Blunt vs. Boehner: The K-Street Connection

The Washington Post fronts a Jonathan Weisman arguing that both candidates for House Majority leader have deep entanglements with K-Street lobbyists.

In years past, when the House recessed for its winter break, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) decamped for warmer climates and a sailing trip to the Caribbean with some of the city’s top lobbyists, including Henry Gandy of the well-connected Duberstein Group and Timothy McKone of SBC Communications. Over the summer, they discussed a trip for this year as well, Boehner said yesterday, but last week the lobbyists weighed anchor without him, content to communicate by telephone while the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee rushed to Washington for a high-stakes run to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as House majority leader. The annual vacation, dubbed a “boys’ trip” by detractors, points to an issue underlying the current House leadership race: Both Boehner and his rival for majority leader, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), have extensive ties to the same K Street lobbying world that stained DeLay’s reputation and spawned the Abramoff corruption scandal.

“Do I have K Street friends? Yes, I do,” Boehner said. “Do I have relationships with them? Yes. And every one of them is an ethical relationship.” In another year, that answer might have sufficed, given how many lawmakers maintain such cordial ties. But with all of Congress anxiously awaiting the testimony of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partner, former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon, the atmosphere has changed. The concern over lobbying “is palpable,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), a candidate for the House GOP’s number three spot of majority whip who yesterday unveiled a broad proposal to change congressional lobbying rules. “This has become a matter of public trust.”

Both camps this week have been pointing to the other’s well-documented connections and activities, some of which are the stuff of legends. They include Blunt’s failed effort to insert a provision benefiting Philip Morris USA into the massive bill creating the Department of Homeland Security and Boehner’s distribution of checks from tobacco concerns in 1995 to lawmakers on the House floor. Also of note are both men’s prodigious fundraising activities, some of which involve individuals and clients with ties to Abramoff.

Lobbying activity has become “one of the defining issues in the race so far,” conceded Blunt spokeswoman Burson Taylor. Some members, such as Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), have said the two candidates’ ties to K Street are so extensive that the race could still draw in a third candidate, such as Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) or House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). Even some of the candidates’ supporters concede victory could hinge on which man can show he can move away from his past.

Boehner may well be correct in saying his relationships with lobbyists has been “ethical.” But, with his press releases on Blunt’s connections, he has raised the bar. Both he and Boehner, it would seem, have gladly taken in the largess of their K-Street courters.

In terms of a third candidate, the problem will be finding an established leader in the House without such connections. Legalized bribery is so well institutionalized in Congress that it is unlikely that too many Members in positions of serious influence have clean hands by the post-Abramoff standard.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kent says:

    If George Will is to be believed, Boehner has at least one advantage over Blunt: He has never earmarked legislation.

    That counts for something.