Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), widely expected to become the next Speaker of the House, has promised to create a more “open” and “transparent” Congress. To cultivate an image of independence, Boehner has projected a media profile revolving around his humble upbringing and his refusal to request earmarks.
However, Boehner’s media profile simply does not comport with his career-long record of corruption and influence peddling. Before his ascent to leadership, Boehner had been known for once handing out campaign contribution checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor. When Republicans controlled Congress, Boehner and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) were the point men for former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) in communicating with corporate lobbyists. At one point, Boehner even convened a weekly meeting called the “Thursday Group” to huddle with K Street lobbyists.
As the Guardian’s Paul Harris noted yesterday, Boehner was caught lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency to drop a lawsuit against one of Boehner’s biggest contributors in the steel industry, and has attacked an array of regulations aimed at the specific businesses which contribute to his campaign committee. Moreover, the overwhelmingly positive and uncritical press accounts of Boehner’s career have ignored his cozy relationship with business lobbyists in just the past two years:
— Roll Call reported that lobbyists view Boehner as a “good investment,” and that Boehner assembled a “kitchen cabinet” of lobbyists to organize his fundraising operation, including representatives from Goldman Sachs, Phillip Morris, UnitedHealth, and FedEx. According to the article, Boehner leaned on these lobbyists to pressure their clients to increase their contributions to vulnerable Republican lawmakers. Boehner’s outreach helped his own campaign war chest swell to $3.2 million, while his leadership PAC had brought in $1.9 million by the end of March.
— In July of 2009, Boehner interrupted House proceedings so Republican lawmakers could attend his annual “Boehner Beach Party” fundraiser with corporate lobbyists. [Politico]
— In December of 2009, Boehner convened a meeting with 100 corporate lobbyists to plot strategy to defeat Wall Street reform. [Roll Call]
— In January of 2010, Boehner organized a House Republican retreat. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Boehner said he didn’t know if any corporate lobbyists would be there. However, ThinkProgress traveled to the retreat, and found lobbyists from Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and the health insurance industry not only in attendance, but helping to fund the event. [ThinkProgress]
— In March of 2010, Boehner addressed the American Bankers Association, telling corporate lobbyists to fight financial reform. “Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you,” Boehner implored the bank lobbyists, encouraging them to stand up to Capitol Hill staffers. [MarketWatch]
— Last week, Boehner selected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) to lead his Majority Transition Team to help set the rules and staffing selections for the new Republican Congress. Rather than select a lawmaker with a strong ethical history, Walden gained his new leadership stature by serving as the National Republican Campaign Committee liaison to the big business community for 2009 and 2010.
Boehner and his allies have pledged largely cosmetic attempts at reforming the ethics of Washington. For instance, he has indicated that he is open to cutting his own pay. This move may garner more good press and promote Boehner’s image. However, a more apt symbol of Boehner’s ethical standards occurred four years ago. In 2006, Boehner was caught living in a house owned by a lobbyist who had sought legislative favors from him.