February 23, 2006
Senate's Lion in Winter
WASHINGTON -- The cream of Washington's lobbyists gather next Monday
evening on Capitol Hill, paying at least $1,000 apiece, to listen
to Sen. Ted Stevens, the doughty and defiant president pro tempore
of the Senate. In the climate of lobbyist and earmark reform, they
will hear plenty.
Stevens put his fabled temper on display as chairman of the Senate
Commerce Committee last Thursday when he browbeat a federal bureaucrat
for diminishing largesse to his beloved Alaska. Stevens, the Senate's
senior Republican, bemoaned the assault on the earmark, an instrument
he has refined -- enabling the individual lawmaker to override
the executive branch's control of spending.
McCain has described a symbiotic relationship between lobbyists
and earmarks breeding a climate of corruption. A freewheeling
lobbyist can enrich himself and his friends, bypassing regular
governmental and legislative procedures, by earmarking funds in
legislation as he maximized money for Alaska. Nobody has accused
Stevens of any part in this scandalous system. But he is the Senate's
lion in winter, standing athwart reform.
showed his distress, in stentorian tones, at last Thursday's Commerce
Committee hearing. The witness was Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher,
administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) -- a federal agency that has been the uncomplaining beneficiary
of Stevens's earmarks. But Lautenbacher now has felt Stevens's
complained that President Bush's effort at some control over federal
spending had discriminated against Alaska. "It looked like
someone had sort of a heavy pencil in Alaska," complained
Stevens. Lautenbacher's protest of "very severe budget restrictions"
did not satisfy him.
filed for divorce from the NOAA after a long, happy marriage:
"Admiral, you can take me off the side of being a supporter
of your agency and put me down as one that is really critical
for the balance of this year." In the past, Stevens would
brush away budget restraint by earmarking. But he told Lautenbacher
last week to "go back" to the Office of Management and
Budget and "tell them [about] the current policy of not having
the ability to earmark."
sounded like Stevens in retreat on earmarking, he is not taking
a step away from lobbyists. Although lobbyists running fund-raisers
for members of Congress has become common, Stevens's Feb. 27 reception
at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is extraordinary.
The host committee, as of last week, consisted of 44 members.
All but one is a registered lobbyist. (The exception, Fred Wahl,
owns a boat-building company.)
list includes such big-time lobbyists as Phil Ruter of Boeing
and Ken W. Cole of General Motors. Other corporations contributing
are Lockheed Martin, American Airlines, Northrop Grumman, Time
Warner, Union Pacific, Disney and Textron. The scope of industries
represented includes aviation, defense, telecom, insurance, paper,
broadcasting and railroads.
raised goes not directly to Stevens (who is not up for re-election
until 2008) but to his leadership political action committee,
Northern Lights PAC. The funds it raises are distributed to other
Republican candidates, enhancing Stevens's influence. Since he
would be able to raise little or nothing for Northern Lights back
in Alaska, such leadership PACs have to rely almost entirely on
for lobbyist reform rose last month, Republican Rep. Ray LaHood
announced he would stop raising money through lobbyists. That
produced a pause in lobbyist-run fund-raisers, but not for long.
This is money-raising season, with a lobbyist-run event nearly
every day. Stevens was one of seven senatorial sponsors last Thursday
in NRSC headquarters at an event raising money for Sen. John Ensign's
re-election campaign in Nevada this year. His hosts included lobbyists
for Verizon, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Alltel, Clear Channel
Communications, Comcast and National Cable & Telecommunications
forced to raise funds for members of Congress they barely know
to gain admittance to the lawmaker's office, had hoped LaHood
would set an example. Instead, congressional action is needed.
Bob Walker, a former influential House Republican and now a major
lobbyist, would ban all leadership PACs and prohibit registered
lobbyists from contributing to individual members of Congress.
That's real reform that would have prohibited Monday's event for
2006 Creators Syndicate