Grover Norquist: The man who won't go away
The Kansas City Star
Below is a column I wrote a year and four months ago, when Washington was in its last bout of deficit-reduction agonies.
A few things have changed since then, but not too much. Congress still doesn’t know how to fix the nation’s pressing fiscal problems, and a guy named Grover Norquist is still a monkey wrench in the machinery.
Thankfully, it seems more Republicans are willing to stand up to the lobbyist. But, as Washington Post writer Aaron Blake says in this comprehensive look at Norquist:
“This is well-worn territory for Norquist. Every time there is discussion about Republicans voting for a tax increase, his influence on the party is called into question — and somehow his influence has continued and even grown.”
I am reposting this column because it contains some details about Norquist’s past that are often overlooked. The man has played a key role in one of Washington’s biggest lobbyist scandals. It is astounding that he managed to keep one foot in the halls of power even when it because clear that his other foot was firmly in the gutter.
GOP should stop kowtowing to Grover Norquist
(From July 2011)
For all the homage paid to Grover Norquist in Washington, you’d think we’d elected him to some high office.
Deficit hawk Alan Simpson says he’s one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of reducing our massive debt.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says GOP lawmakers are “terrified” of the guy. He’s credited — or blamed — with thwarting attempts reduce the deficit and raise the debt ceiling.
That’s a lot of power to confer on a man who should have been consigned to the political dustbin, if not to a courtroom, five years ago.
Norquist, former executive director of the College Republican National Committee, is the leading spokesman for the poisonous notion that government is inherently bad, and should exist only to enrich the rich and empower the powerful.
Give him credit, he’s good at what he does. A master of the essential Washington arts of bullying, schmoozing and messaging, he’s branded himself as a power broker. Republicans, in particular, can’t contemplate raising revenues — even by revoking an outdated subsidy or tax credit — without risking his wrath.
But if Washington gave a hoot about ethics, Norquist would have been run out of town in 2006, when his old pal from the College Republican group, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
The Norquist express was chugging along at that time. Everyone who was anyone in Republican circles attended Norquist’s Wednesday meetings to receive their marching orders.
But the federal probe into Abramoff’s activities revealed that the man who professed to disdain government didn’t mind profiting from it in the seediest manner.
Documents showed that Norquist allowed his non-profit, tax-exempt organization, Americans for Tax Reform, to be used as a pass-through for money that Abramoff’s clients handed over to finance lobbying campaigns aimed at influencing public officials. For his trouble, Norquist kept a cut of the funds.
For instance, the Choctaw Indian tribe in Mississippi paid Americans for Tax Reform $1.1 million in 1999 alone. Norquist passed the money along to another college buddy, Ralph Reed, who was simultaneously running the powerful Christian Coalition and a for-profit political consulting company. Reed used the money to run a religious-based antigambling campaign whose veiled purpose was preventing a rival tribe from cutting in on the Choctaw casino business.
Experts said tax-exempt organizations such as Americans for Tax Reform could not legally act as a conduit for money intended to profit a private business.
Yet no charges were filed or sanctions issued. Some Republicans shied away from Norquist for a time, but he clearly has weathered the storm.
Norquist’s power starts with “the pledge.” Politicians who sign it vow not only to oppose efforts to increase marginal tax rates, but also to block “any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits,” unless they are matched by other reductions of tax rates.
Needless to say, the pledge leaves little maneuvering room when it comes to solving fiscal problems, since most economists and just about everybody with an ounce of sense agrees that new revenues must join spending cuts to reduce the deficit.
Such is Norquist’s grip on the Republican party that it was considered an act of courage for GOP senators recently to vote to repeal billions of dollars in ethanol subsidies.
Washington, we know, is a planet onto itself. But out here in the heartland, it’s pretty surreal to watch an unelected guy with a broken ethical compass bring the capital to a standstill and thwart the spirit of compromise that the majority of Americans say they want.
Who elected Grover Norquist? He did, that’s who. And Washington’s political class has not the shame, nor the spine, to send him packing.