Rep. John Boehner came to Washington after the 1990 elections
claiming to be a great reformer. In reality, he is just another
politician on the take, out to milk the system for all he can.
I met Boehner at a reception for new members of Congress in December
1990. At the time, I was Vice President for Political Programs for the
giant National Association of Realtors and controlled the largest
political action committee (PAC) in town. Boehner had his hand out to
every PAC, mine included, and made it clear he would vote the right way
in exchange for maximum campaign contributions.
“I know your issues,” he said, “and I can support. I trust you can see your way clear to support me?”
Boehner made his name as a member of the “Gang of Seven,” a group of
Congressional “reformers” who took on the House Bank that allowed
members to overdraw their checking accounts at will and without penalty
and helped expose Democratic powerhouse Dan Rostenkowski’s “cash for
stamps” scam that cost him his seat in Congress and sent him to jail.
But while Boehner campaigned as the great reformer, he worked the
system behind the scenes, scamming it for campaign cash and favors,
cozying up to the same lobbyists and dealmakers as fellow Republican
Tom DeLay. In 1992, he argued publicly for the elimination of PACs
because they gave most of their money to the Democrats who controlled
Congress. After Republicans took control in 1994, Boehner changed his
tune and became a leading advocate of PACs and the money they could
dump into the coffers of the new GOP leadership.
Boehner joined with DeLay and other Republican leaders in
browbeating lobbying firms into hiring more Republicans and threatened
PACs with exclusion from GOP briefings and events if they did not
donate more to GOP candidates and causes.
His style was smoother than DeLay, the GOP pit bull who openly
bullied and once told me “fuck the law. I don’t give a rat’s ass about
the law.” Boehner would smile and talk in diplomatic terms but the
smile masked a ruthlessness that said “play ball our way or you don’t
play in our ballpark.”
“Make no mistake about it,” he told me in 1991. “We will remember
those who helped us and those who did not will find themselves outside
looking in. That’s the way the game is played.”
Boehner quickly learned how the game is played in Washington. Since
2000, he has allowed special interest groups to finance 41 trips for he
and his family to Rome, Venice, Paris and Edinburgh, as well as
domestic resort spots like Boca Raton, Fla., and Pebble Beach, Calif.
He often goes on the floor of the House of Representatives to praise
the liquor industry for what he calls their “untiring efforts” to fight
underage drinking and drunk driving. The industry bought these paid
advertisements from Boehner with more than $200,000 in campaign
He is a big booster of Sallie Mae, the federal agency that provides
government-backed student loans. His daughter works for Sallie Mae’s
collection agency and employees of Sallie Mae have kicked in $120,000
to Boehner’s campaign PAC since 1989,
Boehner heads up efforts on the hill to limit lawsuits against the
health care industry. In return, insurance companies for health care
groups have contributed $2 million to Boehner.
And, yes, Boehner accepted $30,000 in campaign contributions from
corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s tribal clients in the two election
cycles. Unlike other members of Congress, Boehner has refused to return
the tainted money.
Boehner rents his $1,600 a month Capitol Hill apartment from veteran
lobbyist John Milne, who just happens to represent clients who have
benefited from legislation Boehner sponsored as chairman of the House
Education and Workforce Committee.
And Boehner’s former chief of staff, now an aide to White House
political guru Karl Rove, helped plan a congressional junket to the
Mariana Islands with Abramoff.
With all this baggage, the GOP picked John Boehner to replace the corrupt Tom DeLay as the number two Republican in the House.
And they “punished” Tom DeLay by giving him a highly-coveted seat on
the House Appropriations Committee along with a spot on the
subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department – the same Justice
Department currently investigating DeLay for his many wrongdoings.
Republicans call this “reform.” I call it business as usual.