly secretive corporate money keeps the whole elaborate charade going. Forget the familiar metaphor: Who needs a revolving door when there’s no wall left between public service and private gain? 

This report was produced as part of a collaborative investigative effort to expose the influence of corporate money on the political process by members of The Media Consortium, in partnership with the We the People Campaign. To read more stories from this series, visit www.CampaignCash.org, or follow #CampaignCash on Twitter.

Beau Hodai, a former In These Times Staff Writer, is the founder of DBA Press (dbapress.com), an online news publication and source materials archive.

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