Days before Nov. election, three Dem aides departed

As tensions continue to flare between Republicans and Democrats on the House Rules panel, knowledgeable House aides are questioning the circumstances surrounding the departure of three top Rules Committee staffers in December, just days before Democrats were set to gain the majority and Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) would become the chairwoman.

The aides also question the timing of the hiring of Dan Turton, a former Timmons & Co. lobbyist who is the new staff director of the panel, and whether it occurred before or after the previous staff director, John Daniels, left.

All three Democratic staffers moved on to other jobs on Capitol Hill. Daniels became a staff assistant for the Appropriations panel; Askia Suruma, who served as the minority deputy staff director of Rules, became the deputy chief of staff of the Ways and Means panel; and John Williams, a senior member of the professional staff, went on to become counsel of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Asked about his departure, Daniels said only that he’s happy about where he landed.

“I feel like I moved up in the world,” he said, declining all further comment. 

A spokesman for the Ways and Means panel lauded Suruma’s skills but declined to comment about his departure from the House Rules panel, and a spokeswoman for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform declined to comment. 

Rules Committee spokesman John Santore said all three staffers simply got better offers and the committee was sad to see them go. He called Daniels a “tremendous” staffer who was in “high demand” after the Democratic takeover.

“We wish he would have stayed,” Santore said. “He got a terrific offer and we wish him well.”

Santore declined to comment when asked if Turton was hired without Daniels’s knowledge and before he began entertaining other offers.

“Anything else would have to come from him and I would defer to him,” Santore said.

Turton’s hiring surprised those on and off Capitol Hill, considering Slaughter’s vocal disdain for the lobbying profession and the money lobbyists infuse into the political process.

“Watching Washington be taken over by these little sleaze merchants is not only expensive and repulsive — it is destroying America, destroying any sense we ever had that we’re a nation, not 298 million individuals cheating to get ahead,” she said last year on the floor.

Turton is not an average Democratic lobbyist. His wide-ranging client portfolio includes many clients normally politically aligned with Republicans.

According to lobbying registrations, during his tenure at Timmons & Co., Turton represented some 41 clients, many of which are large corporate entities such as the American Council of Life Insurers, Anheuser-Busch, Boeing, Chevron, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Rifle Association, and Unocal Corp. In the last three election cycles, Turton also doled out some $100,000 in personal campaign contributions to Democratic candidates and PACs.

In late September, Turton sent out an e-mail encouraging his Democratic brethren on K Street to write checks to Democrats because time was running out to prove Democratic fealty before the election.

“For any Democrats downtown that have not gotten on the books with the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,] this is the last event to do so before Democrats regain the Majority,” the e-mail read. 

Slaughter says she sees no problem in hiring Turton, who spent 13 years working for former Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) before moving to K Street.

“I like to say I saved him from lobbying,” she said in a brief interview.