In early 2005 Matthew Continetti, a staff writer at the conservative Weekly Standard, set out to write a book about the state of the Republican congressional majority a decade after the Gingrich revolution. Over the course of a year's research, it morphed into a story of intense, high-level corruption. The K Street Gang (Simon & Schuster) is a gruesome-but-true exposé of Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and other Republican scoundrels.
Q: How did the "K Street Gang" make the transition from small-government activism to—well, crime?
A: In some ways you can see their activities as the logical consequence of big government. Rather than effectively limiting government, conservatives came to power and government continued to expand.
Q: Especially since 2000.
A: Yes, exponentially under Bush. And one has to ask why that is. I think once people find themselves in power, they are very unwilling to give it up, and they want to look for ways in which big government, which they now control, can help them.
Q: What exactly is "K Street Conservatism"?
A: One of its tenets is the packaging of clientism in the rhetoric of conservatism. If you're a K Street conservative you'd take a client, define their goals, and repackage them in terms of Republican ideals. So for the Indian gaming tribe, Abramoff said the tribes were really opposed to taxes. Every good conservative is supposed to be opposed to taxes. With the Mariana Islands, Abramoff said that these territories wish to be free of government tyranny. And every conservative is supposed to be about self-reliance and self-enterprise. He championed this in conservative rhetoric when in fact he was shilling for this garment tycoon.
Q: Have you gotten complaints from other conservatives about your reporting on these scandals?
A: There have been many complaints, typically from some of the figures I'm writing about. Oftentimes the central complaint coming from people is, "Why is this showing up in The Weekly Standard? Why is a guy writing for The Weekly Standard writing this book?"
Q: For example?
A: I published an article that made an offhand reference to Rep Bob Ney's involvement in the scandal. This was a 7,500-word piece that had just one or two words about Ney. His office called, furious, and I asked them, "What is the error? If there's a mistake I want it known so we can correct it." In the end what they said was, "Well, there isn't an error. But this just doesn't help. It doesn't help." Sorry. I'm not here to help. I'm here to tell the story.