With a recession upon us and Christmas fast approaching, The New York Times, as usual, is highlighting heartbreaking stories about Americans who have recently suffered economic setbacks. Today's example: the mini-industry of Washington lobbyists who specialized in access to Sen. Ted Stevens, the long-serving Alaska Republican who recently lost his re-election bid after being convicted of illegally hiding corporate gifts. Here is how one of them described the loss:
"They [Alaska voters] don't understand the connection between Ted and the way of life they have come to take for granted," read one e-mail message circulating among former Stevens staff members on K Street. "For those of us long on the dole, the coming reality will take some getting used to."
The Times calls this an example of "dark humor," but it seems more like the literal truth, given how lopsided Alaska's fiscal relationship with the rest of the country has been for the last half-century or so. In addition to obtaining taxpayers' money for Alaska projects such as Eskimo whaling, wilderness mapping by Ducks Unlimited, and the production of salmon-based dog treats, the Stevens lobbyists would help special interests Alaska-ize their funding requests:
Sometimes, Mr. Comstock explained, his job was to translate clients' arguments into the terms of most interest to the senator: the sometimes-parochial interests of Alaska. "Part of the reason why someone might hire me is to help them figure out a way to say, 'Even though this is not directly an Alaskan issue, here is why you ought to be interested,' " Mr. Comstock said.
Mr. Stevens "was progressively parochial," Mr. Rose agreed.
"If you were rolling out a new wireless technology, 'Could it be demoed in Alaska?' " he said. "That was always the catechism."