In 2005 and 2006, Democrats attacked the so-called "K Street Project," a Republican initiative to cultivate relationships—financial and otherwise—with like-minded lobbyists working in downtown D.C.
Congressional staffers would leave the Hill, join friendly lobbying firms, and then funnel personal and PAC contributions to GOP legislators.
Democrats claimed to be sickened by this so-called "culture of corruption."
"Professional lobbyists have become a virtual ‘back office’ for Congress and Congressmen, [serving] as travel agents, employment agencies, and authors of legislation," said then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel on the House floor in 2005.
"The K Street Project, proudly promoted by Mr. DeLay and Sen. Santorum and the Republican leadership, in which quid pro quo was the blatantly articulated standard of conduct, is the most flagrant example of the aptly named ‘culture of corruption," said then-Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland in 2006.
A spokesman for then-minority leader Nancy Pelosi told the Hill in April of that year: "Every single Republican is responsible for enabling and benefiting from a K Street Project that puts their cronies ahead of the American people."
"I Won’t Sell Montana Down The Road By Cutting Deals With K Street Lobbyists," said Montana Democratic candidate Jon Tester.
Now, Tester is the number one recipient of lobbyist contributions so far in this cycle. And as they scramble to protect their imperiled Senate majority, powerful Democrats are relying heavily on their own network of former staffers representing special interests with business before Congress.
The Senate Democrats’ point man in this struggle is Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the influential Finance Committee. In recent weeks, according to a Thursday article in Politico, Baucus allies have been telling corporate lobbyists that the senator considers any donation to Rep. Denny Rehberg (R., Mont.), who is challenging incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), to be a donation against him.
The network of former Baucus aides on K Street is extensive: At least 19 of the senator’s former staffers are currently registered as federal lobbyists, according to public records. They represent companies in the health care and energy industries, among others, and are paid handsomely.
In addition to guiding corporate campaign contributions to their former bosses—and warning them away from potential opponents—these lobbyists set aside a substantial portion of their earnings to donate to Democrats.
One former staffer, Catharine Ransom, who was Baucus’ senior adviser on climate and the environment from Mar. 30, 2009, to Feb. 24, 2011, is a lobbyist for the well-connected Glover Park Group.
According to public records, Ransom earned $20,000 in 2011 for lobbying on behalf of Solyndra, the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer that has caused political problems for the Obama administration. Since 2007 she has donated at least $5,000 to Democrats, including $500 to Tester.
Patrick Bousliman earned at least $1,127,271 during his stint as Baucus’s natural resources adviser from January 1, 2001 to April 8, 2011. He now works as a lobbyist at Holland & Knight, where in 2011 he represented NextEra Energy Resources, one of the largest green companies in the United States.
NextEra Energy Resources is behind the Genesis Solar Project outside Los Angeles, which has come under fire from environmental and American Indian groups in recent weeks.
Environmentalists worry that Genesis endangers the at-risk population of kit foxes. American Indians say Genesis should be halted because construction may imperil prehistoric ruins that were recently discovered on the project site.
Bousliman was paid $50,000 for his work with NextEra. He has contributed at least $1,000 to his former boss and $1,950 to Tester so far this election cycle.
The Baucus clique also has far-reaching ties to the mortgage and health care industries. Baucus was instrumental in the passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Jeff Forbes worked for the senator for roughly three years, serving as chief of staff and staff director on the Finance Committee. Shortly after leaving Capitol Hill, Forbes joined the lobbying firm Cauthen Forbes & Williams, where he represented Fannie Mae until the housing giant was nationalized in the fall of 2008.
In all, the firm made more than $400,000 from Fannie Mae. The average American’s share of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s losses is $1,300, according to Jack Hough of Smartmoney.com.
Forbes is currently registered to lobby for a variety of health care companies. His fees are impressive: $60,000 per quarter from United Health Care, $60,000 per quarter from Allergan, $60,000 per quarter from Amgen, $80,000 per quarter from PhRMA, $60,000 per quarter from HCR ManorCare, $50,000 per quarter from the Advanced Medical Technology Association, $50,000 per quarter from the ASC Advocacy Committee, $50,000 per quarter from Genentech, $40,000 per quarter from Merck, $30,000 per quarter from Edwards LifeSciences, and $30,000 per quarter from Northport Health Services.
Median household income in the United States is $51,914 per year, not per quarter.
Forbes’s contributions to Democrats over the years include at least $19,000 to Baucus, $32,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and $4,600 to Pelosi, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Another former Baucus chief of staff, David Castagnetti, is a primary at the firm Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. He is currently registered to lobby for Humana for $80,000 per quarter, America’s Health Insurance Plans association for $70,000 per quarter, the American Association for HomeCare for $60,000 per quarter, the American Osteopathic Association for $50,000 per quarter, the American Society for Radiation Oncology for $50,000 per quarter, Biogen for $50,000 per quarter, Harden Healthcare for $50,000 per quarter, the Mayo Clinic for $50,000 per quarter, the Medicare Cost Contractors Alliance for $50,000 per quarter, Merck for $50,000 per quarter, MDVIP for $40,000 per quarter, and Ascension Health for $30,000 per quarter.
Castegnetti is also one of the most generous former Baucus staffers, donating at least $11,250 to the senator, $32,000 to the DCCC, $95,8000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $3,500 to Tester over the years.
Baucus’s office did not return requests for comment.
The report of Baucus’s threat against donors to Rehberg, and the deep pockets of his former staffers turned lobbyists, suggests that the K Street Project is alive and well. Now it has a "D" after its name.