Friday, November 04, 2005

The Capitol's Revolting Door

The New York Times

The Capitol's Revolting Door

A Senate hearing has provided a rarefied look at Washington's ever-whirring carousel for business lobbyists and government appointees, who spin back and forth between the private and public sectors in a blur of opportunism. The Interior Department's former deputy secretary, Steven Griles - who had been tapped for that job by the Bush administration when he worked as a lobbyist for the mining industry - was accused of using his government post to carry out the bidding of Jack Abramoff, the indicted power lobbyist who sought favorable Interior rulings for Indian-tribe clients vying for casinos.

A former counsel at the department testified that Mr. Griles had meddled aggressively in decisions affecting Abramoff clients. And Senator John McCain produced e-mail about Mr. Abramoff's trying to woo the deputy secretary's favor by offering a lucrative job in - where else? - lobbying.

Mr. Griles denied any inside favoritism and said the job offer had surprised him enough to refer it to ethics officials. This had to be bemusing to Capitol veterans, who are aware that lobbyists are subjected to some of the flimsiest rules in Washington.

As the hearing went forward, it was hard to tell where lobbying ends and public service begins. Mr. Griles turned out to have met Mr. Abramoff by way of a political friend of Interior Secretary Gale Norton. That friend, Italia Federici, is the head of a conservative environmental lobbying group that received Abramoff donations. Senator McCain, saying she seemed to be valued for having "juice" at Interior, is seeking her testimony.

Then there were side tales of Ralph Reed, once the boy-wonder promoter of moral values at the Christian Coalition, and his lobbying ties to Mr. Abramoff's casino dealings.

Stay tuned, but don't ask where it will end, because lobbying is a $3-billion-a-year Capitol institution these days. The hearings have established that for all the election-winning talk of big government as the problem, it can also provide a sweet perch for the victors. Mr. Griles, incidentally, left public service after four years and has returned to the private sector. He is a lobbyist.