Washington Prowler

Commission Commissars

Career staff compile dossiers against Republicans. Plus: Bush road paved with bad intentions.

By 6.27.05

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DOSSIER DEMOCRATS
Republican staffers on such federal agencies as the Federal Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission are concerned about a growing trend they fear is giving Democrats and far-left careerists information to be used for political gain.

According to an outside consultant working for phone giant SBC, the amount of information being collected by federal agencies for the approval of its merger with AT&T is far and away the most proprietary information they have ever had to surrender to the government.

"There something else going on here," says the consultant. "The type of material they are asking for, about deployment of resources, customer ethnic background, that isn't the type of material the FCC has looked at in the past. It's almost like the career staff there is taking advantage of a situation to get at material they otherwise might not be able to request."

It isn't that some of this data isn't useful to a professional staff attempting to approve a merger of two large companies that serve a diverse set of consumers, says the consultant. It's the amount of material the FCC is asking for. "This is the kind of material that could be used by professional staff for studies in any number of areas that could be embarrassing to companies, industries and individuals," says the consultant.

More so than even in some of the critical Cabinet-level departments, such as State, Justice and Defense, Republican appointees to commissions have been shocked at the influence of professional staff working at such places as the FCC, SEC, even the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

For example, professional staff at the SEC regularly bulldozed outgoing chairman William Donaldson. Instead of blocking policy that might prove harmful to investors or Wall Street through the commission, Donaldson allowed staff -- largely Democratic -- to sidestep the commission and implement policy changes through rule-making procedures that didn't require a vote.

Donaldson's seeming disdain for getting into political fights with staff was one reason he was pushed out of his job earlier than he preferred, and will be replaced by Rep. Christopher Cox, a well-known control freak, who won't allow staff to slip anything by him.

"These federal commissions are just as political as anything else in Washington," says a GOP lawyer, who has done work before the Federal Election Commission. "The staff can under some circumstances ask for just about anything it needs from companies and individuals. I wouldn't be surprised if there are overly zealous commission staff culling documents for ammo against Republicans to be used down the road."

PAVED WITH BAD INTENTIONS
The past couple of weeks haven't been good ones for the White House, at least in its dealings with outside groups.

Ten days ago, according to White House sources and individuals who attended the meeting, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card called a meeting with interested parties (mostly supporters) on the highway bill, which has been held up for close to two years in negotiations.

President Bush is on record as saying it will veto the larded legislation in its current form, which is reaching upwards of $300 billion in taxpayer-funded pork projects.

Republicans in both the House and the Senate had made attempts throughout the process to hold down the road appropriations, but, particularly in the Senate, amendments and sweet heart deals moved at a decent clip.

Upon hearing from Card that the President remained committed to a veto, members of Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM), a coalition of more than 50 interest groups and companies, did not take the news well. "They pretty much told Card a veto wasn't going to matter, and dared him to let the President do it," says an attendee at the meeting. "There are other bills the President should have vetoed before this one, and he didn't. If he wants to be embarrassed and have that veto overridden, let him try."

The consensus on Capitol Hill is that the highway bill almost certainly has the votes to override a Presidential veto. Couple that defeat with the White House's ongoing challenges on Social Security reform, Iraq policy, and political appointments, and you have all the makings of a very ugly few months.

"President Bush doesn't need a veto fight right now," says a Capitol Hill lobbyist. "He's going to have a tough go on the Central American Free Trade Agreement [CAFTA], and Social Security is stalled out. His people need to tell him to swallow hard and sign the highway bill."

No sooner had Card been slapped around by the black-top folks, than the black-robe folks jumped on him over White House deliberations on potential Supreme Court nominees. Card was told by mostly conservative legal types that nomination of, say, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, to the Supreme Court would be unacceptable, particularly if that nomination was to fill a slot left vacant by a conservative.

The outreach efforts to conservatives is viewed as a positive step for a White House, but perhaps a little too late. "You look at something like the highway bill, and their legislative people should have been all over this months, years ago, working with us," says a lobbyist working for a corporate ATM member. "They can't just pull us in at the last minute and say that it's their way or nothing. In this case, they were doomed to fail, and, frankly, they seemed surprised by what they heard from us, which was surprising to us. They should have known we wouldn't roll over."

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