Senator Ricky K. Street, R-PA

From Holden:

The GOP is doing all that it can to cover Rick Santorum’s spotty ass, but I think it’s too little, too late.

Republican lawmakers yesterday ended their long practice of routinely summoning lobbyists to the Capitol to try to persuade them to hire their aides and colleagues, in the wake of the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal.

GOP lawmakers for years have regularly presented lists of job openings on K Street to lobbyists to encourage them to hire Republicans over Democrats. The program is a remnant of the K Street Project once championed by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as a way to coerce trade associations and companies to hire Republicans as their top lobbyists and to warn firms that hired Democrats that they would not be welcome.

Yesterday, the staff director of the Senate Republican Conference said that a K-Street-job-vacancies memo — the heart of Congress’s remaining involvement in the effort these days — will no longer be distributed during high-level meetings hosted by the conference on Capitol Hill between lawmakers and lobbyists. Responsibility for the listings migrated from the House to the Senate several years ago, according to lobbyists.

[snip]

[T]he decision could provide a public relations benefit to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), the conference head and the person who has long chaired the lobbyist meetings. He is facing a tough reelection fight this year that has been made even tougher by Democratic accusations that he is too close to lobbyists and the GOP’s K Street jobs operation.

[snip]

Participants describe the meeting as an information exchange at which Santorum and other GOP senators discuss their priorities and collect intelligence from lobbyists. Toward the end of the meetings, which begin at 8:30 a.m. every other Tuesday, a representative of the Republican National Committee distributes the document that lists who in Congress is looking for work and what jobs are available. A discussion of jobs sometimes ensued.

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The decision to drop the list comes as Santorum is being disparaged by his opponents in Washington and at home as the “liaison to the K Street Project.” Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) last week said Santorum is “as responsible as anyone in the world for the K Street Project.” He added that Santorum was unsuited to serve in his current role as the Republicans’ point man in the effort to overhaul lobbying laws.

[snip]

A Republican Conference aide said there is “no connection” between Santorum’s meetings and the K Street Project, and Santorum has said that everything he has done in the meetings is appropriate. Last week, Santorum characterized the meetings as a way for Republicans to get their points of view disseminated in Washington.

“If you’re going to affect public policy in a positive way, you’ve got to get your message out,” Santorum said. “That’s what the project that I’ve been involved with has been about, period.”

[snip]

But Democratic attacks on Santorum and the K Street Project will continue, lawmakers said. Yesterday, Reid and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, to ask for an investigation of the project. “What we seek to do is just shine a little sunlight on this K Street Project and have one of our committees investigate what happened so that we can see if there’s legislation needed,” Schumer said.