Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) has begun discussing what the consequences are for the movie industry after its decision to hire a prominent Democrat to lead Hollywood’s lobbying operations in Washington.
Santorum raised the issue last week during a closed-door meeting with Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and a half-dozen other party leaders.
“Yeah, we had a meeting and, yeah, we talked about making sure that we have fair representation on K Street,” Santorum said Tuesday. “I admit that I pay attention to who is hiring and I think it’s important for leadership to pay attention.”
The discussion among Senate leaders came just days after the Motion Picture Association of America tapped former Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) to serve as Hollywood’s top lobbyist and as the Biotechnology Industry Organization considers hiring another Democratic lawmaker, retiring Rep. Cal Dooley (Calif.).
Republican Members and lobbyists have made it clear that trade associations and corporations will get a better reception on Capitol Hill if they fill key lobbying posts with Republicans because the GOP controls the House, Senate and White House.
However, it is highly unusual for Senators to meet to discuss hiring decisions made by trade associations and corporations, and even more uncommon for a Senator to talk publicly about private-sector employment.
In this case, several Republican Senators echoed Santorum’s sentiment and said that Glickman carries significant baggage to his new role.
“If it was a Republican officeholder it would have been very good. He’s no Jack Valenti,” said Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), referring to the 81-year-old retiring president of the MPAA. “He’s a little more partisan.”
Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) added: “He’s from Kansas — that’s not a movie center.”
The topic is so sensitive, said those familiar with the meeting, that Santorum would not even discuss the matter before the most trusted aides in the Republican leadership, including his own chief aide.
Before talking about MPAA’s decision to hire Glickman at a Republican leadership meeting last Tuesday, Santorum asked all of the Republican staff members at the weekly leadership meeting to leave the gathering, held in Frist’s conference room on the second floor of the Capitol.
On Tuesday, a week after he spoke to Republican leaders, Santorum said in an interview: “I’ve been very clear that I think it’s important to have a balance on K Street. For too long, there has been an imbalance.”
He added: “I’m not surprised that MPAA would pick someone who represents the values of Hollywood. But I am not too sure that that is effective to their approach if they are going to reach across the aisle.”
Santorum said that persuading lobbying organizations to hire more Republicans is key to ensuring that the GOP’s message is well communicated.
“It’s very important for us and our ability to communicate and to be persuasive to have people [on K Street] who are honest and not partisan,” he said.
Republican aides familiar with last week’s meeting said the movie industry can expect to face “ramifications” for its decision to hire Glickman, but not necessarily “consequences.”
The nine-term Democratic Representative and former Agriculture secretary “will not have the opportunities to do some of the things that a Republican could have done,” said one Republican aide. “It does nothing to help their interests on the Hill.”
However, the effort by Congressional Republicans to place more of their colleagues on K Street could be undermined by Republicans themselves.
Three Senate Republicans told MPAA officials that they supported Glickman for the job, which is expected to pay more than a million dollars a year.
“I helped him get the job,” boasted Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the most issues relating to the movie industry.
Before Glickman was hired July 1, MPAA officials called Hatch to ask if he could weigh in on the two finalists: Glickman and former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, a Republican.
“I recommended both of them,” Hatch said. “I get along well with Dan.”
In addition, the two Republican Senators from Glickman’s home state of Kansas also recommended him for the job.
Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback each said they spoke well of Glickman in interviews with representatives of Spencer Stuart, the headhunting firm that selected the new MPAA chief.
Roberts said he was “supportive” of his former colleague and found him to be a fast learner when Glickman arrived in Washington in the 1970s.
“When he first got to Congress, he said he didn’t know how to pull and plow,” joked Roberts, who served as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee when Glickman was Agriculture secretary. “He’s a very quick study. He’ll do fine.”
Brownback, a top Hollywood critic, said he thought Glickman could help convey to the industry “that it should be more responsible for its power.”
Brownback, who met Glickman when the Republican Senator was involved in campus government at Kansas State University and Glickman was on Capitol Hill, said he “told people [at the MPAA search committee] that he didn’t want too good a recommendation from me — I thought that would hurt him more than help him.”