To many Americans, Washington is fundamentally broken. While corporations enjoy record profits and executives reward themselves with million-dollar bonuses, lobbyists have gamed the system so corporate behemoths like ExxonMobil and GE pay zero corporate income taxes. During the economic crisis, with high unemployment and stagnant wages, middle class Americans seem to be bearing the sacrifices. Riding a wave of this popular discontent, Republicans won a historical congressional election this year by channeling anger against “Beltway insiders” and Washington corruption.
Perhaps to the surprise of many Tea Party populists who helped elect them, the Washington Post reports, “Many incoming GOP lawmakers have hired registered lobbyists as senior aides. Several of the candidates won with strong support from the anti-establishment tea party movement.” These lobbyists are not public servants. They are experts at carving out special deals and tax giveaways to powerful corporations:
— Rep.-elect Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) selected lobbyist Tim Harris as his chief of staff. Harris works as lobbyist for a trade association representing the shareholders of energy companies like American Electric Power, Duke Energy, NiSource, Vectren.
— Rep.-elect Mike Pompeo (R-KS) selected Mark Chenowerth as his chief of staff. Chenowerth previously worked as a lawyer on the lobbying team for Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by Charles and David Koch. As ThinkProgress reported early this year, Pompeo was groomed for office by Koch Industries-run front groups, and has served as an executive for Koch Industries oil company subsidiaries.
— Rep.-elect Robert Dold (R-IL) selected corporate lobbyist Eric Burgeson as his chief of staff. Burgeson works for the lobbying firm BGR Holdings serving business clients in China, the coal industry, and a nuclear company.
— Rep.-elect Chip Cravaack (R-MN) selected corporate lobbyist Rod Grams as his chief of staff. Grams works for a lobbying firm called Hecht, Spencer, and Associates where he represents 3M, Norfolk Southern and the Financial Services Roundtable, the trade association for the country’s largest banks.
— Rep.-elect Krisi Noem (R-SD) selected Jordon Stoick as her chief of staff. Stoick is a vice president at the lobbying firm Direct Impact. Direct Impact also specializes in building public support for corporate causes, boasting on its website that it once generated hundreds of letters to the FCC on behalf of the telecom industry.
— Sen.-elect Charlie Bass (R-NH) selected lobbyist John Billings as his chief of staff. Billings is a lobbyist for a food marketing and whole sale trade association.
— Rep.-elect Chris Gibson (R-NY) selected Steve Stallmer as his chief of staff. Stallmer is a lobbyist for the Associated General Contractors of New York State.
— Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-UT) selected lobbyist Spencer Strokes as his chief of staff. Lee is one of the most prominent corporate lobbyists in Utah, representing clients from the private prison industry to the nuclear industry.
— Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) selected anti-union lobbyist Douglas Stafford for his chief of staff. Stafford is the vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.
These Republican lawmakers, many of whom cast themselves as insurgents, are linking their professional decisions into the corporate establishment of influence peddling. Congressional chiefs of staff are often in charge of helping members make pivotal decisions, like which positions to take on public debates, how to vote on pieces of legislation, and of course, how to use your votes to raise money for your re-election.
As the Washington Post reported last weekend, freshmen “Tea Party” Republicans have already ingratiated themselves into the cocktail culture of K Street. Dozens of freshmen Republicans have crowded into near-daily fundraisers, parties, and high-priced dinners hosted by corporate lobbyists. Already undercutting a promise to wean themselves off earmark giveaways to corporate interests, the new Republican Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is leaning towards hiring a defense industry lobbyist as the committee chief of staff.