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Will 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 new
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 illusion.

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
from 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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