Author of ‘Extortion’ Book Draws Heat From Boehner’s Office

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) pumps his fist after leaving a meeting of House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013.
National Journal
Billy House
See more stories about...
Billy House
Oct. 23, 2013, 4:26 p.m.

A new book that ar­gues politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton man­u­fac­ture crises and ma­nip­u­late vote schedul­ing and oth­er le­gis­lat­ive activ­ity as part of a Mafia-like “pro­tec­tion rack­et” to ex­tort cam­paign dona­tions is draw­ing at­ten­tion from such di­ver­gent corners as The New York Times and Sarah Pal­in.

But the book, Ex­tor­tion: How Politi­cians Ex­tract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pock­ets, is pre­dict­ably not draw­ing rave re­views from House Speak­er John Boehner, whose of­fice is lash­ing out at au­thor Peter Sch­weizer, a fel­low at the con­ser­vat­ive Hoover In­sti­tu­tion and an ed­it­or-at-large at Breit­bart.

“He should prob­ably read ‘Con­gress for Dum­mies’ be­fore he starts mak­ing bogus and sa­la­cious claims to sell books,” Boehner spokes­man Brendan Buck said in a state­ment.

Sch­weizer, in an in­ter­view on Wed­nes­day, said he’d not yet heard dir­ectly from Boehner’s of­fice. But he ex­pec­ted blow­back, giv­en his as­ser­tions.

Sch­weizer ad­vances a nov­el ar­gu­ment: Rather than spe­cial-in­terest money in Wash­ing­ton be­ing funneled to politi­cians in or­der to gain ac­cess and fa­vor, politi­cians run gov­ern­ment in ways de­signed to ex­tract spe­cial-in­terest money from vari­ous con­stitu­en­cies. He also says that the no­tion that Wash­ing­ton dys­func­tion is a product of par­tis­an­ship and ideo­lo­gic­al en­trench­ment can be looked at in a dif­fer­ent light: that grid­lock, le­gis­lat­ive threats, and fear of un­cer­tainty help prime the dona­tion pump.

“It’s one of the old­est and most ef­fect­ive forms of ex­tor­tion: the pro­tec­tion rack­et,” he writes in one chapter. “Pay me money and I will prom­ise not to make your life miser­able. Fail to pay and bad things will hap­pen to you.”

Sch­weizer writes that that has been the “bread and but­ter” of or­gan­ized crime for cen­tur­ies, but that “the Per­man­ent Polit­ic­al Class in Wash­ing­ton plays the pro­tec­tion rack­et, too. Fail­ure to pay will not get you killed — but it could kill your busi­ness.”

To make his case, Sch­weizer de­scribes vari­ous man­euvers in which he ar­gues politi­cians en­gage in a form of leg­al ex­tor­tion to ex­tract cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from busi­ness or oth­er spe­cial in­terests. His book throws out col­or­ful terms for these man­euvers, such as “toll-booth” re­quire­ments, “milk­er bills,” “double-milk­er bill,” and “juicer bills.”

“Twenty-sev­en states’ le­gis­latures have put re­stric­tions on al­low­ing state politi­cians to re­ceive con­tri­bu­tions while the le­gis­lature is still in ses­sion,” said Sch­weizer, who sug­gests the same types of re­stric­tions should be con­sidered for Con­gress.

In one case, Sch­weizer points to what he calls the “toll­booth” man­euver. In the in­ter­view, he said he first head of that phrase from a mem­ber of the “busi­ness com­munity,” who used it to de­scribe con­tri­bu­tions he had to pay be­fore get­ting floor ac­tion on a tax-ex­tender. Sch­weizer said that led him to ex­plore fur­ther.

In his book, he de­picts Boehner as the mas­ter of the toll­booth, and fo­cuses in part on the events sur­round­ing a 2011 vote on the Wire­less Tax Fair­ness Act, a bill with wide­spread sup­port that sailed through com­mit­tee in Ju­ly of that year on a voice vote. Yet, Sch­weizer notes that the schedul­ing of a floor vote on the bill lingered un­til the fall.

Boehner even­tu­ally an­nounced a vote would be held on Nov. 1. Sch­weizer notes that the day be­fore the vote, 37 checks from wire­less-in­dustry ex­ec­ut­ives total­ing nearly $40,000 rolled in to his cam­paign, in­clud­ing 28 from ex­ec­ut­ives at AT&T. The day of the vote, he writes, em­ploy­ees at Ve­r­i­zon, an­oth­er com­pany with a lot at stake in the bill, sent 28 checks to mem­bers of Con­gress.

