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Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt is a man on a mission — to reclaim the Republican Party for earmarkers.
Tiahrt represented Kansas’ 4th district for 16 years, and for 14 of those years he sat on the House Appropriations Committee. From that perch, Tiahrt was a prolific porker, dealing out earmarks as if they were playing cards.
In 2010, when Sen. Sam Brownback stepped down to run for Governor, Tiahrt ran for the open Senate seat but lost the GOP primary to his House colleague Jerry Moran.
Lawyer and businessman Mike Pompeo took Tiahrt’s place. Now, Tiahrt wants his seat back and is challenging Pompeo in the 2014 GOP primary.
In between his 2010 loss and his return to politics in 2014, Tiahrt made a lot of money. If you ask Tiahrt, he says he “came back to Wichita to start a business. … This business has been very good to us.”
Tiahrt launched Todd Tiahrt Enterprises and Todd Tiahrt, LLC. He also became CEO of a Neumann Systems, a Colorado company that sells pollution control systems. Tiahrt Enterprises was an investment firm. The LLC was a consulting firm. “I just kind of know how things get done,” Tiahrt told the Wichita Eagle in 2011, “and I’m trying to help people get things done.”
Tiahrt insists he didn’t become a lobbyist. “I’ve never lobbied,” Tiahrt repeatedly told me. Here was Tiahrt’s full explanation in his campaign kickoff event:
“In 2011 after leaving office, I had several offers — lobbying firms contacting me and asking me to be a lobbyist. I still get those offers, but I chose not to lobby. Instead I came back to Wichita to start a business to help companies and individuals get through federal regulations — to help people navigate through the jungle of federal government.”
But two House sources tell me Tiahrt petitioned them on behalf of a client — at least walking pretty close to the lobbying line. One House aide told me that without an appointment, Tiahrt “barged into the office” of the Congressman the staffer worked for “and pitched him on behalf of a client — a helicopter thing.”
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., also told me of a lobbying contact from Tiahrt. “I received a call from former Congressman Tiahrt sometime after he left office,” Coffman wrote me. “The call was concerning a business located in Colorado. My impression was that he was lobbying on its behalf, but I can’t remember if he had expressed to me, during the call, if he had an ownership interest in the business or whether he was a third party representing the firm.”
Tiahrt says this was about Neumann Systems. “I did talk to him about what the company does, but I never asked him about any specific needs,” he told me.
On the general charge of lobbying, Tiahrt replies: “This is a false charge by a political opponents. … This sounds like something fabricated on the Hill to try to protect an incumbent.”
If Tiahrt did lobby, he didn’t break any laws (as long as it was more than a year after he left office in January 2011). But he denies lobbying.
What he can’t deny is that the companies he enriched with earmarks while he was in Congress later enriched him with contracts when he was a consultant. Hawker Beechcraft and Boeing combined for more than $25 million in Tiahrt earmarks in Tiahrt’s last three years in Congress. Both later became his clients.
Even in his 2014 campaign, Tiahrt defends earmarking. It’s almost a plank of campaign platform. So I asked Tiahrt, isn’t this the sort of thing that spawned the Tea Party — insiders all getting rich while taxpayers pay? Isn’t this why the GOP banned earmarks?
“What we have now is earmark legislation,” Tiahrt said. He pointed to a Pompeo bill on genetically modified food that would, among other things, strip states of the right to require labeling on genetically modified foods, leaving that power only with the federal government. Agribusiness giant Monsanto supports the bill.
Tiahrt derides it as “a bill that prohibits the labeling of GMOs, because Monsanto and the Grocery [Manufacturers] Association say they don’t want GMOs to have to be labeled.”
Pompeo tells me he proposed the bill at the request of the Kansas Farm Bureau.
Kansas’s 4th District features on of the oddest fights yet of the counter-Tea Party effort: a quasi-lobbyist running running on a pro-earmark platform.
Timothy P. Carney, a senior political columnist for the Washington Examiner, can be contacted at [email protected] This column is reprinted with permission from washingtonexaminer.com.
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