Carl DeMaio's long training began with Newt Gingrich

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Carl DeMaio is fond of saying that government can't create jobs, but government's created every job he's ever had.

Indeed, that's how he got his start. In the mid-90s, DeMaio was plucked out of college by Newt Gingrich to join the new Congressional Institute and help write the now-infamous Contract with America that set the stage for the K Street Project and laid the foundation for the lobbyist scandals including Jack Abramoff. It was a crash course in partisan extremism, as once the Contract was done, Newt Gingrich shifted focus to shutting down the federal government in the name of ideological purity - a move widely seen now as helping usher in the modern era of partisan gridlock in DC.
 
Against that backdrop, 22-year-old DeMaio went to the House of Representatives in 1997 with Virginia Thomas (wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas) to conduct training sessions on how to outsource federal agencies. And, as Lee Cokorinos reported, the sessions were right in keeping with the tone set by Gingrich and other GOP leaders of the time (like Dick Armey and “Watermelon Dan” Burton):
The workshops were denounced as a partisan exercise in government-bashing by the Democrats attending, who called the Congressional Institute a “creature of Speaker Newt Gingrich,” and charged that DeMaio had “an aggressive attitude toward the agencies” and had told them that department officials who produce unquantifiable performance reports were engaged in “malicious compliance” with the law.
By all indicators, those early years with Gingrich's tutelage have been influential on DeMaio ever since. Gingrich and DeMaio still have a lot in common when it comes to their priorities. For exmaple, Gingrich grabbed headlines last month when he proclaimed child labor laws to be “truly stupid” and recommended replacing janitors with children as a strategy to fix schools.
 
Meanwhile, Carl DeMaio has made a career of campaigning against the most fundamental of workers issues. He made a personal fortune from helping federal agencies with outsourcing processes and helping government contractors profit from the outsourcing. He lobbied the Bush Administration, the California state government, and the San Diego government for more and more outsourcing. He used his personal fortune in San Diego to help fund a push to eliminate the living wage. He's spent years relentlessly working to erode retirement security, and has opposed efforts to help unemployed, underemployed, and low-income workers find new jobs. A track record that would make Gingrich proud.
 
Carl DeMaio has also lived much of his political career on the edge of financial ethics rules. For example, he was cited and fined by the San Diego Ethics Commission for illegal solicitation of campaign funds -- just months before he pushed to all but eliminate the Ethics Commission with budget cuts. And then he tried to block the re-appointment of commissioners who had ruled against him. Before his election to the city council, he was included on the list of people with most frequest access to the city council, but still refused a call from the City Attorney to register as a lobbyist. Once on the council, he's opposed reforms to make lobbying more transparent. All along, he’s taken great care to operate exactly at the edge of ethics rules, ignoring the spirit but avoiding violations.
 
So where’d DeMaio's strategy of profiting off public policy and living in the gray area of ethics come from? Well, it turns out it's right in line with his original mentor, Newt Gingrich. Certainly, the student and the master have been mirroring each other at the edge of ethics. Seems that during the 2003 battle over Medicare, Gingrich was pulling in money from the pharmaceutical industry with one hand and shilling their position on the other:
While the Bush White House and the Republican congressional leadership supported a bill creating a new entitlement for all seniors, Washington conservatives mostly opposed the bill. Gingrich went around Washington at the time plumping for the bill to free-market groups and activists.
 
"In the height of the debate," one conservative opponent of the bill told me, "Newt was calling around" selling the bill as a great conservative measure even though it was a new federal entitlement.
Pharmaceutical organizations were some of the biggest supporters of the Bush Medicare plan that Gingrich was pushing, and they were making sure that he was well taken care of in the process: "He received a monthly retainer," the former PhRMA employee recalls, saying Gingrich's price was "at the high end."
 
Dave Weigel provides much greater detail about the lengths that Gingrich went to in his not-quite-lobbying effort, explaining the technicality. Essentially, Gingrich was being paid for a separate job while also performing the work a lobbyist would do. Thus avoiding any of the disclosure or ethics rules but still collecting his check. At the same time, the kid he’d plucked out of Georgetown and plugged into the conservative Beltway machine was bouncing between DC, LA, Sacramento and San Diego, pushing for lower wages and retirement insecurity, refusing to register as a lobbyist even after being told he met the definition, and profiting from both sides of the road in the push to outsource hundreds of thousands of jobs.
 
Gingrich and the rest of his Beltway crew apparently trained DeMaio well.