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Carney: Tommy Thompson, corporate-welfare lobbyist, wins

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Photo - Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson at his primary election night party. (AP Photo)
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson at his primary election night party. (AP Photo)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

In the GOP's civil war, K Street beat the Tea Party on Tuesday in the battle of Wisconsin, as Tommy Thompson edged out two conservative opponents in the Republican primary for the state's open Senate seat.

Thompson was the favorite of Beltway GOP leaders, and his campaign was funded in great part by K Street lobbying firms, Beltway-based business PACs and his own wealth, earned as a lobbyist and director of firms dependent on government for profit.

He defeated hedge fund millionaire Eric Hovde and Tea Party favorite Mark Neumann, funded by the Club for Growth and Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund.

In a telling moment, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich stumped for Thompson last week. While the media took it as an attempt to help Thompson with the party's base, Gingrich and Thompson made the perfect pair precisely because they both made millions dragging their party away from its conservative principles.

After Gingrich resigned as speaker of the House in January 1999, he quickly went to work as a consultant and lobbyist for companies intimately tied up with government. Gingrich worked for mortgage-bubble inflator Freddie Mac, which conservatives were trying to curb. He reported to Freddie Mac's lobbyist-in-chief, Craig Thomas.

Gingrich also worked for the ethanol lobby as late as 2011, defending ethanol subsidies.

Gingrich made big money on health care, where he also advocated big government benefiting his big-business clients. In 2003 while being paid by the drug industry, Gingrich lobbied congressional Republicans to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs.

Gingrich in May 2009 endorsed the basic framework of Obamacare's insurance regulations, calling for a "must carry" rule (an individual mandate) paired with a "must issue" rule requiring insurers to cover all comers. Drugmakers and health insurers -- Gingrich's clients -- supported these provisions.

Thompson's private-sector career was also about helping big-business clients and supporting big government. As President George W. Bush's secretary of health and human services, Thompson helped the Medicare prescription-drug entitlement across the finish line. Then, after leaving HHS, he monetized that experience, going to work for companies benefiting from this expansion of government.

Thompson right away became chairman of the board of government contractor Logistics Health Inc. ("a partner to the United States Government," in the company's words), whose clients included HHS's Centers for Disease Control.

Thompson also came to K Street, joining top-shelf lobbying firm Akin Gump in order to "[focus] on developing solutions for clients in the health care industry, as well as for companies doing business in the public sector," according to his online bio.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Thompson's clients included the drug lobby. In 2009, Thompson publicly applauded the Obamacare bill supported by the drug lobby. He praised the Senate Finance Committee bill as "an important step toward achieving the goal of health care reform this year."

Democrats and the media lauded Thompson as a rare reasonable Republican, showing a "spirit of national purpose," in Obama's words. But those Thompson backers didn't mention that his endorsement of the bill was self serving. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Thompson is now worth $13 million, having earned almost all of that since cashing out of the Bush administration.

Thompson repeatedly got away with shilling for his clients under the banner of former HHS secretary. In a 2011 ABCNews.com interview on anthrax, Thompson said Congress needs to "support the second-generation vaccine."

He twice name-checked his client PharmAthene as a maker of such a vaccine, never disclosing the company was paying him. "I think they're doing an excellent job," Thompson said of PharmAthene in this interview. "I think our country needs to get behind them."

To understand fully Gingrich's primary endorsement of Thompson, though, recall when Gingrich and Neumann clashed back in 1995, in the heady days of the Republican Revolution.

Neumann was upset that year when President Clinton sent U.S. bombers and troops to Bosnia without congressional authorization. In retaliation, Neumann, a rare freshman congressman on the Appropriations Committee, voted against the defense appropriations on the floor.

Bucking a committee-approved spending bill was impermissible dissent. As punishment, Gingrich and Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston stripped Neumann of his appropriations subcommittee slot.

So, Neumann had dared abide by the professed principles of the GOP insurgency, and Gingrich smacked him down. He again whacked Neumann last week by campaigning for fellow corporate-welfare lobbyist Thompson.

Wisconsin conservatives on Tuesday split their votes between Neumann and Hovde, and Thompson won the nomination with only 34 percent. So once again a K Streeter carries the Republican banner into the general election.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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