The Republican Patronage System
Josh has a post up about this WaPo article on whether the Republican Machine can survive without Tom DeLay. And he notes that what made the machine so effective was the patronage system that DeLay (and friends) created.
You can't understand the K Street Project or the sort of slush fund Jack Abramoff was running without understanding that Tom DeLay had built a very effective patronage machine -- one that organized a great deal of the money in the city in the hands of the political leadership.
And to understand what made that patronage system work so well, you need to read Nicholas Confessore's definitive piece that outlined this system long before Abramoff became a household name. Here's a few paragraphs that lay out how the system creates jobs that are used to cement the loyalty of the business/corporate community.
If today's GOP leaders put as much energy into shaping K Street as their predecessors did into selecting judges and executive-branch nominees, it's because lobbying jobs have become the foundation of a powerful new force in Washington politics: a Republican political machine. Like the urban Democratic machines of yore, this one is built upon patronage, contracts, and one-party rule. But unlike legendary Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, who rewarded party functionaries with jobs in the municipal bureaucracy, the GOP is building its machine outside government, among Washington's thousands of trade associations and corporate offices, their tens of thousands of employees, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in political money at their disposal.
...The emerging Republican machine is the mirror image of that built by the Democratic Party under Franklin D. Roosevelt and his successors. The edifice of federal bureaucracy that emerged between the 1930s and the 1960s shifted power and resources from the private sphere to the public, while centralizing economic regulation in federal agencies and commissions. Democratic government taxed progressively, then redistributed that money through a vast and growing network of public institutions. Those constituencies that Democratic governance serviced best--the working class, the poor, veterans, the elderly, and, eventually, ethnic and racial minorities--made the Democrats the majority party. "Tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect," as Roosevelt's aide Harry Hopkins put it, became the basis of Democratic power.
...Working on the outside, Norquist accelerated what he calls the "K Street Project," a database intended to track the party affiliation, Hill experience, and political giving of every lobbyist in town. With Democrats out of power, these efforts are bearing fruit. Slowly, the GOP is marginalizing Democratic lobbyists and populating K Street with loyal Republicans. (DeLay alone has placed a dozen of his aides at key lobbying and trade association jobs in the last few years--"graduates of the DeLay school," as they are known.) Already, the GOP and some of its key private-sector allies, such as PhRMA, have become indistinguishable.
...With thin Republican majorities in the House and Senate, a market for Democratic lobbyists remains, and traditional bipartisan lobbying firms still thrive. But increasingly, the trade associations and their corporate representatives--those firms run by Republicans--are the beneficiaries of Washington's new spoils system. And like Mayor Daley's ward supervisors, they are expected to display total loyalty. "These guys come downtown thinking that they owe their job to somebody on the Hill or the influence that somebody brought to bear for them, and they think it's their primary function, in addition to working for the entities they've joined, to sustain the relationship between the Hill and themselves," says Vic Fazio, a top Democratic lobbyist and former congressman from California. "They rationalize it by saying it's good for the old boss and the new one, too."
Day-to-day, the most trusted lobbyists--like those who attend Santorum's meetings--serve as commissars, providing the leadership with eyes and ears as well as valuable advice and feedback. And generally, placing party surrogates atop trade associations makes them more responsive to the party's needs. However, the K Street strategy also provides the GOP with a number of specific advantages. From a machine perspective, such jobs are far more useful than appointive positions in the executive branch. Private sector work has none of government's downside. Political machines thrive on closed-door decision-making; on K Street, there's no other kind. Neither are trade associations subject to inspector generals or congressional oversight; there are no rules against whom you can meet with, no reporters armed with FOIAs. These jobs also make for better patronage. Whereas a deputy undersecretary might earn $140,000, a top oil lobbyist can make $400,000. Controlling K Street also helps Republicans accumulate political talent. Many ex-Clintonites who might have wanted top lobbying positions couldn't get them, and so left Washington for posts at universities, corporations, and foundations elsewhere. But the GOP, able to dole out the most desirable jobs, has kept more of its best people in Washington, where they can be hauled out for government or campaign work like clubs in a golf bag.
Obviously, this machine works very well to align the business community with the Republican party, but at the expense of any of the services that are normally seen as serving the broad American public. But that was how it was designed, to provide the carrots the Party needs to drive the policies they want to see. After all, as Grover Norquist said: "Democrats in Congress retire to universities, K Street is where Republicans go to retire."
Will the machine survive the loss of Tom DeLay? What if they also lose Norquist, Reed and Rove, all who are tied closely to that machine?
One thing that I have not yet figured out is whether the heat of the scandals will start to burn the other half of this machine: the corporations and businesses that signed their own deal with the devil. If so, it would help create a better environment for reform.