Even as the candidates for House Republican leadership posts try to top each other over who will crack down harder on lobbyists, they are leaning on their extensive networks of K Streeters for help with winning votes in the Republican Conference.
Lobbyists are sharing information with Members and their staffs, strategizing on how to rustle up more votes, feeling out uncommitted lawmakers, and trying to plant damaging stories about the competition in the media.
The House Majority Leader battle joined by Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boehner (Ohio), and John Shadegg (Ariz.), is playing out against the backdrop of one of the biggest Congressional corruption scandals in decades, with several lawmakers close to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff under scrutiny from federal prosecutors.
Despite a storm of bad press for lobbyists, however, K Streeters are still integral to the leadership teams of Republicans and Democrats alike on both sides of Capitol Hill. And that’s no less true for the leadership races currently playing out.
“Like anything, if you talk to smart people, you get some information you might not have gotten,” said a lobbyist who’s helping Boehner in his run for House Majority Leader.
A lobbyist close to Blunt, the Majority Whip and Boehner’s top competition for the job, added, “A lot of people have a lot of conversations, and the more information you have the better.”
The outside help highlights the difficult dance some leadership candidates are attempting with their bids.
Boehner and Blunt both owe their front-running positions in part to their long-held and widespread support in the lobbying community. But in seeking to lead a Republican Conference roiled by a lobbying-related scandal, both are now vying to claim a reform mantle and to impose new rules that would clean up the House.
Questions about either man’s ability to put a new face on the party last week prompted the entry into the race of a third candidate, Shadegg, who claims considerably fewer contacts on K Street than his rivals. “I believe my record in terms of the level of taint that’s there is dramatically different from either of them,” Shadegg told Fox News on Sunday.
Where lobbyists are pitching in to help a candidate, their roles are hardly formal. In the case of Blunt, GOP leadership aides said the most visible outside help is coming from Gregg Hartley, formerly chief of staff for Blunt’s whip operation and now a top lobbyist for Cassidy and Associates.
Blunt’s Whip office is part of the suite of rooms occupied by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on the second and third floors of the Capitol and includes Blunt’s leadership office, his communications staff and a conference room.
Several GOP sources said Hartley is often seen roaming through Blunt’s office area, meeting with the Missouri Republican or his staff, using the elevator located in the Speaker’s suite or talking with aides in the conference room.
“He’s there a ton, I can tell you that,” said a Republican aide who often is in the Speaker’s suite. “He’s still heavily involved in Blunt’s PAC stuff and fundraising.”