Former Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH), now the head of the GOP establishment outfit The Main Street Partnership (MSP), may be engaged in illegal activity, the New York Times‘ Eric Lipton reported on Saturday. LaTourette is, as Lipton wrote, “one of the top generals in the establishment Republicans’ war against the Tea Party.”
MSP, Lipton wrote, is a “corporate-backed advocacy group,” and LaTourette has helped it “raise millions of dollars to protect centrist Republicans from Tea Party challengers.”
LaTourette and his wife have also established another lobbying firm across the street from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.; a firm that Lipton reports has benefited from LaTourette’s role atop MSP. LaTourette has been extremely active in Washington political circles and the world of lobbying since leaving Congress to take the gig at MSP. He has regularly interacted with leaders and lawmakers in what Lipton claimed is potentially illegal activity. Technically, LaTourette is not a registered lobbyist, but his wife, Jennifer, and his former legislative aide, Hillary Fulp, have registered as lobbyists for LaTourette’s new firm.
Lipton wrote that the “blitz of activity” from the former Ohio Republican congressman “has led to complaints from Mr. LaTourette’s political opponents that under the guise of defending the Republican Party from extremists, he is profiting from his continued presence in the Washington spotlight.”
LaTourette denies accusations that he may have broken the lobbying ban law for former members of Congress or that he is motivated by enriching himself, telling the Times that each of those notions “is just nonsense.” He also said that “any encounter he has had with lawmakers has not had the ‘intent to influence official action,’ which is specifically banned,” Lipton wrote.
“In addition, Mr. LaTourette’s activities have raised questions about whether, in his dual roles, the former congressman violated the federal statute that prohibits lawmakers from lobbying on Capitol Hill for a year after leaving office,” Lipton wrote.
His work for the Main Street Partnership, he said, is focused solely on helping lawmakers who believe in the government’s ability to solve problems to fight back against extremist groups like the Club for Growth, which he has likened to a ‘cancer that has attached itself’ to the Republican Party for its role in challenging incumbent Republicans with more conservative candidates.
Lipton quoted LaTourette as saying establishment Republicans want to retake control of the GOP from conservatives. “We want our party back,” LaTourette said.
But Lipton’s account of LaTourette’s potentially illicit activities raises several questions. Lipton noted that LaTourette has been involved in at least four separate legal entities since leaving Congress; MSP is just one such entity. The Main Street Advocacy Fund and Defending Main Street Super PAC are two more, which, Lipton noted, “together are seeking to amass $8 million to bolster Republican candidates facing Tea Party challengers in the 2014 races.” Then there is LaTourette’s lobbying firm, McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies; McDonald Hopkins has clients such as freight railroad giant CSX and renewable energy group Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.
Lipton wrote that it is LaTourette’s work as the head of MSP that has raised the possibility that he is engaged in illegal lobbying activity. MSP, Lipton reported, “lists as its members 52 House Republicans and three Senate Republicans — all centrists — and its bills are paid by corporations, lobbyists and other donors, who each pay dues of up to $25,000 a year, raising about $1.4 million, according to the organization’s chief operating officer.”
“By bankrolling the group and contributing money to an affiliated political action committee that donates money to the lawmakers who are members, corporations gain the right to help draft the Main Street Partnership’s position papers and to participate in events that feature sitting members of Congress,” Lipton wrote.
The list of corporate members is kept secret, but the companies that donate to the group’s political action committee, including General Electric and Dow Chemical, as well as Mr. LaTourette’s law firm, offer a hint. Under House ethics rules and federal criminal law, former lawmakers are prohibited for one year from communicating with members of Congress ‘with intent to influence official action on behalf of anyone else,’ even if they are doing so on behalf of a nonprofit group, like the Main Street Partnership.
Lipton reported, however, that LaTourette has engaged in several events over the course of the year since he left Congress that involved interaction with sitting members of Congress. Those events were highlighted on LaTourette’s group’s own website.
For instance, Lipton noted that in February 2013 LaTourette participated in an event and “sat next to” Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) at the Capitol Hill Club, where they introduced a report detailing how to cut the corporate tax rate by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security spending.
“The event featuring Mr. LaTourette included newspaper reporters, so it was not a traditional meeting between a lobbyist and lawmakers,” Lipton wrote. “Mr. Dent and Mr. Hanna are also members of the Main Street group. Mr. LaTourette said he was not violating the one-year ban, because in his encounters with current members of Congress, ‘there is never any contact that seeks to influence official action.'”
Other events LaTourette attended include a June MSP-sponsored dinner featuring House Speaker John Boehner and “dozens of other members of Congress.”
Lipton quoted Kenneth Gross, former head of enforcement at the Federal Election Commission (FEC), who said that LaTourette could have violated the lobbying ban. “We advise against any interfacing on substance with sitting congressmen and staff,” Gross, said.
Gross and three other “prominent Washington ethics lawyers” reviewed the evidence of LaTourette’s engagement with House members, Lipton wrote. “All four said they found them troubling.”
But LaTourette spokesman Chris Barron, who works for MSP, said that LaTourette did not violate the rules in the many events in which he participated throughout 2013 featuring current members of Congress. “Former members talk to each other and see lawmakers all the time,” Barron said. “There is not some giant cone of silence.”
“Mr. LaTourette is permitted under the ethics rules to participate in political events that bring him into contact with current members of Congress,” Lipton also wrote.
Conversely, FreedomWorks’ Tom Borelli told the Times that LaTourette’s activities represent a “sophisticated get-rich-quick scheme.”
“This is not about some high-minded political ideas,” Borelli claimed.
LaTourette did acknowledge that his position at MSP has helped him get lucrative clients at his lobbying outfit but says he did not intend for it to be that way. “It isn’t bad for business,” LaTourette told the Times. “But it is not by design.”
LaTourette aggressively attacked the Tea Party movement, both while he was in Congress and since he resigned to take the position at MSP about a year ago. During an appearance on CNN’s Crossfire opposite conservative Larry Elder, for instance, LaTourette said Republicans should be open to increasing Americans’ taxes. “Republicans can win the game if they act like Republicans,” LaTourette said while arguing for higher taxes, which he first tried to spin as “revenue” increases before admitting under pressure from Elder that they were, in fact, tax increases.