Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/15/2005 | Casey assails Santorum's tie to lobbyists: "Posted on Tue, Nov. 15, 2005
Casey assails Santorum's tie to lobbyists
Inquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Democratic challenger Robert P. Casey Jr. lashed out yesterday at Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) for leading meetings that he said pressure lobbying firms and trade associations to hire more Republicans.
"At best, what happens at those meetings is of questionable ethics," Casey said.
Casey, the Pennsylvania state treasurer, was in Washington to announce an ethics reform plan that he said would correct what he called abuses of power by lobbyists and lawmakers. One provision is a same-day disclosure requirement for lobbyists who have "substantive" conversations with lawmakers.
Casey accused Santorum of saying little about this "culture of corruption." He said the senator "has more power than I do, right now," to introduce reforms.
A spokesman for Santorum, Robert Traynham, declined to respond to the specifics of Casey's plan but said the senator was ready to debate it and other issues "in a public way."
Casey spoke at a Washington restaurant, called Signatures, that until recently was owned by GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is under investigation by the Justice Department. Abramoff is an ally of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Texas), who has been indicted in an alleged Texas campaign-finance scheme.
DeLay, Santorum and other GOP activists have been involved in a longtime effort known as the "K Street Project" to ensure that Republicans are considered for openings with lobbying firms and trade associations.
K Street is a Washington address traditionally favored by lobbyists.
Santorum has been holding a regular Tuesday morning meeting as part of this effort.
"These aren't just casual, chance meetings," Casey said. He said there was "enormous pressure" and "undue influence" by congressional leaders on hiring practices by lobbyists and trade associations.
"I think it could amount to coercion," Casey said. "What are you going to do, skip the meeting? Unfortunately, if you want to be a successful lobbyist, a lot of them are going to say, 'Yes, sir.' "
Casey said the K Street Project was "an abuse of power" and should be closed. He also proposed doubling the lobbying ban for former members of Congress to two years and requiring members to reimburse corporations for the full cost of accepting a ride on a chartered flight.
At present, members are required to reimburse corporations for the price of a first-class commercial ticket.
The Democrat said that this year he had accepted a chartered flight to Texas from a law firm, which he intended to reimburse.
Much of what Casey proposed is contained in pending Senate and House legislation. The new wrinkle was the same-day disclosure, which a lobbyist would file to an Internet site.
Traynham, Santorum's spokesman, defended the K Street Project as "a program to make sure that issues important to Pennsylvanians are discussed with large organizations."
He said that Santorum "has spent all of his congressional career making sure there is transparency in government."
Traynham declined to directly address Casey's ethics plan, but challenged the leading Democratic contender for Santorum's seat to public debates on all the issues.
"What's more important is to talk about the issues that are important to Pennsylvanians - jobs and the economy, taxes and the like," he said.
In a statement issued by Santorum's reelection campaign, the senator proposed 10 debates, with eight of them devoted to a single issue. The Casey campaign had no immediate response.
Casey's Washington schedule yesterday included three fund-raising meetings, including an evening event at a private home in McLean, Va., at which outgoing Virginia Gov. Mark Warner was scheduled to appear.
Contact staff writer Steve Goldstein at 202-383-6048 or firstname.lastname@example.org."