David Hoppe

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:: Dan Coats' excellent lobbying adventure

Great work if you can get it

By David Hoppe

Democrats have been trying to stir a royal rumpus over Dan Coats' lobbying career. Coats, you will recall, is the Republican pol with a rictus grin and one of those comb-overs that's magically impervious to wind. He's running for what used to be Evan Bayh's senate seat.

The Dems are trying to tell us that lobbyists are what's wrong with the ways things get done in Washington, D.C. Lobbyists, they say, represent special interests like big banks, big oil, big agriculture, big weapons, and whatever else comes with the word "big" as a kind of prefix. These lobbyists use their connections and heavenly expense accounts to get lawmakers' attention and win them over.

Ever since Coats entered the race, Democrats have been ragging him about the lobbying he did for two K-Street firms, the exhaustively named Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand and the curt King & Spalding. They have suggested that Coats represented an array of clients so cluelessly arrogant they managed to get even America's corporate media to label them bad actors, including Goldman Sachs, BP and the wayward republic of Yemen, a country on the southern edge of the Saudi peninsula, with a tourist website describing it as "four times the size of Illinois," that goes on to say that, "Historically, Yemen has come into significance at times only to fade into general obscurity." The reader is politely reminded that it was off the coast of Yemen the U.S.S. Cole was blown up by terrorists. Yeah, that Yemen.

Anyway, the Democrats have used Coats' lobbying as a kind of hammer to pound him with. They've argued that conservative Hoosiers, with their seemingly innate distrust of things "Inside the Beltway," should be turned off by a guy who has spent virtually his entire adult life there - never mind that the D.C. metro climate is practically the same as it is in central Indiana, giving residents there the same early Springs and extended Autumns we enjoy here, albeit with a great public transit system.

Week after week and month after month, Democrats demanded that Coats give a full accounting of all the hot button bad guys he helped find favor in our nation's capitol. Mystifyingly, Coats, rather than coming clean, ducked and dodged.

And then, on June 4, he presented the media with an 800-plus page doorstop that, he said, gave a complete history of his lobbying days.

These records are a revelation. Not, as Democrats would have it, because of what's there. But because of what is not. Coats, if we can believe him, wasn't a backroom dealmaker so much as an extraordinarily well-paid Zelig, a character who hovered around the margins of various scenes without really having an effect on any of them.

Coats told The Star that the lobbying firms he worked for were willing to pay him big bucks - as much as $603,609 as of this past February, because he could "attract and earn the respect of top-flight clients."

But exactly how Coats earned that respect is, well, vague. First of all, he told his firms that he wouldn't work on behalf of some of their clients - like Yemen or Planned Parenthood - if he didn't like the cut of their jib. Sure, sometimes he'd call old pals, like St. Richard Lugar or Sir Dan Burton, to bend an ear. But mostly, said Coats, he was like the friendly neighbor in a pharmaceutical commercial - there to give advice.

For example, Coats recalled a meeting his firm set up with Bank of America. Coats said he "sat in" that meeting but did no lobbying. Les Zuke, identified in The Star article as director of communications at King & Spalding, backed up Coat's recollection of the meeting and went even farther. His firm, he said, listed all employees who might be called lobbyists on their roster. But, he added, "In numerous instances, it turned out that some of those listed did not lobby at all. This would have applied to Senator Coats."

Coats called himself "a titular chairman of the company," so he was not involved in day-to-day operations. "I was straight salary," he said, volunteering this populist touch: "The same as a secretary or janitor."

Most janitors, of course, don't receive salaries, they're paid by the hour. But in Mr. Coats' world this is neither here nor there. By his own account he was able to make over a half million a year making phone calls and watching the clock in meetings. Activities, that is, many janitors and secretaries would be hard-pressed to recognize as work, let alone useful.

This is what gets my goat about what goes on in Washington, D.C. The dealmaking, sleazy as it sometimes gets, is off-putting. Worse may be the culture of privilege, the aristocratic expectation that accords a former "lawmaker" with virtually no record of having crafted or drafted landmark legislation a sinecure because he's able to use a Rolodex.

The revelation concerning Dan Coats' excellent lobbying adventure wasn't whom he worked for; it was how pleased he was about not having worked at all.