Congressman-turned-lobbyist Steve LaTourette, speaking for moderate Republicans, has attacked the free-market and the stridently anti-establishment Club for Growth as "a cancer on the Republican Party."
It's K Street versus the Tea Party again in the bitter civil war within the Republican Party.
The Club for Growth came up as the scourge of liberal Republicans. In 2000, the group got behind conservative state legislator Scott Garrett, who was challenging liberal Republican Marge Roukema for the second time in a northern New Jersey district.
Roukema edged out Garrett in the primary, but the threat of another primary challenge, backed by a more powerful Club for Growth, helped convince Roukema to quit in 2002. Garrett today holds both the seat and one of the most consistently free-market voting records in Congress.
Since then, the Club has played in plenty of open-seat primaries, challenging liberal and moderate Republican incumbents such as Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) with mixed success.
Targeting Bob Bennett, for instance, helped put conservative stalwart Mike Lee in the Senate. Backing underdog Rand Paul in the Senate also paid off.
Meanwhile, the Club helped Nevada's Sharon Angle and Colorado's Ken Buck win primaries in 2010, and Indiana's Richard Mourdock in 2012. Those three candidates lost Senate elections that other Republicans might have won.
This year, the Club decided to crowd-source its efforts, launching PrimaryMyCongressman.org. Hundreds of visitors to the website asked for a primary challenge to Rep. Mike Simpson -- his lifetime Club for Growth voting record is 58 percent. Simpson's sins include voting for the Wall Street bailout, pushing pork projects, and opposing eminent-domain reform.
This is a district Mitt Romney won with 64 percent of the vote. In other words, Simpson, the GOP congressman, is probably to the left of his district. So the Club for Growth announced it would back Bryan Smith in his primary against Simpson.
This is where former congressman LaTourette and his group, Mainstreet Advocacy, jumped in. LaTourette announced his group would match the Club, dollar-for-dollar in any GOP primary. In this fight, the Mainstreet group holds itself up as the defenders of "pragmatism instead of social dogma."
Mainstreet Advocacy also describes itself as battling "special interests" and "political patronage." But here's the awkward truth: Republican "centrists" are more likely than GOP ideologues to be in bed with special interests. And the closer to the middle you are, the more susceptible you to patronage.
As exhibit A, let's look at Mainstreet Advocacy's point man.
The Washington Post's report on his recent comments described LaTourette only as a "former congressman." Here's a tip: Every time you read the words "former congressman," you should ask if he's now a lobbyist -- unless he's a "moderate" working towards "bipartisan solutions." Then you don't even need to ask.
For instance, Harvard's Center for Ethics pointed out that the Bipartisan Policy Center is a hotbed of K Street lobbyists. "The BPC was founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, who all cashed in on their government experience by working for Beltway law and lobbying firms, and advising major corporations."
So it is with Mainstreet's LaTourette:
One day last decade, LaTourette called his wife Susan and told her that "he had a girlfriend and wanted a divorce," as she reported it. The girlfriend was LaTourette's chief of staff Jennifer Laptook, whom he soon married.
Jennifer then cashed out to K Street lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates. That website won clients by touting "As chief of staff, Laptook was responsible for advising on all legislative issues, particularly those that came before the committees on which Congressman LaTourette serves. Laptook worked intimately with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff, on which the congressman is a senior member."
Rep. LaTourette left Congress in January and today, of course, he is a lobbyist. He launched the lobbying arm of the McDonald Hopkins law firm, and hired his wife. So LaTourette lobbies on behalf of hospitals, alternative-energy interests, and other major companies and industries.
On the side, LaTourette champions compromise-minded Republicans for Congress. Because how else are you supposed to get bailouts and subsidies for your clients, except by getting some "pragmatic" Republicans in Congress. Ideological flexibility is what corporate lobbyists look for. Free-market dogma is a major turnoff to lobbyists seeking handouts.
Many folks in this town think ideological purity is the enemy of good government. Those folks have corporate lobbyists like Steve and Jennifer LaTourette on their side.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.