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When Republican Reps. Roy Blunt, John Boehner, and John Shadegg appeared on “Fox News Sunday” two weeks ago to hype their campaigns to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) as House majority leader, it seemed the only issue the trio found relevant was their bona fides on lobby reform. For the entire segment the three engaged in a game of one-upmanship, each declaring the right to wear the mantle on lobby reform. The message is one that the candidates have subsequently stuck to in their campaigns — at least on the record. And while such saber rattling may appease a scandal-weary public, it’s being met on K Street with reactions ranging from skepticism to outright disbelief. “Let’s be honest; they’re just responding to a public perception based on voter concern,” says one lobbyist, who asked not to be named. “How sincere is any of this? It’s a race to the bottom as they try to outdo one another. Any one leader or another is not going to be better or worse for the lobbying business.” That sentiment sums up the gathering consensus on K Street, one that cuts against the conventional wisdom that says that Blunt (Mo.), DeLay’s hand-picked successor with deep ties to K Street, would be the least aggressive in pursuing lobby reforms; Boehner (Ohio), slightly less so; and that Shadegg (Ariz.), the candidate with the fewest ties to current leadership, would oversee the most radical shake-up of the downtown status quo. “I think all three [candidates] are smart enough to realize that they need to make reforms,” says former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), who held that position before DeLay and is now a lobbyist at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. He says that while the candidates have been posturing, the actual job of overseeing reform in the House has largely been assigned. “The speaker has said that we’re going to enact changes, so any one of these three guys are going to have to assist the speaker.” But Armey acknowledges that personalities will play a role in the direction the majority leader’s office goes. “In DeLay’s office there was a more personal, political relationship between his office and lobbyists. In my office there was a professional relationship,” Armey says. He adds that the current climate necessitates a change from the DeLay model to something resembling his. “It might be that one or two of those guys would come to that model more naturally. It would probably be Shadegg.” With K Street regarding the reform agenda as separate from the race to replace DeLay, lobbyists are pledging support as per usual — i.e., according to political and business ties. And while none of the candidates can boast the K Street connections of DeLay, Blunt’s sizable downtown cadre and status as de facto incumbent have gained him the most support among the candidates. Leading the charge for him, say lobbyists, has been Gregg Hartley, Blunt’s former chief of staff and now a top officer at Cassidy & Associates, the biggest pure lobby shop in town. Roll Call has reported that Hartley has had frequent meetings in Blunt’s office and with other House offices in the run-up to the Feb. 2 election. Hartley declined to be interviewed for this article, but in October, when Blunt temporarily assumed the majority leader post, he played down the impact of his former boss’s move. “Roy temporarily serving as majority leader, I don’t look at this as affecting me in terms of a business,” he told Influence at the time. Shadegg and Boehner have their share of K Street partisans, as well. Those lobbyists are eager to push their man as the true reform candidate and to portray Blunt, the front-runner, as a dangerous customer. “To a certain degree, Blunt is reacting to the public push. He’s been a big proponent of earmarks,” says one Republican lobbyist close to Boehner. But even the Boehner backer admits the campaign rhetoric is largely posturing. “This is all about public perception. Anything is a problem when the public believes it’s a problem.” That’s an attitude common on K Street and Capitol Hill, with lawmakers and lobbyists both realizing that the perception of scandal is at least as big a problem as the reality. In his opening statement at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on lobby reform last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the most vocal proponent of lobby reform in Congress, said “the urgency of [lobby reform] is dictated by the views of the American people as to how we do business in Washington.” Even those without a dog in the fight are still monitoring things carefully, and the head of one large lobby firm is wary of a shake-up in the leadership. “From a pure business perspective, we’re more interested in continuity, which means Blunt,” he says. “With a tightening majority, I think having someone step into that role who’s never got a bill through the floor before would not be good. But no one’s coming from the perspective that Roy Blunt is the next coming of Tom DeLay.”
Andy Metzger can be contacted at [email protected].

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