John Ashcroft Spreads His Mighty Wings

What's the no-dancin', firm believin', eagle-soarin', rock-ribbed ex-Singin' Senator up to these days?

Oh yes. Wallowing in the slime that is Washington lobbying. Ashcroft is representing the National Association of Broadcasters in their effort to prevent the XM-Sirius merger. NAB is spending lots of money in a strange campaign which aims to prove that the XM-Sirius merger will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the National Association of Broadcasters.

Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney explains Ashcroft's, um, interesting display of principle in all of this:

Would NAB really pay top-dollar for such a well-connected lobbyist as John Ashcroft if they didn’t think the merger would affect their business?

Ashcroft’s role provides another interesting twist to this tale. A spokesman at XM told The Wall Street Journal that Ashcroft offered his services to the satellite companies, who declined.

Then the NAB retained Ashcroft and he wrote a letter to his successor, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, bashing the proposed merger. While those facts suggest the former public servant is selling his firm beliefs to the highest bidder, Ashcroft’s spokeswoman says consulting with both sides of a dispute is standard practice in the world of Washington lobbying.

In cesspool that is Washington lobbying, that explanation has some ring of truth to it. That doesn't make it any less dirty.

Of course, most lobbyists aren't the former U.S. attorney general—and for an administration that's still in power. Not to mention an attorney general who made personal integrity the centerpiece of his battle for confirmation (a talking points campaign that seems to have swept up none other than Tim Carney!).

Me, I wonder if XM and Sirius would have fared a bit better in the public marketplace if they could have spend all the money they've had to spend fighting legal and regulatory battles on making a better product. Not to mention, as Jesse Walker has noted, the prospect that satellite radio could well be profitable by now were it not for the FCC's insistence (thanks in no small part to NAB lobbying) that there be only two licenced satellite providers in the U.S.

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  • ||

    the no-dancin', firm believin', eagle-soarin', rock-ribbed ex-Singin' Senator

    Radley, you forgot "boob-fearin'" :

    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2002/01/30/notes013002.DTL

  • ||

    Does anybody else hear Bette Midler while reading this piece?

  • ||

    I've read (somewhere that I can't remember, damnit) that terrestrial broadcasters had been throwing up regulatory roadblocks against the satcasters in regards to providing local drop-in service for news, sports and weather. Also, something about local repeaters being needed to deal with dead spots in coverage, sorta like cell towers. Taking a bite out of drive-time revenue by being able to tell you where the jacknifed semi has given the local highways an infarction scares the crap out of the legacy sticks. Maybe Jesse Walker knows what's up with that.

    Kevin

  • ||

    Satellite is good. Opposition to satellite is bad.

  • biologist||

    "'...Ashcroft's spokeswoman says consulting with both sides of a dispute is standard practice in the world of Washington lobbying.'

    In cesspool that is Washington lobbying, that explanation has some ring of truth to it. That doesn't make it any less dirty."

    'nuff said

  • ||

    I'd always given Ashcroft the benefit of the doubt on his devoutness. Anyone who looks like a deer caught in headlights could actually believe all that crap. But siding with the NAB on this one shows he's as evil as the rest of them.

  • Kurt||

    You've lost it Balko. There is no reason to insult slime or cesspools.

  • ||

    OK, everyone who is bringing up Ashcroft's principles and/or lack thereof, how is this worse than a lawyer defending an axe murderer or a mob kingpin or whoever? The guy got hired, and is trying to do the best possible job for his client, etc.

    (Please note I am not defending or attacking the merger itself or government interference in the operation of broadcasters here.)

  • ||

    When did Libertarians decide that engaging in a legal occupation was bad?

  • ||

    OK, everyone who is bringing up Ashcroft's principles and/or lack thereof, how is this worse than a lawyer defending an axe murderer or a mob kingpin or whoever? The guy got hired, and is trying to do the best possible job for his client, etc.

    Um, because the lawyer there, though hired by the client, is acting as an agent of the court, and advocates the client's position (theoretically, at least) so as to best aid and inform the court. Who the hell is a lobbyist an agent of?

  • ||

    mitch,

    There's a huge difference between making sure a person accused of a capital crime gets a fair trial, and helping a trade association peddle influence with an agency that regulates its competitors.

  • ||

    This is self-defeating, isn't it? Because the best evidence that a merger is pro-competitive is that competitors don't like it.

