Mississippi voters stagger Thad Cochran — and K Street

Reuters

(From L) Sentors Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) listen as Larry Pope, president and chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods Inc, testifies to the Senate Agriculture Committee during a hearing examining foreign purchases of American food companies on Capitol Hill in Washington July 10, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • The Tea Party era has been bad news for appropriations lobbyists.

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  • McDaniel beating Cochran in the runoff would exacerbate this problem for appropriations lobbyists.

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  • Won't the voters of Mississippi have some mercy on the poor denizens of K Street?

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“I guess Mississippi doesn't want Federal money anymore,” revolving-door K Streeter John Feehery posted on Twitter last week. Republican primary voters had just declined to renominate Sen. Thad Cochran, the Republican pork king, and instead forced him into a runoff that he's likely to lose.

The tweet was perfect. In less than 140 characters Feehery had not only summarized Cochran's reason for existence, he also helped reveal what the GOP's K Street wing has at stake in its primary battles against Tea Partiers like Mississippi's Chris McDaniel.

Cochran is the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee and currently the ranking member on the Defense Subcommittee. If Republicans retake the Senate this year, Cochran would chair the full committee.

Back before Republicans banned earmarks, Cochran was also the top porker of the U.S. Senate. In 2009, Taxpayers for Common Sense reported that Cochran led the league in both earmarks requested (103 requests worth $775 million) and earmarks secured (48 earmarks worth $216 million).

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, Cochran was the top requester in 2008, 2009, and 2010 – you can think of this as the period between the indictment of former top GOP appropriator Ted Stevens and the Tea Party-inspired GOP ban on earmarks after the 2010 election. In his three-year reign of pork, Cochran requested a billion in earmarks, according to CAGW.

In Feehery’s vision, this is just a story of a Mississippi lawmaker bringing home “federal money” to his neighbors. But Feehery’s interest in the pork king shows us another dimension of earmarking and the federal spending bonanza.

It’s not only Main Street Biloxi that benefits from the pork-barrell spending that Cochran champions. K Street is the other big winner.

Feehery is president of the lobbying firm QGA Public Affairs (formerly Quinn Gillespie and Associates). QGA, on behalf of a coalition of colleges, lobbies for federal funding, according to the firm's federal disclosure filings.

But QGA is a bit player in the appropriations lobbying game. Cornerstone Government Affairs, another K Street lobbying firm, lobbied on “Budget/Appropriations” matters for 57 different clients according to its disclosure filings.

For instance, Cornerstone's lobbyists worked on Agriculture appropriations for the Florida Sugar Cane League. On behalf of General Dynamics, Cornerstone lobbied on Defense, Homeland Security, and Department of Justice appropriations. Pfizer pays Cornerstone to push for greater federal immunization funding.

Unlike Mississippi voters, these corporate earmark recipients and their K Street lobbyists are fighting to keep Cochran in office.

Cochran has raised $1.55 million from PACs for his reelection, according to the Center for Responsive Politics—about 30 times what McDaniel has raised from PACs. The PACs that have given him the $5,000 maximum include some recipients of his past earmarks (such as defense giant Raytheon) and many more companies that benefit (in this post-earmark era) simply from the higher top-line spending numbers Cochran consistently favors.

But the interesting story here is the middlemen—the lobbyists.

Cochran has raised more than $100,000 from D.C.-based lobbyists, according to my analysis. Just over half of that money comes from lobbyists who report working on appropriations and budget matters.

Three lobbyists from Baker Donelson and Cassidy & Associations – two firms that work on appropriations – have made contributions to Cochran. And Cornerstone, the appropriations lobbying giant, has three Cochran donors as lobbyists.

And of course there's Haley Barbour. The former governor of Mississippi and former Republican National Committee chairman is an old friend of Cochran and a Cochran donor. He's also an appropriations lobbyist at the firm he founded, Barbour Griffith and Rogers.

Barbour’s clients include local governments, universities, and aerospace companies. “Senator Cochran is able to get things done in Washington that wouldn’t get done otherwise,” Barbour told Bloomberg News a few months ago.

What are those “things” Cochran is able to get done?

One thing might be restoring earmarks. “I think earmarks have gotten a bad name,” Cochran told NPR early this year, suggesting his party should end its ban. If not, at least Cochran can keep spending levels higher.

The Tea Party era has been bad news for appropriations lobbyists. Appropriations and budget issues appeared on lobbying filings for 5,205 clients in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That number has declined every year, down to 3,207 in 2013 –a 38 percent drop. For comparison, the number of clients represented on banking or trade issues has risen slightly in that same period.

McDaniel beating Cochran in the runoff would exacerbate this problem for appropriations lobbyists. Won't the voters of Mississippi have some mercy on the poor denizens of K Street?

Timothy P. Carney, a senior political columnist for the Washington Examiner, can be contacted at [email protected] This column is reprinted with permission from washingtonexaminer.com.

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