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Where There's Smoke, There's Boehner

The former speaker's cannabis pitch symbolizes how low too many of our craven, so-called public servants are willing to stoop for an almighty buck.

This is just one of the more ridiculous, shameless ways in which former officials abuse their past position. (Photo: Talk Radio News Service)

This is just one of the more ridiculous, shameless ways in which former officials abuse their past position. (Photo: Talk Radio News Service)

There was a time when, once they left the job, a former cabinet head or member of Congress would find employment back home casting their seeds of knowledge and experience in the local groves of academe. Or return to naps on the cracked leather sofa at his or her old law firm in South Bend or Twin Falls or Toledo.

But God bless America. Today, unless you’re someone with the current White House on his or her resume or you’re an official discovered to have committed a sin so heinous you not only make the evening news but Access Hollywood and the PBS Newshour, there’s almost always a posh and profitable job waiting in Washington.

The infamous revolving door, through which vauntingly ambitious men and women spin from business to government and back to business at an increasingly lucrative rate still merrily twirls, despite the bogus promises by Donald Trump to drain the Potomac swamp.

In twenty years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, lobbying spending has more than doubled from $1.45 billion in 1998 to $3.37 billion in 2017. So far in 2018, the biggest lobby firm, Akin Gump, has pulled in $28 million worth of business from clients that include Amazon, Pfizer, AARP and the Seneca Nation of Indians.

Especially valued is someone who knows how to maneuver the tortuous maze of legislation and regulation, so if you’re an experienced member of the House of Representatives with seniority, solid contacts and knowhow, you’re as valuable a commodity as a bottle of that Johnny Walker Blue they serve in the finest Washington watering holes. This remains true even though the market is about to be flooded by dozens of Republican House members who either chose or were forced into retirement.

House ethics rules state that the departed cannot lobby fellow representatives for a year but there are plenty of dodges that allow former members and staff to advise or consult until they’re free and clear of the ban.

Five-term Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins hasn’t even left the House yet, but the McClatchy DC news service reports that she already has registered a lobbying business called LJ Strategies, offering “strategic analysis, comprehensive federal and state government relations, political consulting, and association management.”

Carl Holman, who works on behalf of government reform and campaign finance laws for the group Public Citizen, told McClatchy, “This is an egregious abuse of the revolving door... Lynn Jenkins will immediately pull in hundreds of thousands from clients who want to tap in her network. This is exceedingly disconcerting.”

Look, too, at California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, three-decade House veteran, defeated in November, who is “weighing the creation,” according to The Wall Street Journal, of a company named R & B Strategies, one-stop shopping for all your lobbying needs. His partner would be his deputy chief of staff Paul Behrends, a former lobbyist for Blackwater who last year was fired from a job with the House Foreign Affairs Committee for his ties to certain pro-Russian operatives.

The libertarian Rohrabacher recently tried to broker a pardon for Julian Assange and has himself been so cozy with Russia that he probably qualifies for a seat in the State Duma. You’ll recall GOP House majority leader Kevin McCarthy joking during the 2016 campaign,  "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God."

The Journal notes that in addition to his Moscow-tilted tropism, Rohrabacher “is known for other policy stances that are unusual within the GOP, such as the decriminalization of marijuana.”

Which brings us to former Republican House Speaker John Boehner. When last we wrote of him a little over two years ago – and a year after he had stepped down as speaker – it was noted that despite claims he would return to his Ohio home, Boehner had taken a position on the board of directors of Reynolds American, second biggest tobacco company in the country, and maker of his favorite brand, Camel 99s.  The job likely paid Boehner “north of $400,000 a year,” Politico reportedapproaching twice the $223,500 a year he was making as speaker of the House.

Then it was announced that the chain-smoking Boehner was joining the lobbying giant Squire Patton Boggs as “a strategic advisor to clients in the US and abroad” with a “focus on global business development.” It was estimated that annually he would pull down a million or more in pay.

But not content with the size of his bankroll, in April, a press release revealed that Boehner was joining the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, described by Bloomberg News as  “a company that cultivates, processes and dispenses cannabis in 11 U.S. states.”  Even though nine years ago, he said that he was “unalterably opposed” to legalizing pot, Boehner told Bloomberg, “Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically. I find myself in that same position.”

The jokes just write themselves: Boehner blowing smoke. No grass growing under his feet. And remember those shots of him at home, allegedly whiling away the post-Congress hours mowing the grass? Takes on a whole new meaning now, doesn’t it?

But perhaps the biggest and cruelest jest is what prompted this piece. A video has been popping up on my computer with annoying frequency the last few weeks: The American Cannabis Summit, a one-hour infomercial featuring John Boehner,  disguised as a webinar selling the notion of marijuana investing.

I’ve got nothing against legalization. I’m all for it, and so, now, is Boehner – is he ever! -- but he looks about as comfortable in the video as George Will at an orgy. He could just as easily be in one of those reverse mortgage commercials on the Game Show Network.

At the top of the video, Mike Ward, publisher of something called Money Map Press, announces,  As we speak, big investment firms and members of the Fortune 500 are building enormous war chests. They’re all preparing to push billions upon billions of dollars into this market. And they could strike at any moment. So right here – right now – you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to beat them to the punch and stake your claim.”

He introduces Boehner who says, “Happy to be working with you, Mike.” Heavily scripted, he tells his life story, how he became a convert to legalization, and says he’s “all in” when it comes to investing in cannabis. Later, he talks about the increased tax revenues and jobs created in states that have legalized pot. “This is inevitable,” he announces. “Voters want it. Economic benefits are too big to ignore. I have to choose my words carefully. What I’m hearing behind closed doors is sensitive.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. Boehner then adds, “I used to count votes. I know where the votes are. The votes will be there when the time is right.” His compadres in the video go on to list all the medical benefits and marketing opportunities and how when marijuana is decriminalized across the nation, a wise investor can be poised to make a fortune.

Finally, they get to their crummy point. You, too, can become a member of the – wait for it – National Institute of Cannabis Investors. And all you have to do is purchase a package deal of special reports and a one- or two-year membership ranging in price from $39 to $129. (They’re worth much, much more – just ask Boehner and his pals. Regular memberships, they claim, soon will be going up to $599 a year!)

It seems like so much smoke. Shame on you, John Boehner, using your former high office to make a buck off the gullible people hoping to find, you should excuse the expression, the pot of gold at the end of your promised, dope-hazed rainbow.

True, this is just one of the more ridiculous, shameless ways in which former officials abuse their past position. Shilling for defense contractors and lobbying on behalf of banks, insurance firms, natural resource exploiters and tobacco companies that bilk, abuse and even sicken consumers are worse. But the crassness of this Boehner cannabis pitch somehow symbolizes, to me anyway, how low too many of our craven, so-called public servants are willing to stoop for an almighty buck once they’re out of office. But then, look who’s running the country.

So knock it off, please, Speaker Boehner – and don’t let the revolving door hit your lucky privileged ass on the way out.

Michael Winship

Michael Winship

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

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