To much of the public, Dick Lugar has a reputation for moderation, statesmanship and probity. He even looks the part.
But now he's in the race of his life, and he's doing what lawmakers do when they get in a political trouble: He's turning to K Street lobbyists and corporate money to save him.
Sen. Lugar, an 80-year-old, six-term Indiana Republican with a history of irritating the GOP's conservative base, lags in the polls behind State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has the backing of the conservative Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Most of the media cast the May 8 primary as extremism vs. moderation or pragmatism vs. ideology.
A Washington Post blogger wrote Wednesday that a Lugar win would promote Republicans "actually legislat[ing], with all the compromising and taking of tough positions that that implies." Lugar is a real legislator, for sure. He likes deals. He changes his mind. He is independent. From a good-government viewpoint, there's plenty to like about that sort of senator.
But much of "actually legislating," in Lugar's case at least, is cutting deals with K Street lobbyists and parcelling out taxpayer money to politically-connected, special-interest groups that in turn give PAC money to his re-election campaign.
PACs gave $1.13 million to Lugar over the last 15 months, according to federal filings. Peruse the list of his campaign donors, compare it to his legislative record, and suddenly Lugar's "compromising" and "tough positions" take on a different shine.
Lugar defended ethanol subsidies this spring when Mourdock attacked them. Lugar consistently has voted for ethanol tax credits and ethanol mandates. And ethanol companies and lobbies have consistently funded his campaign. Archer Daniels Midland is the godfather of ethanol and ethanol subsidies. ADM's PAC has cut two $1,000 checks to Lugar's primary campaign. POET Energy is the new king of ethanol, and the company's PAC has contributed the maximum $5,000 to Lugar in the primary. The PAC of the National Corn Growers Association, a powerful D.C. lobby, gave Lugar $2,500. Growth Energy, the biggest ethanol lobby in the country, also has maxed out to Lugar.
So Lugar supports policies that force Americans to subsidize ethanol, and ethanol-industry lobbyists in turn support Lugar's re-election.
Every time the news media showers hosannas on Lugar for his bipartisan deals, count on finding a money trail that smoothed the way.
Lugar has supported bills to create a cap-and-trade scheme for greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, forcing manufacturers and energy companies to pay for the right to burn their own fuel. He voted for cap-and-trade bills in 2003 and 2005, and spent years trying to craft cap-and-trade compromises.
Lugar also receives large donations from the PACs of the corporations who would profit from cap-and-trade legislation. General Electric, Siemens, Duke Energy and Exelon all have supported cap-and-trade and their PACs have all supported Lugar. GE runs a business that generates and trades in "greenhouse-gas credits," which are nearly worthless until the government starts forcing companies to pay for their emissions with the credits. Exelon and Duke are nuclear energy giants that would gain competitive advantage from laws making it more expensive to burn coal. Siemens can probably sell its "carbon capture solutions" -- trapping greenhouse gasses -- but only if the government is taxing or capping greenhouse emissions.
Back in 2009, Lugar stood on stage as President Obama signed a bill expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- originally a program subsidizing private health insurance for poor children -- to include the middle class and young adults. Supporting SCHIP expansion was, presumably, one of those "tough choices" for which Lugar wins praise.
It was convenient though, that Lugar was siding not only with Obama and the congressional majority, but also with all the major drug companies and insurance companies that loved getting a wider pipeline of federal taxpayer subsidies. Again, look through Lugar's list of PAC donors: the American Hospital Association, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, WellPoint, Cigna, Merck, Pfizer and other beneficiaries of the bill.
K Street lobbying firms are also rallying behind Lugar. Patton Boggs picked up the catering bill for a Lugar fundraiser earlier this year. Barbour Griffith & Rogers hosted a Lugar fundraiser as did the Livingston Group. Glover Park Group, K&L Gates, Hogan Lovells, Holland & Knight, DLA Piper, Covington & Burling, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Arent Fox, Baker Donelson and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld -- these are most of the biggest lobbying firms in D.C. All of their PACs have funded Lugar's primary. So has Senate Majority Leader-turned-lobbyist Trent Lott.
There's nothing wrong with preferring a centrist Republican prone to cutting deals. But as the media roots for Lugar over Mourdock next week, they should understand that they are also rooting for K Street, the revolving door, and big money in politics.
Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.