GOP K street lobbyists access
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Lobbyists pay for access
K Street Dems give voting info to GOP whips
By Jonathan E. Kaplan
Democratic lobbyists are giving House Republican aides and lawmakers closely held information about the voting intentions of congressional Democrats in exchange for access to private meetings with GOP officials on Capitol Hill.
For House Republican whips, the inside information on Democratic voting strategies can yield a crucial awareness of what the ultimate vote count on the floor might be.
That helps determine how much pressure GOP whips need to apply to their Republican colleagues.
The pressure on Democratic lobbyists to cough up information parallels the K Street Project, which is aimed at putting Republicans in top lobbying posts. Both the K Street Project and the demand for intelligence on Democrats highlight the fact that access comes at a price.
House Republican sources provided The Hill with e-mails showing lobbyists providing information about Democratic whip efforts to defeat the foreign sales corporation (FSC) tax measure. The $143 billion in tax breaks for corporations passed 251-178; 48 Democrats broke ranks and voted for the bill, and 23 Republicans opposed it.
The e-mails reveal that some Democratic lobbyists are willing to sell out their former bosses and that House Democratic leaders are having difficulty keeping their members in line.
In an e-mail, a Democratic lobbyist asks permission to attend a meeting about FSC: "I heard there is a ... meeting tomorrow at 3pm. Is it OK for me to attend on behalf of my clients?"
The GOP aide replied: "Sure, but what intel are you gonna get us? You worked for [Rep. Robert] Matsui [D-Calif.] right? Where are the California Dems? Is [Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] really holding Dems feet to the fire?"
The lobbyist replied: "Yeah, I worked for Matsui (back when he was [for] free trade). I think Pelosi will be working this hard -- you probably already know this, but I just heard that the Dems will be putting in repatriation in their substitute (which will mollify the [California] and West Coast Dems)."
Lobbyists had to jump through a number of hoops to gain access to congressional meetings on the FSC measure. Sources from the coalition of business groups pushing for the bill said that to attend Hill GOP meetings on the legislation, Democratic and Republican lobbyists had to deliver formal letters in support of the measure to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).
Thomas introduced the bill Friday, June 4, and by Monday, dozens of letters came pouring in before a planned meeting that afternoon with Thomas and staff from the GOP whip operation. Lobbyists delivered over 90 letters of support for Thomas’s bill.
Another e-mail supplied to The Hill shows a Democratic lobbyist sharing with a Republican aide information about Democratic whipping efforts.
"Our sources have told us that [Minority Whip Steny] Hoyer [D-Md.] is not necessarily cracking the whip on FSC. Hoyer acknowledges it will pass, wants to make it as painful as possible and does not want Democrats to think this is a free vote."
The e-mail continued, "The bill cuts across the Democratic caucus in so many different directions that Hoyer has no idea where Democrats stand on FSC. Hoyer’s whips now ... are not twisting arms because they are losing people anyway. Hoyer staff said it is not worth exerting the maximum energy on a full all out arm twisting whip counting effort, but it is worthwhile ... to tighten up the Democrat vote count, keep people with their party, and where possible to keep pressure on the GOP whip effort."
A senior Democratic aide said the information about Hoyer’s whip effort was wrong, adding: "It is a sad day when Democratic lobbyists sink to trading inaccurate information on sensitive issues to buy their way into a room just so that they can watch Republican lobbyists help the Republican majority in Congress grow larger.
Any lobbyist who provided this inaccurate information should be ... ashamed that they were used as pawns in a Republican game in return for crumbs."
Pelosi told reporters she expected some Democrats to defect because of regional concerns, such as the tobacco buyout and sales tax deduction provisions.
She added, "But the fact is that they throw a few crumbs because they cannot sell this bill to their own members. ... Hopefully, we can keep that number to a minimum."
Immediately before the vote, an unidentified lobbyist told a GOP aide: "Lots of Dems getting heat from their leadership saying why Dems putting Rs over the top on this bill."
Another lobbyist’s e-mail tells GOP aides that the Democrats held an informal meeting before that vote and "were hammered to vote against [the bill]."
The party that controls the House has always relied on lobbyists to glean information about opponents’ strategy.
Ex-Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), the House majority whip from 1985 to 1989, told The Hill: "We sought whatever information we could. We cultivated lobbyists."
Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also counts on lobbyists for information about vote counts: "We’re always looking for people on the other side," he said, adding that lawmakers who tell other lawmakers they plan to defect is usually the most accurate information.
But for lobbyists caught trading information for access without being upfront about it, Coelho said there were stiff penalties: no letters, no phone calls returned, no future invitations.
"If somebody came into that meeting, and they were not honest in what their purpose was -- once caught, I don’t give a damn how much you apologize," he said. "I would go after that individual. I would tell the clients that their lobbyist has no influence."
He added, "What we did ... in the days that I was there, there were no Republican and Democratic lobbyists. We never cared. The issue was they wanted to deal with us, and they had to be honest with us about what [they knew]."
Just before the vote, Democratic lobbying efforts continued on the House floor where Pelosi "was having a heated conversation" with Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), a GOP leadership aide said.
But another senior Democratic aide disputed that characterization and said that Price and Pelosi, along with Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), were just talking about the tobacco-buyout provision.
Price voted for the bill.
Josephine Hearn contributed to this article.