  • ||

    Here's one of the NAB's arguments against the merger.

    The broadcasters respond that the two markets are separate. They say the satellite companies don't compete with broadcast companies.

    Wow. I almost fell out of my chair laughing. If they don't compete what are they worried about?

  • ||

    I do think that Mitch has good point, although there is an important difference in the 2 situations. Mainly, it is that Ashcroft is using his name recognition and connections in government to lobby. He is selling his government connections to the highest bidder. Neither the prosecuting or defending attorneys in a court case should have any sort of personal relationship with the members of the jury.

  • ||

    A whore can go down for a Capulet as easily as for a Montague.

  • ||

    mitch,

    There's nothing wrong with a lawyer or a lobbyist whoring himself out to the high-bidder. They are normally paid for their skills as advocates with either the court or Congress, respectively.

    The problem with Ashcroft doing it is that he is not known for his skills as an advocate, he is known for his supposed unimpeachable principles. Him playing cutthroat lobbyist undermines most of what little of note there is about him.

    So, no, there is nothing wrong with it. It is just wildly hypocritical of him and strangely stupid of his clients.

  • Ray G||

    This is right up there with Algore's electric bill or someone thinking their favorite Republican really does go to church every Sunday.

    Their politicians; it's what they do. All the good guys who could actually make a difference in public office would never take the job.

  • ||

    Hank,

    Not all legal occupations are bad, but some of them are. Legality does not relate to morality. Libertarians have always bashed legal occupations that use the power of the state to transfer property, prevent the effective operation of the free market or enforce immoral laws.

  • Ray G||

    Libertarians aren't against lobbying per se; making such a practice illegal would not end influence peddling and shady deals, but it would be a very direct blow against our freedom of speech.

    As in, right now I'm free to organize, petition, and use the funds that my organization raised to travel and live while I peddle my own agenda to the congressmen.

    In fact, while I'm no legal expert on the matter, the existing rules concerning lobbying seem to be already infringing upon our freedom of speech. Stripping away those rules would have the beltway moralists on both sides of the aisle screaming corruption, but it would actually just make it easier for non-DC insiders to gain access.

  • ||

    It's not that he's hiring himself out as a lobbyist, it's that he first offered to work for one side and when they said no, he hied himself off to their opponents. I'm not allowed to offer my services as a lawyer to one client and then if that person rejects me, go off to her opponent.

    Oh, and satellite radio really is terrific. I have XM and love it, and haven't listened to broadcast since I subscribed. If the broadcasters want to get us back, they should provide a better product instead of the one minute of music or news followed by thirty minutes of obnoxious commercials.

  • Ray G||

    Karen:
    "It's not that he's hiring himself out as a lobbyist, it's that he first offered to work for one side and when they said no, he hied himself off to their opponents."

    Actually, it's still a matter of conjecture as to whether or not he really offered his services first to the satellites.

    No one here really likes the guy, and so it's assumed that it is true, but we don't really know.

    I just think it's a complicated position for someone who is supposedly a conservative. Taking the side of the NAB is more akin to an FDR Democrat than a conservative Republican, not that there's any of those around today, but we're speaking of principle here.

  • Egon||

    Cheap Trick. "Top Gun" soundtrack.

    No? Well, it's the first thing I thought of.

  • ||

    If DC is a cesspool -- and I shall not disagree, does that make Cato the cesspool of libertarian thought?

  • ||

    Wow you mean an individuals opinion on an issue is open to the highest bidder in Washington? And that you can pay the most outwardly ardent of principled people to change their minds with mere money?

    Perhaps the Legalization movement needs to be spending its money more wisely. Maybe we could get Ashcroft to lobby for the Glass Tube blowers Union and Bill Bennent can lobby for Domestic Hemp Cultivators..

    Whats that old saying.. Everyone has a price. I guess in DC the price is always right when its others peoples money and freedoms your slicing and dicing on.

  • ||

    If DC is a cesspool -- and I shall not disagree, does that make Cato the cesspool of libertarian thought?



    No, not really. That's H&R. ;)

    An efficient cesspool knows no boundaries.

  • ||

    Ashcroft buried the needle on my Cringe Counter when he sang (gushed) that 'this country's too young to die' line. It's years later and yet I still feel in my stomach the aftershocks from that one.

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