The last few days have seen plenty of talk about former congressman J.C. Watts as RNC chairman. I liked J.C. Watts’ congressional record. He also was a good interview. He’s youngish. He’s black. All these things are in his favor.
But once he left Congress he became a K Street lobbyist for corporate clients, many of whom were asking the federal government for money. That hardly seems like the future of the GOP.
Watts’s lobbying clients include giants like AT&T, and green-energy companies lobbying for renewable-fuel standards like Syntroleum, plus government contractors like Lockheed Martin. Most of clients seem innocuous — such as NASCAR.
But still, I think a key part of the new GOP direction is going to require some populism. A K Street lobbyists — even one who claims NASCAR as a client — doesn’t seem to set that tone.
Watts is ultimately unlikely to run because his candidacy would draw attention to his post-congressional career as a lobbyist and pitchman. Watts has done invaluable political work, including a stint as a successful chairman of GOPAC, a Republican training school for new political talent. But in his business career his clients have ranged from a payday-loan trade association to a Cherokee Indian tribe to a now-bankrupt group pitching “free money” government grants on late-night TV.
His role with the latter group is troubling. The former professional football hero became a pitchman in 2004 for National Grants Conferences, a firm whose TV commercials recruited viewers to spend at least $1,000 for “seminars” on how to apply for federal grants they wouldn’t have to pay back….
Everybody is allowed to make a living, but at a minimum Watts’s pitches touting high-pressure sales seminars teaching people to apply for “free” government money undermine his claims to be a true-blue conservative.
Of course, a lobbyist as RNC Chair wouldn’t be new territory. Haley Barbour was a lobbyist, for instance. Marc Racicot even continued his work as a registered lobbyist while heading the RNC, as my colleague Bob Novak repeatedly discussed.