Billy Tauzin, Lobbyist
"I will fight for Louisiana's third district. Unless I get a better offer."
"I'm not going anywhere," Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., told Roll Call'sBen Pershing on June 25, 2003. Pointing out that he had three years left to serve out his chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Tauzin said, "Why would I want to walk away from that?" Speaking the next day to the Baton Rouge Advocate, Tauzin affirmed that he intended "to complete my term and run for re-election in 2004."
But Tauzin got a better offer. This was no surprise to anyone familiar with Tauzin's comic rap duet with Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., at the June 24 going-away party for retiring music-industry lobbyist Hilary Rosen. Surpassing Washington's already expansive norm for shamelessness, Bono and Tauzin joked that they were "auditioning for" Rosen's job and sang, "You still don't think we're the ones for the job?/ Yo, we're politicians. We were born to hobnob." This high-spirited minstrel show prompted Chatterbox to observe that in Washington, lobbyists now enjoyed a higher status than House members. (Chatterbox blamed this bizarre reversal of the natural order on Richard Nixon, Newt Gingrich, and Ralph Nader. The HBO series K Street reflected the change, but did not last long enough to further it.)
Tauzin's bolt for K Street is especially striking because he did not, as expected, accept an offer reportedly in excess of $1 million to replace Jack Valenti, the retiring chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. Instead, Tauzin reportedly leveraged that offer into an even more generous offer to replace Alan Holmer, the retiring president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. This is significant, because it demonstrates that members of Congress would rather be lobbyists even if they don't get to hobnob with recording artists and movie stars but instead spend their days talking to physically unattractive drug-company executives.
(Chatterbox should here note that Tauzin "has not signed a contract and he has not seen a contract," according to spokesman Ken Johnson, who declined even to confirm that PhRMA made Tauzin an offer. Apparently it's not too late for a third group to enter this bidding war! Meanwhile, Tauzin supporters have wisely declined to participate in a "Tauzin for Congress" Meetup scheduled 17 days from now; as of this writing, nobody has signed up. And if you contributed to the $480,789 Tauzin raised during the past year for the 2004 race … better luck next time!)
It's speculated that PhRMA went after Tauzin in order to buff its image, which took a beating in the aftermath of the Medicare prescription-drug bill vote. (House leaders and the pharmaceutical industry got the bill passed but were criticized for using heavy-handed tactics, at one point even offering Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., a bribe that the world-weary ethics committee declined to investigate.) If so, Tauzin is an odd choice. The Medicare legislation passed only two months ago, and Tauzin was heavily involved; at the signing ceremony, President Bush singled him out for his "great work on this bill." Spokesman Johnson says that "at no time did anyone approach us about the PhRMA job during the Medicare debate," and it's true that PhRMA chairman Holmer's departure wasn't announced until well after the vote. It's also true that a payoff to Tauzin in the form of a job would be superfluous, because the health care sector was already Tauzin's largest source of campaign funds. (Pfizer and Merck were among the top five contributors to Tauzin's 2004 noncampaign.)
But think about what PhRMA's likely to spend much of its energy doing during the next year: blocking or otherwise influencing congressional efforts to tweak the Medicare bill in order to make it more generous to seniors and/or less lucrative to pharmaceutical companies. During this period, according to 18 U.S.C. Section 207, "Restrictions on former officers, employees, and elected officials of the executive and legislative branches," Tauzin may not lobby Congress on any matter, and after that Tauzin will still be barred from lobbying on any matter in which he participated "personally and substantially." Ergo, Tauzin's very job will be intended from the start to subvert the spirit of the revolving-door law, and, in practice, may prove difficult to perform without violating its letter. Laissez les bons temps rouler.
Dangerous Glamorization of Lobbyists Archive:
Nov. 14, 2003: "Valenti To Leave MPAA" (NPR's Day to Day)
Sept. 15, 2003: "Liars in Love"
Sept. 12, 2003: "K Street Blues" (NPR's Day to Day)
Aug. 26, 2003: "It's Not Lobbying; It's HBO"
July 11, 2003: "Who Cares of DeLay Bullies Lobbyists?"
July 2, 2003: "Why Congressmen Want To Be Lobbyists, Part 2"
June 30, 2003: "Why Congressmen Want To Be Lobbyists"
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.