Who Is Joe Allbaugh?

The Wall Street Journal editorial page maintains a regular feature in which it excoriates an obscure-but-powerful member of the Clinton administration under the headline, “Who Is [Unknown Big Shot’s Name Here]?” The most famous of these was “Who Is Vince Foster?” which caused Foster much anguish shortly before he committed suicide. (Among the many tragedies of that affair was that Foster took the Journal editorial page seriously.) The Journal’s editorialists have also given this treatment to Webb Hubbell and other Clinton appointees, who, it’s fair to point out, didn’t commit suicide. In a similar spirit of shining the spotlight on dimly lit corridors of power, with the obvious caveat that Chatterbox does not wish anyone to commit suicide, today’s column asks: Who Is Joe Allbaugh?

Allbaugh is George W. Bush’s campaign manager. It is often said that the Bush campaign is run by a troika of aides, two of whom–spokeswoman Karen Hughes and strategist Karl Rove–are well known to the public. The third member is the press-shy Allbaugh. Actually, if you want to get complicated, there’s also a fourth person, campaign chairman Don Evans, whose role might be likened to that of Charlie in Charlie’s Angels. It is widely suspected that if Bush gets elected president, either Evans or Allbaugh will become Bush’s chief of staff. In Allbaugh’s case, this is vaguely disconcerting, not because of anything bad that’s known about Allbaugh, but rather because almost nothing is known about Allbaugh except that he’s from Oklahoma, that he has a flat-top haircut, that he rides herd on campaign spending, and that Dubya calls him “Big Country.” Allbaugh is famously press-shy and has somehow managed to make it through the entire campaign without having a major magazine or newspaper profile written about him. (The only extensive interviews Allbaugh seems to have given were for local-boy-makes-good pieces by the Associated Press, the Ponca City News, the Daily Oklahoman, and Tulsa World. The Washington Post’s Dan Balz did a serviceable mini-profile, and the Center for Public Integrity has some interesting-but-ambiguous information on Allbaugh’s possible role in killing off an investigation of a funeral home whose CEO gave money to Bush père. But that’s really about it.)

Allbaugh’s low profile came in handy on Oct. 19, when Judy Sarasohn ran a squib in her “Special Interests” column in the Washington Post reporting that Allbaugh’s wife Diane had registered with the Senate in September to lobby in Washington on behalf of three Texas-based utilities. Nobody picked the story up. Interestingly, Joe Allbaugh was criticized in the Dallas Morning News four years ago when Diane signed on to lobby for Texas utilities in Austin. At the time, Joe was Bush’s executive assistant. Bush pronounced himself “troubled” by the potential conflict of interest, and Diane resigned. This time, though, the Post’s questions were deflected peremptorily by a spokesman who said, “She has the highest ethical standards in her practice.” Why be less vigilant in Washington than in Austin? It’s possible, of course, that Diane isn’t being less vigilant. Maybe Joe has made a firm decision not to follow Dubya to Washington if he wins. Maybe Diane doesn’t think Bush is going to win. Maybe Diane plans to stop lobbying for her clients in Washington the day after the election if Bush does win. None of these scenarios seems especially likely. A more likely explanation is that Diane’s prospective White House connection is too lucrative not to cash in on. (Click here to read a Roll Call story by John Bresnahan about various lobbyists who expect to get rich off a Bush administration.) It would be especially pointless to give up the baksheesh when nobody’s kicking up a fuss.