Tobacco Bag-Man Be Speaker?
by Joe Conason
Bag man for BIG Cancer
With their loud voices and antic
style, the "tea party" activists may lead voters to expect something
and different if the Republican Party returns to power. But observing
the man who would wield that power
if his party wins a midterm majority should swiftly dispel that
There is nothing fresh or surprising about Rep. John Boehner (R-OH),
the would-be Speaker, a figure so
closely associated with corporate special interests that he looks,
sounds and behaves exactly like a lobbyist.
He golfs, drinks, smokes, and maintains am unusually bronzed
complexion, thanks to company jets that
whisk him away to his favorite Florida resorts. He seems as if he could
have stepped straight out of
Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley's classic spoof of
Washington's cynical, morally empty K Street.
Smoking and K Street, of course, evoke the memory of Mr. Boehner's
first big moment in national politics
almost 15 years ago, when he performed a cameo as the tobacco
industry's bagman. Back then, ascending
the leadership ladder as chairman of the House Republican Conference, he was spotted
handing out checks
the Brown & Williamson tobacco company on the House floor.
This spectacle of corruption was
so blatant that even some members of Congress were outraged, and
demanded that he stop.
Following a blast of bad publicity, he apologized, sort of. "I thought,
'Yeah, I can imagine why somebody
would be upset. It sure doesn't look good.' It's not an excuse, but the
floor is the only place you get to see
your colleagues," he told the Associated Press. "It was a matter of
convenience. You make a mistake,
admit it and go on. I just feel bad about it."
Not bad enough to change his convenient, highly profitable
relationships with lobbyists and their clients.
Yet while other Republicans became notorious for their political
promiscuity - and sometimes paid a
heavy price - Mr. Boehner somehow escaped censure. His fellow Ohioan
and former House colleague
Bob Ney went to prison as a casualty of the corruption scandal that
sank superlobbyist Jack Abramoff,
but Mr. Boehner actually received more money from the Abramoff
operation than Mr. Ney. Tom DeLay,
the former House Majority Leader was renowned for his prowess in
squeezing money from lobbyists,
but Mr. Boehner raised more money than "the Hammer" did during a
critical period in 2006. He even
rented a Capitol Hill apartment from a lobbyist who had been hired to
influence him--a blatant conflict
of interest that the House Ethics Committee somehow failed to notice
under Republican control.
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