The Smear of Congressman Bill Shuster - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Smear of Congressman Bill Shuster

It was a smear. A political hit job. 

The headlines were everywhere, particularly here in the home state of Pennsylvania’s Congressman Bill Shuster. Shuster, who represents the state’s 9th District, serves as the chairman of the powerful U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headlined the story this way:

Legislation tainted by Rep. Bill Shuster’s relationship with airline lobbyist, critics say

The Allentown Morning Call gasped

PA Congressman Bill Shuster admits to ‘personal relationship’ with airlines lobbyist

There were more, all generated from this Politico story headlined:

Bill Shuster admits ‘private and personal relationship’ with airline lobbyist: She “doesn’t lobby my office,” Transportation chairman says.

This Politico story began this way:

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster is dating a top lobbyist for the leading U.S. airline trade association, an organization that spends millions of dollars trying to influence his panel.

The Pennsylvania Republican is currently at the center of high-stakes negotiations to enact the most sweeping overhaul of the Federal Aviation Administration in decades. The package could include changes to the nation’s air travel system, including the privatization of the air traffic control system. Airlines for America’s members — all of the nation’s largest airlines — have a major interest in the legislation.

Shuster and Shelley Rubino, vice president for global government affairs for Airlines for America, have been romantically involved since last summer, according to multiple sources familiar with their relationship. Rubino, a former top House Democratic leadership aide, has been with the trade group since March 2012.…

Shuster’s coziness with A4A goes beyond his personal ties with Rubino. He recently hired Chris Brown, A4A’s vice president for legislative and regulatory policy, to be staff director on the Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee. That panel is playing a critical role in the FAA reauthorization. Shuster’s personal office chief of staff, Eric Burgeson, is married to Christine Burgeson, senior vice president of government relations at A4A.

Another Politico story said: “Good government groups said House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s attempt to avoid a conflict of interest in dating an airline industry lobbyist at the same time he heads a committee that oversees the industry doesn’t pass the perception test.” The story was filled with sniffs of outrage from various so-called “good government groups.” The charge put this way in that second Politico story: “This is a huge, huge, tremendous conflict of interest,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen.


In the middle of serious news — another ISIS massacre, the Iran nuclear deal and more, we are being instructed to have the vapors over the news that the divorced Congressman Shuster is having a relationship with airlines lobbyist Rubino. This has caused a kerfuffle, with Shuster having to comment on his personal life and Rubino’s boss forced to issue a statement. All this with no evidence — not a single shred of evidence — that either Shuster or Rubino have done a single thing wrong.

Before I get in to the utter and rampant hypocrisy here, not to mention the decidedly unmentioned real problem of the liberal obsession with big government that produces exactly the kind of situation in which Mr. Shuster finds himself? I must do my own “full disclosure” and give the critics what they will surely think is an “aha!” moment.

Decades ago my first job in Washington was a four-year stint as successively the press secretary, legislative director and Budget Committee staffer for Congressman Shuster. No, not this Congressman Shuster, but his Dad, Bud Shuster. Eventually I moved over to the Senate and onward from there, but certainly in the day I knew Bill Shuster well — he was (yow!) a mere college student at the time. I have not seen him in years, and certainly no one connected to today’s Congressman Shuster (or anyone else) has asked me to write this article. There goes the “aha” moment.

With that out of the way, let’s focus on two aspects of this all too typical example of what’s really wrong inside Washington, D.C. And we’ll start with the aforementioned hypocrisy of what is called in that first Politico story the “perception test.”

Among other things, these stories mention a series of people who, like the aforementioned Craig Holman of Public Citizen, are in fact not disinterested observers but left-wing activists. The very “perception test” these people put out there for Shuster is one they themselves fail — and fail miserably. But since the critics are up in arms about a “perception test “ — let’s take a look at some of these critics and apply their standards on conflicts of interest — to themselves.

Public Citizen is not some disinterested good government group, as the Politico article tries to imply. Mr. Holman is himself lobbyist — in his case for the far left-wing “consumer advocacy” Ralph Nader-founded Public Citizen. The Hill newspaper named Holman one of Washington’s “Top Lobbyists” of 2014. Not coincidentally, the group was a longtime opponent of Shuster’s father. None of this was mentioned in the Politico story. Not a word. Also not mentioned? The fact that, as seen here, Public Citizen receives funding from the George Soros Open Society Institute.

Then there’s a critic named Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation. What is the Sunlight Foundation? Work past all the language on transparency yada-yada and follow the links and, yes indeed, the name “Soros” pops up. As in a $25,000 contribution “For general support, at the recommendation of Jennifer and Jonathan Soros.” And spokesman Allison? His bio says he used to work for the Center for Public Integrity. Follow that link and one discovers that the Center for Public Integrity lists as a “Major Institutional Funder” the “Open Society Foundations” — and yes, as is well known, the Open Society Foundations is one of the many tentacles of — the George Soros political empire.

