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The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine

3.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385516723
ISBN-10: 038551672X
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Matthew Continetti is a staff writer at the Weekly Standard. His articles and reviews have also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Doublethink. He lives in Washington, D.C.

From The Washington Post

When Matthew Continetti took a job at the Weekly Standard a few years ago, he was a young conservative committed to denouncing big government. But Continetti was surprised by what he found in the nation's capital: Republican operatives were "getting rich off conservative power," leaving Washington a city "on the brink of major scandal."

It's not on the brink anymore. As Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay dominate the political headlines, Continetti has written a hastily assembled but timely account of GOP corruption -- instigated, he writes, by "K Street Conservatives" who have shed their movement's libertarian heritage and become enthralled with power and the pursuit of personal wealth. The K Street Gang carries additional weight because its charges come not from a liberal author or even a nonpartisan reporter but from a card-carrying conservative. The book is arguably the most detailed chronicle to date of how some of Continetti's erstwhile allies made a wrong turn in the past decade.

The fiasco began, he argues, when Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was elected House majority whip in December 1994, just one month after the GOP won control of both houses of Congress. DeLay was interested not in promoting small-government conservatism but in tightening his party's grip on power. He flung open the doors of the Capitol, working with lobbyists to raise money to reinforce his majority while giving big business its cut. Republican lawmakers inserted pet provisions into bills, and the size of government actually expanded -- flying, Continetti notes, in the face of the GOP's traditional Reaganite agenda.

Enter Jack Abramoff, an ex-Hollywood producer who financed B-movie flops before joining the law firm Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds in late 1994. DeLay was about to create golden opportunities for men like Abramoff -- and the tycoon-turned-lobbyist took full advantage.

According to Continetti, Abramoff's stock in trade was wrapping his clients' causes in anti-government-meddling rhetoric. Abramoff saw the Northern Mariana Islands as "a free-market utopia" (in Continetti's phrase) and arranged junkets there for DeLay and other conservative lawmakers, many of whom relaxed at the Hyatt Regency and played golf. DeLay called the Marianas "a perfect Petri dish of capitalism" and insisted that they should not be subjected to federal labor laws.

Abramoff had plenty of unsavory companions on K Street. When the conservative activist Grover Norquist wanted to raise funds in 1999 for his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, he asked Abramoff (a friend from their days as College Republicans) to plug a "$75K hole in my budget"; Abramoff leaned on his Indian clients to donate money to Norquist's organization.

The hypocrisy was rampant. Continetti writes that the principles of former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed "appear to be no match for his profit margins." Faced with legislation in Louisiana that would have reduced the proceeds to one of Abramoff's Indian gaming clients, Reed deployed what he described as "pro-family forces" to defeat the bill.

Some of DeLay's former aides -- most notably Michael Scanlon, a DeLay press secretary turned lobbyist -- made bundles working with Abramoff. Adopting a scheme called "Gimme Five," Scanlon signed contracts with Abramoff's clients and kicked back proceeds to Abramoff -- without telling their clients that the two men were working together. At one point, Abramoff e-mailed Scanlon to ask whether he could "smell the money?!?!?!" The question had to have been rhetorical: Scanlon at one point was spending $17,000 per month to rent an apartment at Washington's Ritz-Carlton and using a helicopter to visit his $4.7 million mansion in Rehoboth Beach, Del. All told, Abramoff and Scanlon made more than $66 million over three years while doing what Continetti calls shoddy work for their Indian tribe gaming clients -- and while Abramoff was referring to them in e-mails as "troglodytes" and "monkeys."

Unfortunately, Continetti's account feels unfinished: These scandals are still unfolding, after all. Some of his terms are also confusing, his biographical sketches of his antiheroes are too cursory to put the scandals into their proper context, and his narrative jumps inconsistently from one scandal-laden episode to the next. Moreover, according to Continetti's endnotes, his book is based almost entirely on e-mails previously released by the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee, criminal complaints against Abramoff and others, and newspaper and magazine articles chronicling the Abramoff saga, including the groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces by The Washington Post's Susan Schmidt, James V. Grimaldi and R. Jeffrey Smith.

Still, Continetti's book is useful because it suggests that conservatives are now more ensnared than ever: DeLay's GOP remained in power in part because he so successfully figured out how to work with K Street to keep it there. Now that DeLay has announced his resignation from Congress and Abramoff and other "K Street Conservatives" have entered guilty pleas in federal courts, the right's struggle to regain its credibility will remain one of the outstanding questions of American politics for years to come. Can conservatives repair the damage done by the K Street scandals? Continetti suggests that they have their work cut out for them.

