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IS GOP’S `CONTRACT’ WITH LOBBYISTS?

SHARE IS GOP’S `CONTRACT’ WITH LOBBYISTS?

Washington lobbyists are rejoicing. The special interests these lobbyists represent are thrilled. Why? They have just concluded their most successful 100 days of lobbying ever under the Republican Congress and GOP "Contract."

At a time when polls show that the American people are fed up with a political system dominated by special interests, the Republicans have opened the doors of government like never before to well-connected lobbyists who seek to create loopholes that favor their special-interest clients. The GOP has put a "For Rent" sign on the U.S. Capitol, and lobbyists are buying in.Since day-one of the Republican Congress, lobbyists - rather than congressional staff - have been actively writing legislation that benefits their special-interest clients. Republican legislators then push these bills through Congress. Justifying this process, House GOP Whip Tom DeLay noted, "They have expertise." Expertise or not, one honest lobbyist stated in a national newspaper, "I thought what I was doing was in the best interests of my clients."

The best example is the Republican leadership's so-called Project Relief - an alliance of special-interest lobbyists, formed in December 1994, that meets weekly with the Republican leadership to direct their legislative strategy. According to the pro-consumer group "Campaign for an America that Works," Project Relief represents "one of the most coordinated attacks in U.S. history by special interests against the public interest." During the 1994 election, many of the group's members initially were recruited by the GOP leadership to funnel corporate money to heated Republican campaigns.

After the election, with the House in Republican hands, Project Relief lobbied the Republican leadership successfully for a moratorium on federal rules. The group also played an instrumental role in the passage of the GOP product liability legislation that will benefit their wealthy clients at the expense of consumers. If they have their way, these lobbyists will continue to weaken federal standards; reduce funding for enforcement agencies; and add expensive and time-consuming layers of bureaucracy to the process of setting new federal standards.

The influence enjoyed by Project Relief is only the one of many glaring violations of the public trust by the Republican leadership. A recent New York Times article detailed how lobbyists for major companies that pollute the environment helped Republicans re-write the law designed to protect the nation's water supply. Their handiwork will jeopardize the nation's drinking water by making participation in "the storm-water program essentially voluntary, abolishing the permits many pollution sources must now have, and limiting states from imposing standards stricter than those written in Washington."

Carol Browner, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, recently said of the drafting of this vital legislation: "We essentially have not been allowed to see it or be part of the process." Republicans chose to consult with industry lobbyists over agency experts charged with safeguarding the nation's drinking water supply.

Why are the special-interest lobbyists and the Republicans so cozy? Because in return for access and influence on legislation, these lobbyists shower Republican members of Congress with large campaign contributions. These donations are simply payoffs to the Republicans for passing bills that financially benefit powerful special interests by creating tax loopholes, eliminating public health and safety regulations, and relaxing other federal standards.

Special-interest lobbyists know how to play the game. They are giving money to Republicans more than ever before. During the 1993-94 cycle, Project Relief's PACs contributed more that $10.3 million to House members. Project Relief's PACs contributed 24 percent more in funds to members of the House Regulatory Task Force in 1994 than to other representatives. Some of the beneficiaries were: Speaker Newt Gingrich, who received $87,126; Whip Tom DeLay, who received $38,423; and freshman Rep. David McIntosh, Chairman of the House Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee, who received $37,056.

And indications are that this trend is continuing as Republicans receive more special interest campaign contributions than ever in the current election cycle.

The responsibility of governing does not require giving insider access to special interests or letting lobbyists author legislation and rewrite federal laws. Instead it demands that elected members of Congress put the interests of their true constituents - the American people - above all else.

Unfortunately, Republicans have chosen to shirk this responsibility. Americans deserve better than a congressional majority that sells our government to the highest bidder - they deserve better than the elected officials who let lobbyists and special interests rent the U.S. Capitol.