“Checks don’t just ma­gic­ally ap­pear, and they don’t ar­rive by chance,” he writes, adding, “When cor­por­ate ex­ec­ut­ives make dona­tions on the same day at the same time, es­pe­cially when a large group of them do “¦ it is likely there has been an or­gan­ized so­li­cit­a­tion.”

Of­fi­cially, the ma­jor­ity lead­er sets the votes on the House floor, not the speak­er, al­though typ­ic­ally the lead­er­ship team works to­geth­er on such de­cisions. One House aide, in re­spond­ing to this part of the book about the Wire­less Tax Fair­ness Act, notes that it was not con­tro­ver­sial and passed without even a re­cor­ded vote. The wait after com­mit­tee ac­tion, the aide said, was less than two months, if the Au­gust re­cess is taken in­to con­sid­er­a­tion.

The book also iden­ti­fies oth­er bills for which Sch­weizer says votes ap­pear to be delayed, only to see even­tu­al floor ac­tion ac­com­pan­ied in by a flurry of con­tri­bu­tions by in­di­vidu­als or busi­nesses with in­terests in the le­gis­la­tion.

But Buck de­nounced the en­tire no­tion. “The idea that floor votes are sched­uled based on cam­paign dona­tions is ab­surd,” he said, adding that some of the bills cited ac­tu­ally saw a short peri­od of time between com­mit­tee ac­tion and floor con­sid­er­a­tion — less than a week in one in­stance — and that that could not pos­sibly be called a delay.

The book goes on to de­scribe “milk­er” bills as those that al­low a politi­cian to “squeeze” an in­dustry or spe­cial in­terest for dona­tions out of simple fear a bill might pass. He notes that, “in Wash­ing­ton, it is far more im­port­ant to be feared than loved” and that the “Per­man­ent Polit­ic­al Class” op­er­ates that way.

He also writes that the best of these bills al­low two sides to be so­li­cited at the same time, “one on each side of the is­sue.”

Sch­weizer al­leges that Pres­id­ent Obama and Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden seemed to use the tac­tic in 2011 in con­nec­tion with two bills: the Stop On­line Pir­acy Act and the Pre­vent­ing Real On­line Threats to Eco­nom­ic Cre­ativ­ity and Theft of In­tel­lec­tu­al Prop­erty Act. By pit­ting sup­port­ers in Sil­ic­on Val­ley, who op­posed the bills, against those in Hol­ly­wood, who sup­por­ted the meas­ures, Sch­weizer sug­gests they were able to cre­ate a sort of fund-rais­ing arms race.

Sch­weizer’s books also dis­cusses the fun­drais­ing dues that ac­com­pany as­sign­ments on plum com­mit­tees, and how funds from so-called “lead­er­ship” polit­ic­al ac­tion com­mit­tees help to pur­chase law­maker’s loy­alty.

But some in Con­gress say the au­thor simply does not un­der­stand the le­gis­lat­ive pro­cess.

“This ‘ex­pert’ is ut­terly clue­less about the le­gis­lat­ive pro­cess and guilty of pathet­ic­ally sloppy re­search,” Buck said, adding, “This ‘ex­pert’ did not even both­er to con­tact our of­fice. If he had, we would have been happy to ex­plain the facts.”

While Boehner’s of­fice lashed out, The New York Times on Monday pub­lished an op-ed from Sch­weizer in which he out­lined many of the as­ser­tions found in his book. And on Wed­nes­day, an item on the pa­per’s “Ed­it­or­i­al Page Ed­it­ors Blog” re­it­er­ated how Sch­weizer’s book ar­gues that “politi­cians ran­ging from Speak­er John Boehner to Pres­id­ent Obama raise money by threat­en­ing to push pro­voc­at­ive le­gis­la­tion, then hold­ing back to see which in­terests con­trib­ute the most cash for or against the meas­ures.”

The blog post said the is­sue “can­not get enough pub­li­city, but the best news of all is that the book was writ­ten by a con­ser­vat­ive,” adding, “There’s no reas­on why re­du­cing the in­flu­ence of money should be a con­ser­vat­ive or a lib­er­al pro­ject.”

And an art­icle un­der Pal­in’s byline ap­pear­ing Monday on the Breit­bart site says of Sch­weizer’s find­ings, “Enough is enough. If the per­man­ent polit­ic­al class won’t drain the swamp, we will.”

What We're Following See More »
Allison Janney Takes to the Real White House Podium
8 hours ago

Carolyn Kaster/AP

When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
8 hours ago

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
9 hours ago

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
10 hours ago

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
13 hours ago

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”