Reviewed by Matthew Dallek
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (April 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038551672X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385516723
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,214,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on April 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Continetti begins by reporting that Newt Gingrich decided to nationalize the '94 elections and win over the voters supporting Perot in '92 (almost 20%). This was to be accomplished by focusing on term limits, accountability, balanced budgets, and a strong defense - and became the foundation for his "Contract with America," supported by 150 Republican congressmen and another 200 candidates. He was wildly successful - not a single Republican incumbent lost, while the Democrats lost the Senate, House, and a majority of governorships. Seventy-three new Republicans entered the House - many financially supported by Tom DeLay who viewed government as a means to maximize the advantages of business so that business in turn would donate to their war chests.

"The K Street Gang" then goes on to outline its protagonists - Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist, and Ralph Reed - their early political years, meetings, and religious conversions (Abramoff and Reed).

Creating the K Street Gang began in 1995 with DeLay's compiling a list of 400 of the largest PACs; one by one their top lobbyists were called in to receive the message - to protect their interests they needed to stop giving to the Democrats. Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Paxson (R) made a list of the top 1,000 lobbyists and their donations - they were then warned that they would not be welcomed if contributing to the Democrats. Grover Norquist compiled a third list, tracking employment histories, partisan leanings, and donations. DeLay and associates than started meeting Thursday A.M.s and suggesting Republicans for lobbying jobs, while Senator Rick Santorum did the same thing on the Senate side Tuesday A.M.s. Surprise - Democrat donations dropped sharply! Meanwhile, DeLay uses the lobbyists to help pass legislation that he favors.
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Format: Hardcover
Five Stars!! A brilliant, historical, detailed, and disturbing examination of the demise of the leadership of the Republican party in the last twenty years, especially the House of Representatives. But the title may be both premature and presumptuous: the Republican party hasn't "Fall(en)" until it loses the House, the Senate, in particular; and you might also include the state legislatures, and the governorships. The K Street Gang is an incisive look at the rise of the Republican party since Bill Clinton's first term presidential win, into George W. Bush's second term, and it's current status at the hands of some truly powerful, greedy, and legally challenged members.

But the book begins with the retirement of Ed Michel in OCt 1993 as Republican minority leader and the twin ascendancies of Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay. After decades of being the minority party, the Republicans made their move on the American 'body politic' with the "Contract with America", which upset Bill Clinton's apple cart and wrenched Congressional power from the Democrats for the first time in 26 years. This book gives specific details of how the Republican's brought 'lobbying' and contempt to the level of an art form. While talking rhetoric like "shift(ing) power back to the states", Delay handed legislative power to the lobbyists, and the lobbyists began writing legislation, lots of it. Meanwhile "Casino Jack" Abramoff and Grover Norquist formed a bond rising in the young college Republican ranks. These two would leapfrog up the non-elected Republican ranks. Norquist, in the ATR, would author the infamous "No Tax Pledge" in 1986 and the "Leave Us Alone" coalition.

Who are these lobbyists?
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Format: Hardcover
With no political background I really enjoyed reading Continetti take on the "system" and those behind it and the inner workings of a lobbyist and elected government officials. Straight out of the headlines this book will take the reader into the back rooms of our political system and the people who try to work the system to their advange and what happens when they go too far.
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"The K Street Gang" is the sordid tale of how some Republican leaders were involved to varying degrees in the Abramoff scandal.
It all started in the early Nineties with Tom Delay gaining more power.

In the words of Tom Delay quoted in the book -"We say to the lobbyists,'help us'. We know what we want to do and we find the people to help us do that. We go to the lobbyists and say 'help us get this in the appropriations bill'."

The fundamental problem for the Republican party in 1994 was summed up by the author on page 59. "And so the GOP has come to adopt the theory of interest group politics, which dictates that politicians should seek to please the specific interests that brought them to power and not promote national goals that affect diverse groups."
Anotherwords- in too many instances they simply sold out for money instead of serving their constituents.

The most well-known Jack Abramoff scandal was the ripoff he perpetrated on some Indian tribes with the aid of Michael Scanlon.
But this book sheds light on some more disgusting activites such as the Sun Cruz Casino scam, lobbying for homicidal dictators, paying journalists for favorable articles, and his mutually benficial business relationship with sweat-shop owner Willie Tan.

If you want to read about some of the sleazy underbelly of Washington D.C. and some of the greedy lobbyists, this book examines the biggest of them all.
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