John Boehner is known for his ties and his tan.
You’ve probably never heard of this Ohio Republican, who’s been the minority leader for four years, but he has big plans to be the next speaker of the U.S. House. Who is he? For clues, look no further than those ties and that tan.
The tan is odd, both because it has an eerie, unnatural orange hue to it and because it never goes away. Even in the dead of winter, this GOP leader from sun-starved Ohio has such a perpetual glow that he’s been nicknamed “Suntan Johnnie.”
How does he get the glow? Maybe it’s a spray-tan. Or maybe by routinely flying on corporate jets to play golf with corporate lobbyists on various corporate tabs at such sun-drenched resorts as the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla.
Which brings us to his ties – by which I don’t mean the flashy silk neckwear he favors. Rather, I mean Boehner’s flagrant ties to a clique of powerful influence peddlers. These ties go way back – in 1996, he was caught passing checks from tobacco lobbyists to fellow Republicans on the House floor!
His inner circle of special interests is so cozy that it has even been given its own nickname: BoehnerLand. Outsiders need not apply, for BoehnerLand is an exclusive place inhabited by about 20 lobbyists for such outfits as Citigroup, R.J. Reynolds, Coors, Goldman Sachs, Google and UPS. They put millions of campaign dollars into his pockets, fly him around, wine and dine him at the finest restaurants, and sustain his political ambitions.
In turn, Boehner is their boy. One member of Suntan Johnnie’s corrupt club candidly told The New York Times that he regularly gets Boehner’s help for his clients, ranging from fighting limits on debit card fees to protecting tax breaks for hedge fund operators.
They want Boehner to become speaker for one reason: He’s fluent in corporate-speak.
But it’s not just Boehner who enjoys the gifts from the influence peddlers. It’s his underlings, as well. And, ironically, Boehner has been struggling to get a group of frisky GOP solons to please stop getting drunk with pretty female lobbyists. Especially in an election year.
One of the scoldees is Rep. Lee Terry of Omaha, Neb., a fellow who brags back home about his 100 percent pro-family voting record, as rated by the Christian Coalition. He recently had a cozy tete-a-tete with a comely lobbyist in the Capitol Hill Club. They did not appear to be discussing the nuances of banking reform. “Why did you get me so drunk?” Terry was overheard asking the giggling lady lobbyist.
The one who overheard this pro-family man’s revealing bar talk was a New York Post reporter. Unlucky break. Asked later, in the light of day, about the escapade, Terry’s spokeswoman said curtly, “The congressman has no idea what you are talking about.”
Among the other flirtatious Republican rascals is Sam Graves of rural Missouri. He was photographed at a good-time D.C. bar with a striking blond lobbyist who works for banks, utilities, oil companies and the like. Asked about the after-hours meet-up, Graves’ office refused to comment.
How ironic that Boehner is now scolding others about the appearance of impropriety between lawmakers and lobbyists. He is notorious for being in bed with the special interests, openly and routinely offering to deliver legislative favors for Wall Street and corporate lobbyists in exchange for them giving campaign money for Republican congressional candidates.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.