Elite Lobbying Group Becoming 'Next Generation of GOP Power Brokers'

July 30, 1995|By PETER H. STONE

Since early in the year, an elite group of K Street lobbyists with strong Republican pedigrees has been huddling every few weeks with Rep. John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, to discuss the House Republican leadership's performance and its strategies for implementing its "Contract with America."

Many of those in the group were formerly lobbyists for the White House or top aides to Republican congressional leaders. In the Bush administration, for instance, Washington lobbyists Nicholas E. Calio and Gary J. Andres ran the White House's liaison operations with the House, doing much of their work out of the offices of then-Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, Republican of Georgia.

Mr. Calio, a founder of O'Brien Calio, and Mr. Andres, a partner with the Dutko Group Inc., are among about a dozen denizens of K Street who have found their services increasingly in demand by the congressional leadership as well as by corporations and trade groups that have big stakes in the Republican contract and are eager to capitalize on the lobbyists' connections.

"These people have worked with the leadership in various capacities for a long time," said Mr. Boehner, who chairs the House Republican Conference. "We have battle scars that have been developed together."

He added that the leaders and the lobbyists "share common principles about what the appropriate role of the federal government is."

Those shared principles have helped to touch off a tidal wave of K Street lobbying on the contract. Working with such Republican leaders as Mr. Boehner, House Majority Whip Tom D. DeLay of Texas and Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia, vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the lobbyists have coordinated vote-counting operations, put together talking points for members, run briefings for aides and helped draft House rules that have been crucial to the passage of legislation.

Several of the influence merchants also have been increasingly active in raising campaign money for the GOP. Some pitched in last fall through trade groups, while others have been busy selling tables at such events as the GOP's recent House-Senate dinner. Some of the lobbyists and their corporate clients have further cemented their ties to the Republican leadership by pitching in on the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas for the Republican presidential nomination.

But the tight ties between the leadership and the lobbyists have prompted some Democratic lawmakers to caution about potential conflicts of interest and about threats to the public interest.

"Whatever boundaries existed between lobbyists and legislators have been pretty well erased," said Rep. George Miller, Democrat of California. "These people are sort of becoming adjunct staff to the Republican leadership.

"There's always been lobbyist involvement, but you have had a different process," he added, pointing out that the rapid timetable for moving the contract through the House didn't allow for enough public scrutiny and obscured the lobbyists' heavy involvement.

"There's a revolution going on up there [on Capitol Hill], and I feel like it's a real honor to participate," said James F. Miller of the Washington law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Berhard, McPherson and Hand, who has worked with the leadership on tax issues and other matters. "I do represent my clients first and foremost," he said, "but fortunately their interests have been consistent with those of the leadership."

Still, the fuzziness of the lines between the work they do for the Republican agenda and for their clients seems potentially troublesome even to some prominent Republicans. "It would be a mistake for Republicans to look too indebted to the business groups or to other special-interest groups," said William Kristol, a Republican strategist and editor of the Weekly Standard, a conservative newspaper that's expected to start publishing in the fall. "They could fall into the same trap that Democrats have."

When the GOP swept into the majority last fall, its new leaders and their old friends on K Street almost immediately began talking about ways to collaborate to advance the contract as well as the party's broader agenda. Those involved in the talks say that they are a natural outgrowth of their personal ties and their shared commitment to the Republican cause. These networks, in fact, underscore the significance of the revolving door between government and the lobbying community. Consider the people who meet with Mr. Boehner every few weeks.

"They're the next generation of GOP power brokers in this town," Dick Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, which has played a central role in promoting the contract, said of the lobbyists. "They're part and parcel of a network that House Republicans had when they were backbenchers, and they've come along."

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