Dick Armey, Lobbyist

Piper Rudnick, CSE, what’s the difference?

Dick Armey seems bent on leaving Congress with a reputation as a tribune of the people. As Mickey Kaus points out, Tony Blankley made a fool of himself on The McLaughlin Group by praising Armey for “not going into lobbying,” when in fact Armey just started work at Piper Rudnick, a D.C. law firm, as a “senior policy adviser,” which is French for “lobbyist.” Where could Blankley have gotten his misinformation? Most likely from Armey himself, if Armey’s outlandishly self-serving op-ed in the Jan. 8 Wall Street Journal, headlined, “Citizen Armey,”is any guide. The piece (which nowhere mentions that Armey will work at Piper Rudnick) trumpets Armey’s excitement at becoming the co-chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a right-wing think tank. “I hope to disprove the widely held belief that ex-politicians can never again become productive members of society,” Armey boasts. Running CSE (with C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel during the first Bush administration) will be “a primary occupation of my time,” whatever that means. Armey describes CSE as a “grassroots powerhouse.”

In truth, running CSE will be an extension of Armey’s lobbying work. It’s hard to imagine that any of Armey’s corporate clients at Piper Rudnick will object to CSE’s agenda of lower taxes, less regulation, and strengthened property rights. Indeed, CSE is mainly a lobbying organization. As a “501(c)3” charity, CSE is theoretically barred by the IRS from “carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities.” But this restriction has little, if any, practical meaning, and at any rate CSE also has a “501(c)4” foundation arm that may lobby as much as it likes to “further its social welfare purposes.”

The lobbying CSE does is of a kind usually described by its practitioners as “grass-roots” and by its detractors, more accurately, as “Astroturf.” According to a spokesman, two-thirds of CSE’s money comes from corporations and other conservative foundations (which are in turn funded mainly by corporations), and in 2000 the combined income of its charity and foundation arms exceeded $15 million. (Click here and here for the details.) The Internal Revenue Service, bizarrely, doesn’t require 501(c)3s and 501(c)4s to make public their funding sources. But in the past, CSE financed a “grass-roots” campaign against Everglades restoration with $700,000 from Florida’s three biggest sugar growers and waged a “grass-roots” campaign against higher cigarette taxes with more than a million dollars from Philip Morris. (Chatterbox is indebted to the Web sites for the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch and GuideStar for tracking down this information.)

None of this is likely to change when Armey takes the helm. Instead of “Citizen Armey,” the Journal op-ed should be headlined, “Corporate Shill Armey.”

[Correction, Jan. 10: Chatterbox got it backward: CSE itself is a 501(c)4, and CSE’s foundation arm is a 501(c)3. It doesn’t make much practical difference since the two groups more or less act as one.]