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
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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.”

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