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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Defining the K Street Strategy

It’s reasonably clear by now that despite some significant differences on the details, the really striking difference between Democratic and Republican “lobbying reform” proposals in Congress is that Democrats are promising to shut down wider abuses of power like the K Street Strategy, while Republicans basically deny the K Street Strategy even exists (or, as that unlikely Republican “reformer,” Rick Santorum, occasionally claims, it’s just a good government process whereby GOP Hill Barons benevolently try to make sure lobbying shops hire the best qualified people). So it’s kind of important to understand what the K Street Strategy is really all about.Like everyone else, I recommend, and have recommended from the day it was published, Nick Confessore’s famous 2003 Washington Monthly analysis of the whole scheme (in which “good government” Ricky Santorum plays a prominent role). But long and brilliant articles like Nick’s don’t necessarily boil it all down to something newspapers can understand, so here’s my simple take: The K Street Strategy was and is an effort to concentrate the vast array of money and power commanded by lobbyists into a simple relationship with the vast array of money and power commanded by the Republican leadership of Congress (and its ally in the White House). The message so often conveyed by Ricky and others to K Street is simply this: you’re on our team, and there’s no other team to join. Thus, the K Street Strategy, aimed explicitly at consolidating lobbyists into a single and disciplined force, had to be accompanied by a parallel consolidation of total power within the federal government, creating the big and single bargaining table. That’s why the K Street Strategy was indeed the crown jewel of Republican corruption, and why it went hand in hand with so many other abuses of power in Washington. Its whole aim was to create a cartel of power with a few players who were free to do what they wished at public expense, not only to do each other’s will, but to perpetuate the arrangement as long as possible. So please, “even-handed” reporters, don’t buy into the idea that today’s Republicans are just emulating the abuses of power practiced by yesterday’s Democrats. This is new stuff: the ruthless effort to establish a small place in Washington where all the deals go down, and all the money changes hands, and all the legislation gets cleared. It’s breathtaking in its audacity, and Democrats need to explain that destroying it isn’t just a matter of “lobbying reform” or even “ethics reform,” but a necessary effort to restore Congress as a functioning representative body.

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