RECENTLY ELECTED HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP Steven Scalise (R-La.) this past week conducted what would normally be considered routine job interviews to fill open positions in his new leadership office. However, the interviews were unusual because, as POLITICO reports, Scalise invited lobbyist John Freehery of Quinn Gillespie & Associates to sit in.
It seems that Freehery, who is a registered lobbyist for several major corporations including SONY Corp., 21st Century Fox, and AT&T, did not make actual “yes” or “no” recommendations about candidates.
Instead, as Scalise spokesman T.J.
Tatum states, Feehery “provides feedback on quality of candidates.” This partnership between a corporate lobbyist and the House Whip is highly unusual, and raises a number of ethical questions, although no House Ethics rules appear to be broken.
Freehery has defended his role in the job interviews by citing his previous work experience as a House leadership communications director under then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.
Nonetheless, there are a number of eyebrow-raising links between Scalise and Freehery, including USA Today’s report that Scalise paid Quinn Gellespie & Associates to review his communications strategy plan, and the fact that AT&T has already contributed $15,000 to Scalise this election cycle.
The partnership between Scalise and Freehery seems to be questionable at best, and marks a big change in public relationships between Members of Congress and lobbyists. While influential arrangements such as these might not be new in Washington, a willingness to display them in public certainly is. Giving a major corporate lobbyist significant power in staff decisions for the House Whip’s Congressional office is a slippery slope. It remains to be seen how the publicity will affect newly elected Scalise, and whether more partnerships such as these will now appear.