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.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I know your issues,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“and I can support. I trust you can see your way clear to support me?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Boehner made his name as a member of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gang of Seven,Ã¢â‚¬Â a group of Congressional Ã¢â‚¬Å“reformersÃ¢â‚¬Â 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 RostenkowskiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“cash for stampsÃ¢â‚¬Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“fuck the law. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give a ratÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ass about the law.Ã¢â‚¬Â Boehner would smile and talk in diplomatic terms but the smile masked a ruthlessness that said Ã¢â‚¬Å“play ball our way or you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play in our ballpark.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Make no mistake about it,Ã¢â‚¬Â he told me in 1991. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We will remember those who helped us and those who did not will find themselves outside looking in. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the way the game is played.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“untiring effortsÃ¢â‚¬Â to fight underage drinking and drunk driving. The industry bought these paid advertisements from Boehner with more than $200,000 in campaign contributions.
He is a big booster of Sallie Mae, the federal agency that provides government-backed student loans. His daughter works for Sallie MaeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s collection agency and employees of Sallie Mae have kicked in $120,000 to BoehnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 AbramoffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 BoehnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“punishedÃ¢â‚¬Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the same Justice Department currently investigating DeLay for his many wrongdoings.
Republicans call this Ã¢â‚¬Å“reform.Ã¢â‚¬Â I call it business as usual.