Orrin Hatch and Bill Thomas: Special Interests' Best Friends
Today’s two examples of GOP hypocrisy and sleaze come from two high-ranking and visible members of the GOP leadership in the House and Senate. First, at a time of ballooning budget deficits and alleged concern about deficit-exacerbating tax cuts from some members of both parties in Congress, along comes GOP Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas of Bakersfield with a request of GOP members for under-the-radar, interest group pleasing tax cuts.
Days before the House Ways and Means Committee took up an innocuous military bill last month, Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) made an offer to other Republican committee members at their weekly luncheon: prepare a wish list of tax breaks under $100 million each, and they could add them to the measure.
"It was Mr. Thomas's idea," said panel member Jim McCrery (R-La.), adding that Democrats declined the same offer. "Everybody in the meeting agreed there were a lot of little tax items we had not [been able to enact] the last couple of years. This was something that was going to move."
For a small cadre of local companies and one trade association, this was the equivalent of the lobbying mother lode. After years of trying, they would finally have their priorities added to a bill likely to become law -- even if there were no guarantees that their amendments would remain intact throughout the legislative process.
Some Democrats have reacted angrily, saying it is wrong to push special tax breaks just as the nation prepares for war in Iraq and the federal deficit continues to soar. Rep. Martin Frost (Tex.) said he and other Democrats hope to strip the provisions from the bill Thursday. "We don't have to be adding to that deficit, particularly with things that are unrelated to our troops."
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), the committee's top Democrat, concurred. "While some Republicans say we cannot afford more money for states, public schools and homeland security, they have no problem spending hundreds of millions on these pet provisions," he said. "In normal times, that's hypocritical. In a time of war, that's shameful."
And on the heels of that comes news that Mr. Righteous himself Orrin Hatch has been a protector and whore for the dietary supplements industry, an industry under the microscope more and more lately due to the growing concerns from consumers about deaths from these products and the lack of federal oversight of this industry. Hatch apparently not only whored himself to the industry and protected them from greater federal oversight (like Joe Lieberman did for the accounting industry), but watched in happiness as the industry directed a large amount of lobbying fees to firms that employed his son.
For more than a decade, the dietary supplements industry has counted on Sen. Orrin G. Hatch to fend off tighter regulation of products such as ephedra, the controversial stimulant linked to more than 80 deaths — most recently a young Baltimore Orioles baseball player.
Among other things, the Utah Republican co-wrote the 1994 law that lets supplement makers sell products without the scientific premarket safety testing required for drugs and other food additives. That law has proved a major obstacle to federal control of ephedra.
For its part, the supplements industry has not only showered the senator with campaign money but also paid almost $2 million in lobbying fees to firms that employed his son Scott.
From 1998 to 2001, while Scott Hatch worked for a lobbying firm with close ties to his father, clients in the diet supplements industry paid the company more than $1.96 million, more than $1 million of it from clients involved with ephedra.
Since Scott Hatch opened his own lobbying firm last year in partnership with two of his father's close associates, the firm has received at least $30,000 in retainers from a supplements industry trade group and a major manufacturer of ephedra. Both clients came from the old firm.
Sen. Hatch said the new firm, Walker, Martin & Hatch, was formed with his personal encouragement. He said he sees no conflict of interest in championing issues that benefit his son's clients. Neither Senate rules nor federal laws forbid relatives from lobbying members of Congress.
So Mr. Righteous sees no conflict of interest here, because he is dealing with his son, notwithstanding that dad’s actions (or inaction) are enriching his son. Meanwhile, people are dying and the industry keeps writing checks for Mr. Righteous.
Think about this the next time you see Mr. Hatch question the motives of Democrats on any issue.