The PJ Tatler

Moderate Groups Want to Run 'Grifter Wing' Out of the GOP


Former Ohio Congressman Steve LaTourette hurled another grenade in his war on the conservative wing of the Republican Party, this time writing in Politico that leaders of groups like Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Tea Party Patriots are “grifters” and con artists who are “lining their pockets with the hard-earned money of working men and women … promising things in return that they know they can’t deliver.”

And Ted Cruz is the devil (or something), because Cruz makes a great malefactor in LaTourette’s Us vs. Them faux unity fairy tale. Grifters are the new Wacko Birds.

LaTourette, who retired in a huff after he was denied chairmanship of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in 2012, compared Jenny Beth Martin, Chris Chocola, and Matt Kibbe to snake-oil salesmen and Ponzi scheme operators and said groups like his Defending Main Street PAC and the Chamber of Commerce are working to run them out of Washington.

LaTourette’s vitriolic Politico tantrum comes as he and his friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sit licking their wounds after failing to muscle through the immigration reforms they’ve been championing.

“Just look at what happened this past week, when hard-right House members with extensive ties to these outside groups, egged on by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, snarled up a sensible effort to pass a bill that would at least begin to address the crisis of undocumented children at the U.S.-Mexico border,” LaTourette wrote at Politico. “It was an embarrassing display of congressional dysfunction, and it showed that the grifting wing has learned nothing from last fall’s shutdown fiasco.”

In the article, LaTourette takes great pains to try to paint President Reagan as the Great Compromiser of Our Time, a man who demonstrated his goodness and brilliance by giving in to Democrats at every turn. “Reagan’s record and rhetoric stands in marked contrast to the grifting win [sic] of the party today, even as the grifters invoke his memory in their disingenuous appeals,” he fumes.

LaTourette is clear that he wants the “grifters” exposed and removed from his party.

“Exposing the grifters is exactly what is happening in the Republican Party today. Groups like the organization that I head, groups like the Chamber of Commerce, business groups and traditional Republican organizations are working to run the political snake-oil salesman out of town—or at least out of our party,” LaTourette said. [emphasis added]

But LaTourette is the last person who should be accusing anyone of being a grifter or a con artist.

Steven C. LaTourette

In 2003, LaTourette called his wife of 21 years to tell her he had a girlfriend and wanted a divorce. He didn’t have the decency to fly home to Ohio to tell Susan LaTourette that he was sleeping with his former chief of staff who had recently accepted a position as a lobbyist. After first telling his wife that he would consider counseling, he called back and said, “I want a divorce. It’s over. Goodbye.”

Susan LaTourette told The Hill at the time, “I think Washington corrupts people. He was a wonderful husband and father, the best I ever saw, until he went there. I told him I was trying to get him out of the dark side, all that power and greed and people kissing up to them all time. Now he’s one of them. All they care about is getting reelected. I hate them all.”

LaTourette eventually married the girlfriend, Jennifer Laptook, who became a lobbyist for Van Scoyoc Associates immediately after she left her job as LaTourette’s chief of staff. Her bio on the Van Scoyoc website at the time said that as LaTourette’s chief of staff, “Laptook was responsible for advising on all legislative issues, particularly those that came before the committees on which Congressman LaTourette serves. Laptook worked intimately with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff, on which the congressman is a senior member.”

Laptook was able to evade the one-year ban on lobbying after leaving LaTourette’s office by lobbying the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee rather than her former boss’s congressional office directly.

In addition to being directly tied to several earmarks requested by LaTourette, Salon reported in 2004, “Laptook acquired some major Cleveland-area clients for her lobbying business almost the instant she left the representative’s staff. According to filings with the U.S. Senate Lobby Report, her clients include the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority and University of Akron. Her fees range from $40,000 from the Port Authority to $60,000 from the art museum to $100,000 from the Cleveland Clinic. Just one year before, most of these same interests had other representation. But they suddenly decided to switch.”

Ten years later, Steve LaTourette has done essentially the same thing, becoming president of a new lobbying firm launched last year, McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies, which has charged $910,000 in retainer fees so far this year to clients such as the Cleveland Clinic ($120,000), CSX ($90,000), First Energy ($90,000), and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions ($60,000). LaTourette’s former staffer-turned-girlfriend-turned-lobbyist-turned-wife is vice president of McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies, which raked in $1.1 million in 2013.

Many of Jennifer LaTourette’s blue chip clients from Van Scoyoc moved with her to the new family business, including the Cleveland Clinic, Airports Council International, Methodist Hospital Association of Texas, and APTS Action, a group that lobbies for public television interests. And it’s no wonder her services are in demand, considering her connections and ability to deliver government money to her clients.

Congressman LaTourette was a top earmarker during his tenure in the House. In 2010 he was responsible for 42 earmarks totalling more than $27 million. That year Steris, a company in his district, received $1.8 million after spending $625,000 on lobbying, represented by Jennifer LaTourette. Steris followed her to McDonald Hopkins, where they’ve spent $100,000 so far this year for lobbying services. The University of Akron, another client of Jennifer LaTourette,  received a $500,000 earmark in 2010, thanks to Congressman LaTourette, after spending $130,000 on lobbying.

LaTourette, who served in Congress for 18 years (after vowing to only serve for ten), also launched three organizations under the “Main Street” label upon his retirement, including the Defending Main Street SuperPAC, Republican Main Street Partnership PAC, and Main Street Advocacy, a 501(c)(4). LaTourette has been very open about one of the main missions of the groups: he wants to take back the GOP from conservative “extremists” that he thinks are a “cancer that has attached itself” to the party. The Main Street groups are heavily funded by labor and trade organizations.

So far this year the Republican Main Street Partnership has spent $100,000 at the Ritz Carlton hotel, $50,000 at the Capitol Hill Club, and $17,000 at the Summer Beach Realty Resort, a property management company on Amelia Island, where the Main Street Partnership held a retreat at the Ritz Carlton earlier this year to plan their strategy for defeating the Tea Party. All this extravagant spending occurred as it appears the groups are falling short of their fundraising goal of $8 million this year. Republican Main Street Partnership has raised $1.2 million, Defending Main Street SuperPAC has raised less than $1 million, and though the 501(c)(4) Main Street Advocacy doesn’t disclose it’s donors, it has only spent $120,000 this year ($100,000 of that on Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran).

If LaTourette insists on pontificating about “exposing the grifters” that “hold a great deal of sway over the Republican Party,” he ought to start with taking a hard look in the mirror. He blew through the revolving door between Congress and K Street in record time (following his wife into the family lobbying business), enriching himself and his well-connected big business cronies in the process. LaTourette has drawn a line in the sand, leaving no doubt he is on the side of the corporatists and not average Americans and small business owners who can’t afford to hire lobbyists.

LaTourette, the Chamber of Commerce, and their comrades who support special breaks and preferential treatment by the government for the rich and well-connected have exactly zero moral authority to lecture the likes of Jenny Beth Martin and Chris Chocola about their political influence. Their hypocrisy is laughable.