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Republicans Continue To Separate Themselves From Legacy of DeLay and Blunt

Here's a headline in one of Roy Blunt's hometown papers, The Hill, that he can't be thrilled about: "GOP LEADERS PLEDGE K ST. PROJECT DEAD." 

Bad news for Blunt, and for his core constituency.

As you probably remember, Blunt's rise to power with Tom DeLay was inextricably linked with the development of "legion of Republican lobbyists into an arm of the House whip operation."  As summarized in the Washington Post's biographical summary for Blunt:

Throughout his time in office, Blunt has maintained close ties to lobbyists. He was a House GOP emissary for Tom DeLay’s notorious K Street Project, which prodded the Washington community to hire Republicans and raise money for the GOP cause. Blunt’s PAC employed Jim Ellis, who was indicted on corruption charges along with DeLay. Gregg Hartley, Blunt's former chief of staff, is now a vice chairman of powerhouse lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates.

Tom Edsall wrote (perhaps) the definitive summaries of Blunt's rise to power in 2006

Roy Blunt embodies the insidious, half-legal corruption that has permeated the G.O.P. majority since 1995. Blunt’s election as minority whip, by a 137-to-57 margin, was a defiant Republican rejection of calls to clean up their act. Warnings by Blunt’s challenger, John Shadegg of Arizona — “We ceded our reform-minded principles in exchange for a ...tighter grip on power” — went unheeded.

In 1998, DeLay put Blunt on the leadership ladder, making him chief deputy whip. Blunt modeled himself on DeLay, creating an identical network of state and federal political committees that raised money from the same lobbyists, corporations and trade associations that financed what became known as DeLay Inc...

In 2003, after DeLay moved up to majority leader and turned the so-called K Street Project over to him, Blunt promptly converted a legion of Republican lobbyists into an arm of the House whip operation. Lobbyists have always been close to Congress, under rule by either party. What DeLay and Blunt did was to sacralize this relationship. In doing so, they transferred a chunk of power from Capitol Hill to business interests.

This unholy alliance was a crucial factor in transforming the G.O.P. into an army of spenders whose earmarks, appropriations and tax cuts rivaled the government largess of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Edsall covered Blunt and Congress for the Washington Post up until 2006; he is now the political editor for the Huffington Post.

Bloomberg also wrote about Blunt's role as "the Republicans' official liaison to K Street" in January 2006 in the days before Blunt lost his bid to be the GOP's permanent Majority leader because of said role.

Blunt, 55, and DeLay, 58, share a network of ties as extensive as any in Congress, including links to lobbyists.

Blunt, who was tapped by then-House Republican Whip DeLay in 1999 to be his chief deputy, has been acting majority leader since Texan DeLay stepped down after being indicted in September on unrelated money-laundering charges in Austin.

Both men's political action committees employ Jim Ellis, who was indicted along with DeLay. DeLay's PAC gave Blunt's committee a $150,000 donation in 2000, and Blunt's PAC gave $10,000 to DeLay's non-profit foundation that same year. Both lawmakers' PACs have employed Alexander Strategy Group, a Georgetown-based firm whose partners include former Abramoff and DeLay associates.

Liaison With Lobbyists

Blunt also has served as the Republicans' official liaison to K Street. In one meeting at the Capitol last April, he rounded up some 200 lobbyists to talk with top Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, about the party's agenda...

`K Street Project'

A decade ago, DeLay orchestrated the ``K Street Project,'' an effort to get trade associations and lobbying firms to hire Republicans and raise money for the party. Blunt, who was elected the party's vote-counting whip in 2003, worked to get the same groups to help push the Republican agenda.

Beginning in 1999, DeLay tapped Blunt to harness Washington's lobbyist community into a force that could help win votes on issues ranging from a $1.3 trillion tax cut to a $720 billion Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Blunt was DeLay's ambassador to the community, said Gregg Hartley, Blunt's former chief of staff and now vice chairman of Cassidy & Associates, Washington's second-biggest lobbying firm by revenue.

Reaching Out

"We formalized the process of reaching out to them,'' Hartley said. "You could talk to Tom or Tom's people, or Roy or Roy's people. It was all the same.''

While they helped push through the Republican legislative agenda, those ties could be a disadvantage in the post-Abramoff era, said Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican.

"Roy is going to have to convince every member of the conference that he is willing to break with the old ways of doing things,'' LaHood said of Blunt. "It looks to the public like K Street is running everything.''

Blunt's name has come up in connection with the Abramoff investigation. In May 2003, he wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton opposing a casino for an Indian tribe that would have rivaled one operated by an Abramoff client. A month later, Blunt signed a similar letter along with DeLay, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor. Blunt said on Jan. 4 he would donate to charity $8,500 he received from Abramoff.

Tobacco Link

Blunt also has links to the tobacco industry. In 2002, he tried to insert language into a bill creating the Homeland Security Department that would have aided Philip Morris Cos., now Altria Group Inc., by making it harder to sell cigarettes over the Internet, the Washington Post reported. Blunt later married Altria lobbyist Abigail Perlman.

New York-based Altria, whose Philip Morris unit is the nation's largest tobacco company, is Blunt's biggest career campaign donor, giving $202,909 to his campaign committee and leadership PACs through 2004, according to a review of campaign- finance disclosures.

"This slate is not going to be the new broom to sweep clean,'' said Celia Wexler, vice president for advocacy at Common Cause, a Washington-based group that's pushing for tougher ethics laws. "There's no indication that Boehner and Blunt have ever bucked this way of looking at things or doing business. They have been part of the K Street clique.''



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