Norquist 
history 101

Perhaps a case of selective amnesia explains the exalted platform given to Grover Norquist both in the media and among congressional Republicans. Just a few years ago, Norquist was a central figure in the GOP culture of corruption and cronyism that helped Democrats retake control of Congress in 2006.

From his longtime friendship with Karl Rove to leadership of the K Street Project with convicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to the money-laundering scandal involving convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Norquist has long wielded unchecked power in Washington. Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) are key players in an influential web of GOP donors, operatives and organizations working to implement a Republican agenda and consolidate power benefiting their special-interest friends. ATR funding reportedly comes from right-wing organizations like Olin and Scaife — conservative foundations set up by millionaires and billionaires like the Koch brothers — to support a set of policy goals favorable to their corporations. ATR has also received significant funding from the tobacco, gambling and alcohol industries. 

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It was Norquist, working with then-Majority Whip DeLay, who launched the scheme known as the K Street Project in 1995. Run out of ATR offices, it controlled access to key government figures and rewarded GOP cronies by pressuring Washington lobbying firms to hire Republican operatives. Those who were loyal and willing to “pay to play” were granted access. As part of this cozy relationship, corporate “friends” were able to participate in the drafting of legislation affecting their industries. (Can you say Dick Cheney energy task force?) The Senate liaison to the project who met regularly with Norquist to review openings and candidates at lobbying firms was none other than former Pennsylvania Senator and current GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum.

During this time, Norquist worked with Abramoff, Ralph Reed and Abramoff’s partner Michael Scanlon in a money-laundering scandal that bilked millions of dollars from Indian tribes. Abramoff and Scanlon grossly overcharged the tribes for work on casino gambling issues, using Norquist’s ATR and the ATR Foundation as a pass-through to support their lobbying effort.  Contributions were made to ATR, which then skimmed a fee off the top before passing the money on to Ralph Reed and other anti-gambling activists. 

In one example, the Choctaw Indian tribe in Mississippi paid Americans for Tax Reform $1.1 million in 1999. Norquist passed the money to Reed, who ran the powerful Christian Coalition and a for-profit political consulting company. Reed used the money to run a religious-based anti-gambling campaign with the veiled purpose of preventing a rival tribe from cutting in on the Choctaw casino business.

This allowed Norquist, Reed and Abramoff to disguise the fact that the money used to fund anti-gambling activities was generated through Indian gambling. Abramoff utilized Norquist’s cachet and access, referring to him once in an email as a “hard-won asset.” 

Investigations in 2006 by the Senate Indian Affairs and the Senate Finance committees (then chaired by Republican Sens. John McCain, Ariz., and Chuck Grassley, Iowa, respectively) found that Norquist not only used ATR as a cash “conduit” for Abramoff’s clients, but that ATR and four other conservative nonprofit groups “appear to have perpetrated a fraud” on American taxpayers.

Which raises the question: Just what is it that 236 GOP House and 41 GOP senators fear from an operative known to be involved in illegal activity involving taxpayer fraud and influence peddling?

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant.


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