The K Street Project and Tom DeLay
SHEILAH KAST, host:
Aside from his legal troubles in Texas, Tom DeLay also is implicated in the lobbying scandal involving Jack Abramoff. But the seeds of Mr. DeLay's political downfall may been planted when Republicans swept to power in the House of Representatives 12 years ago. NPR's John Ydstie reports.
JOHN YDSTIE reporting:
Tom DeLay was elected majority whip by his Republican colleagues after they took control in 1994. Almost immediately, he launched a program aimed at seeing to it that the Republicans stayed in power. It was called the K Street Project after the street in Washington where the big lobbying firms and trade associations have their offices. The goal was to make K Street a Republican bastion so that the money contributed by K Street's rich political action committees flowed only to Republicans. As Vic Fazio, who was a Democratic congressman at the time and is now a lobbyist, describes it, the K Street Project involved removing Democratic lobbyists and replacing them with Republicans, often Capitol Hill staffers.
Mr. VIC FAZIO (Lobbyist; Former Congressman): This, of course, was to guarantee a steady flow of political support and money to the Republican majority. And for quite a while I think it worked the way it was intended.
YDSTIE: In fact, Tom DeLay in the House and Rick Santorum in the Senate each chaired meetings with K Street firms who had job openings and discussed who might fill them. A Web site was launched by DeLay's partner in the project, Grover Norquist, at Citizens for Tax Reform. It listed new arrivals on K Street and whether they contributed to Republicans or Democrats. And if firms did hire Democrats, they might be in for trouble. When the Motion Picture Association of America replaced Jack Valenti with former Clinton Cabinet Secretary Dan Glickman, Republicans were upset. The word on the street was that as punishment the association lost a provision it wanted in a tax bill.
The other part of the K Street Project came to be described as `pay to play,' says Melanie Sloan of the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Ms. MELANIE SLOAN (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington): The concept was that they would collect in one place, in one notebook information about what the lobbyists and trade associations in Washington--how much money they were giving and to whom they were giving it. So that was the first part. They collected the data. And then they kept it in a notebook, which DeLay actually kept on his desk. And then they used it when lobbyists came in and wanted something. DeLay would actually open up the notebook and say, `Huh. This is what you gave us. This is what you gave the Democrats. What did you want again?'
YDSTIE: When a Newsweek reporter, Jonathan Alter, went to DeLay in 1995 and asked him if the book really existed, he says DeLay confirmed that it did and told Alter, `My time is limited. Why should I open my door to people who are not on the team?' DeLay's office did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.
Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, who along with John McCain is pushing a lobbying-reform proposal, says Tom DeLay had a philosophy that ethics don't matter.
Representative CHRIS SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): If it wasn't illegal, to do it, even if it was clearly wrong and unethical. And in some cases if it was illegal, I think they still did it. That's my view. And there are a lot of people who cozied up to Tom because he had so much say in their life as a legislator, and they're going to be hurt by it.
YDSTIE: But Shays says Democrats also bear some blame for the emergence of pay to play. He argues that DeLay just refined ideas pioneered by former Democratic Congressman Tony Coelho, who left Congress under a cloud in 1989.
The crown jewel of the K Street Project is a lobbying firm called the Alexander Strategy Group. It was founded by former DeLay chief of staff Ed Buckham. Dick Armey, a political rival of DeLay's who preceded him as Republican majority leader, described the firm this way in The New York Times this week. Armey said, `Tom DeLay sent Ed Buckham downtown to set up shop and to start a branch office on K Street. The whole idea was "What's in it for us?"' Melanie Sloan says the new firm traded on its relationship with DeLay.
Ms. SLOAN: If you as a corporation wanted some legislation, you'd hire Alexander Strategies to lobby for you because they had the best contacts with Tom DeLay and you were most likely to get what you wanted. So it was probably money well spent. They are, of course, now closed just this week because of their connections with Tom DeLay. And frankly, now that DeLay's out of the picture, you know, they just weren't going to have the same kind of influence they previously had.
YDSTIE: In addition, some of the firm's lobbyists face legal troubles. One of them, Tony Rudy, Tom DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, was referred to as `staffer A' in charges filed against Jack Abramoff. He's alleged to have taken money from Abramoff in exchange for legislative favors while working for DeLay. Questions have also been raised about work DeLay's wife did for the Alexander Strategy Group. Over three years, she was paid $115,000 for researching the favorite charities of members of Congress.
While the Alexander Strategy Group is now a casualty of the perilous political money game, Republicans are likely to fight hard to preserve other gains they made downtown as a result of the K Street Project. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.
KAST: And it's 18 minutes past the hour.