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Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Soon after Dan Glickman became head of the Motion Picture Association of America in 2004, he began to hear from studio lobbyists that U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and other Republicans weren’t happy about it.
Glickman, a Democrat, didn’t fit into Republicans’ plans to place more members of their party on K Street, the term used for Washington’s lobbying corridor. Once they filled those jobs, the former Republican aides and lawmakers could direct campaign cash back to their old bosses on Capitol Hill.
The operation became loosely known as “The K Street Project,” and it involved lawmakers working in tandem with partisan-friendly lobbyists to boost campaign donations and drive shared agendas.
Santorum “was kind of a crusader and certainly wanted to extend the reach of conservative Republicans into K Street, which is ordinarily a pretty pragmatic group of people,” said Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, who has studied the project.
While campaigning for president, Santorum portrays himself as the candidate of the working class who grew up as the grandson of a coal miner. Opponents of the former senator accuse him of being a Washington insider unable to fix a system he helped design.
Insider Versus Outsider
“He became a high-powered lobbyist,” said Texas Representative Ron Paul during a presidential debate in New Hampshire on Jan. 7 in a reference to Santorum’s post- congressional career in which he earned millions as a consultant to businesses and organizations advocating in Washington.
When reporters in Ridgeway, South Carolina, last week asked about accusations that the 16-year veteran of Congress who rose to the third-highest post in the U.S. Senate is a Washington “insider,” Santorum laughed.
“Ha!” he said. “You look at my record. I’ve been as much of a reformer, and someone who has been able to shake things up both from the inside and the outside better than anybody else.”
His campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.
Santorum’s role in the K Street Project included regularly coordinated meetings with Republican-leaning lobbyists.
In 2004, he met with other senators to discuss Glickman’s hiring as chief executive officer of the movie industry group, which is one of the most coveted trade association posts because of its salary of about $1.3 million and access to Hollywood’s biggest stars and studio heads.
“We talked about making sure that we have fair representation on K Street,” Santorum told the newspaper Roll Call in 2004. “I admit that I pay attention to who is hiring, and I think it’s important for leadership to pay attention.”
The project was started by Grover Norquist, an anti-tax activist, in 1989 in an effort to fill more lobbying jobs with Republicans.
The name later came to be associated with Santorum’s lobbyist meetings and a parallel effort by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to increase the flow of campaign donations to his party.
DeLay kept a book on his office desk in which organizations were dubbed “friendly” or “unfriendly” based on their contributions, according to a 1995 Washington Post story. He was convicted by a Texas jury in 2010 of illegally funneling corporate money to help elect Republicans to the state House in 2002.
Senate Agenda Discussed
At his biweekly Tuesday morning meetings, Santorum would share information about the legislative agenda and field questions from lobbyists, said Norquist, who attended one of them in 2002. He estimated there were 30 to 40 Republican- leaning lobbyists.
Santorum’s meetings regularly included job discussions, according to two people who attended and spoke on condition of anonymity because they didn’t want their organizations to be dragged into the presidential campaign.
Santorum didn’t lean on groups to hire Republicans the way DeLay did, the people who attended the Senate meetings said. Still, he made no secret of his desire that they do.
“The K Street Project is purely to make sure we have qualified applicants for positions that are in town,” Santorum said, according to a November 2005 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story. “From my perspective, it’s a good government thing.”
Disavowing the Project
A year later, Santorum disavowed the project during his 2006 re-election race as he faced fire from Democrats who said it was part of a “culture of corruption.”
“We don’t have a K Street Project,” Santorum said, according to a Washington Times report in January of that year. He lost his Senate seat to Democrat Bob Casey Jr.
Santorum, Norquist and DeLay “were aiming at much the same thing,” said Loomis. “They had different levers from which they could at least theoretically try to exact some kind of retribution if their wishes weren’t adhered to.”
In the case of the movie industry association, the retribution may have been the loss of a $1.5 billion tax break pending in the House. “We could never prove that one way or another,” Glickman said.
Glickman, a former Clinton administration agriculture secretary, said he didn’t have any personal dealings with Santorum at the time. He reached out to a Santorum staff member and said his relationship eventually improved with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. Member companies urged him to hire more Republicans, and he did.
Lost in the talk of high-profile jobs is the placing of lesser-known Republican congressional staff members on K Street, Loomis said.
For instance, at least 23 of Santorum’s former aides left Capitol Hill to become lobbyists, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political giving. They went to work for companies and trade groups including the Bond Market Association, the National Retail Federation and the American Hospital Association.
“Their sponsors were the Santorums and DeLays of the world,” Loomis said. “That might have had as much of an impact overall as some of the bigger names.”
Over the course of Santorum’s congressional career, lobbyists ranked 10th among his groups of donors, contributing $731,937 to his campaigns, according to the center’s data.
--With assistance from Julie Bykowicz, Heidi Przybyla and Greg Giroux in Washington. Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Jim Rubin.
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