Springfield State Journal Register

January 13, 2006

Shimkus PAC's treasurer a lobbyist
Others in Congress in same situation


WASHINGTON - When lobbying-reform advocates look for examples of close relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists, they need look no further than U.S. Rep. John Shimkus.

The Collinsville Republican has a corporate lobbyist serving as treasurer of his political action committee, the John S Fund. Republican fundraiser Mark Valente has been treasurer since the PAC was created in 2003.

Shimkus, who represents a big chunk of central and southern Illinois, including part of Springfield, isn't alone. There are 39 sitting members of Congress who have appointed lobbyists as treasurers of their campaign committees or leadership PACs, which lawmakers use to funnel contributions to their colleagues, according to a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity.

While there's nothing illegal or even unusual about the practice, it feeds the perception that lobbyists get special access to lawmakers that ordinary constituents don't have, reform advocates say. As the shock waves reverberate on Capitol Hill from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea to bribery and other charges, lawmakers of both parties are rushing to come up with legislation to restrict the interactions between lobbyists and lawmakers.

Shimkus' connection to Valente was first reported by The Washington Post.

"It raises the appearance of the lobbyist getting special influence. ... Having them in the treasurer role really cements their position with the candidate," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "I also imagine it's a great selling point for the lobbyists with their clients."

Common Cause and other groups are calling for a ban on lawmakers using lobbyists as treasurers of their fundraising committees, among other reforms.

"When someone helps you raise $50,000, you are beholden to them. You may say you are not, but I think at some level you are," said Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle. "There is the concern here that the constituents are being squeezed out, that they become almost irrelevant."

Shimkus contends that his constituents aren't left out.

"The people in my congressional district have more access to me than paid lobbyists," Shimkus insisted in a telephone interview Thursday from southeastern Illinois, where he was meeting with constituents on Medicare prescription drug benefits.

He said he can't remember how he first met Valente, who also is the treasurer of nine other leadership PACs.

"He's from Michigan, and he's a lobbyist, but he's also a big Republican operative," said Shimkus, who grew testy when asked to elaborate on their relationship. "I've worked in D.C. nine years. I've known him ever since I've been there."

Valente, who wasn't available for comment, heads his own lobbying firm, Valente & Associates in Washington. He told the Center for Public Integrity last fall that he believes he has are no conflicts of interest.

"The members are looking for people they can trust, and we want to help our friends out," Valente told the center's investigators. "And they are already our friends."

Shimkus' PAC raised $44,000 since 2004 and paid out $36,000 to other Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission records. Such PACs are commonly used by those who want to move up in the leadership ranks.

Shimkus, who was elected to the House in 1996, received his seat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee with the assistance of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, another Illinoisan. The committee has jurisdiction over a wide range of corporate interests, and members are the recipients of corporate generosity in the form of contributions to their political funds.

Shimkus said he has no idea who Valente's clients are. He said Valente hasn't lobbied him since being named treasurer of the PAC.

Shimkus noted that he goes to great lengths to detail gifts he's received each year from lobbyists and constituents, down to T-shirts and coffee mugs.

U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Chicago, is the only other Illinois lawmaker with a lobbyist as treasurer of his campaign committee.

Emanuel, who is head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has been an outspoken critic of Republicans' close relationship with Abramoff and the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

The treasurer of Friends of Rahm Emanuel campaign committee is William Singer, who raised funds for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in Illinois and also helps Senate Democrats. But Singer said he doesn't raise money for Emanuel; his position as treasurer is an administrative one.

Singer, who works for Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago, said he lobbies the Senate but seldom the House. He could recall just one case - last year - when he lobbied Emanuel. In that instance, Emanuel voted against the position of his client, United Airlines, on a pension issue, Singer said. Emanuel's spokeswoman called it a vote for United workers.

"He didn't get this appointment because he was a lobbyist," the spokeswoman, Kathleen Connery, said of Singer. "He took this position because of their 20-year relationship."

Emanuel co-sponsored a lobbying-reform bill introduced last May, saying, "We must address the corrupting relationships between lobbyists and members of Congress with reforms to the lobbying disclosure and congressional gift rules."

Shimkus said he would support efforts to tighten lobbying laws.

"I'm for sunshine on the system so there's no confusion," he said, though he added that the issue isn't resonating in his district.

"The bottom line is: Every vote that I cast, I have to justify to you and to my constituents. They're the final arbiter of the job that I do," Shimkus said.

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.