Also cited is Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, And guess what? The Center for Responsive Politics lists as one of its funders $350,000 from — yes indeed, the Soros Open Society Foundations. And let’s not forget the disapproving Paul Hudson of Flyers On the board of that group sits a former Clinton White House staffer who once worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the arm of the Democratic Party charged with defeating Bill Shuster with a Democrat.

So what do we have here? What we have is a rash of stories spinning off of that Politco story that are agog — agog! — that a congressman who is a single guy is — say it ain’t so! — dating a woman who happens to be a lobbyist! Oh nooooooooo! Not a word is mentioned that each and every critic making the fuss over Shuster’s relationship has a direct connection to the American far-left, with several funded by George Soros. How’s that for failing a “perception test”? 

Nor is there any concern when the “perception test” or that artful phrase “appearance of a conflict of interest” revolves not around Bill Shuster and a lobbyist but members of the media tied either romantically or by blood to members of the Obama administration. In fact, the Washington Post ran a story dismissing the very idea. Wrote the Post of marriage and family relationships at such minor-league media outlets as ABC, CBS, CNN, NPR, and — yes — the Washington Post itself and the Obama administration:

So what to make of all the family ties between the news media and the Obama administration?

According to the news media, nothing much at all. News organizations say they’ve worked out the conflicts — real or potential — involving their journalists.”…

Such insinuations make media types bristle. They take exception to the notion that complicated judgments about the news — often made by others within an organization — have anything to do with personal favoritism or familial relationships. The critics, they say, can’t point to any direct evidence that such relationships have affected the amount or tone of their news coverage.

Was there any outrage over all those media-Obama administration relationships from all those Soros connected groups targeting Bill Shuster? Nada. Not a peep. Which brings us to the underlying issue of all that left-wing support for centralized big government. 

Question. If you are intent on injecting the government into every area of American life? If, in this case, you have made a point of getting government tentacles into every crack and crevice of the airline business? What happens? 

What happens is the blindingly obvious. Washington is flooded with lobbyists. The number of registered lobbyists in Washington hovers from year to year between just shy of 12,000 (in 2014 according to the U.S. Senate’s Office of Public Records) to almost 15,000 (back in 2007). There are a mere 535 members of Congress — 435 House members and 100 Senators. You do the math on the ratio of lobbyists to congressmen and senators.

These thousands of lobbyists exist in response to the targeting by the left of one sector after another for regulation by Big Government. Education, business, labor, housing, the environment, health care and oh-so-much-more. Including transportation — which is where Bill Shuster comes in as the chairman of the House committee that writes transportation policy. In the Shuster case the airlines are going to hire lobbyists to plead their cause to all those Washington officials who have anything remotely to do with government policy on airlines. If Bill Shuster were hit by a bus tomorrow he would have a successor who has the same responsibilities as a committee chairman — and his or her own set of Washington personal relationships. It could be a romance or a personal friendship or a staff hire. But rest assured that new chairman will have his or her own “personal relationships” with a veritable Boeing 747 full of lobbyists. Count on it.

There is nothing more ironic if not hilarious than listening to liberals complain about “K Street” and the influence peddling that is the real business of Washington. In this corner we’re no fans either. There isn’t enough room here to vent over the role of “K Street Republicans” and their disdain for grassroots conservatives. 

But the difference between conservatives and the left on K Street lobbying is that conservatives want to deal with the problem by actively deregulating or outright abolishing the bureaucracies that have such an iron grip on American life. Who hires a lobbyist when they have no government regulations to be worried about fighting? The left, after having virtually single-handedly created the influence business, is now shocked — shocked! — that the very human men and women who fill all these positions are… human! Which is to say, relationships — romantic relationships and friendship relationships, job-hiring-revolving-door relationships — are as inevitable as the sun rising in the East. What did they expect? 

All of Washington, D.C. works this way. And news flash — Washington relationships work this way in the media, on Capitol Hill, in the White House, in the bureaucracies, and every lobbying business in town. 

Back in 2006, the New York Times actually ran a story focusing on members of Congress — not to mention their staff members — who married lobbyists. After, presumably, dating them. There were a lot of them. The story ran with a photo of then-Democratic Congressman John Dingell with lobbyist wife Debbie. And not to put too fine a point on this — when Dingell retired, lobbyist wife Debbie was elected to replace him. In 2012 the American public learned that Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan met his wife when, yes indeed, she was a K Street lobbyist. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois is married to a lobbyist. And so it goes. On, and on. Both parties. All three branches of government.

Journalists date lobbyists. Congressmen, senators and their staff members date lobbyists. Lobbyists date lobbyists. Hello? 

This story about Bill Shuster is shameful. There has not been a shred of evidence that he has done a single thing wrong other than do what single people in “company towns” all over America do: date or have a “personal relationship” with a professional peer. 

What’s really going on here is nothing more -or less — than a political hit job. A smear by the usual left-wing political activists masquerading as something they are not — disinterested. When it comes to failing a perception test, these groups targeting Congressman Shuster are Exhibit A.

And that’s no perception — that’s reality.

Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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