White Reps. can't jump

Members of Congress and the "third house" hoop it up for charity.

Published October 18, 1999 1:30PM (EDT)

Paul Miller, a lobbyist for the National Funeral Directors Association, ran over to Missouri Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof and smacked him so loud you could almost feel the sting.

But Hulshof didn't take it personally. And next time Miller approaches the blond conservative to push for a softening of OSHA standards for morticians' offices, Miller's repeated elbows and hip checks won't affect their relationship. Because Miller's body English, though inflammatory, was just part of the middle-aged-men scrap-a-thon at Wednesday night's first annual Congressional Vs. Lobbyists Charity Basketball Game.

Beyond the white-congressmen-can't-jump display at George Washington University's Charles E. Smith Arena, one couldn't help but wonder about the subtext of the game: It was a complete symbolic flip in personal dynamics and power relationships. Take Al Jackson of the Lobbyists, for instance, who stood center court at the tip-off. You've probably never heard of him, but Jackson is much more of a player off the court than on.

At the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Jackson was a key member of the lobbying team that helped write and lobby for 1994's General Aviation Revitalization Act. Signed into law by President Clinton in August '94, the act was the culmination of a little-followed, hard-fought, eight-year battle between the aircraft industry and trial lawyers. In the end it exempted certain airplane and airplane-engine manufacturers from product-liability lawsuits.

In April 1998, Jackson was named director of legislative affairs for the Boeing Corp., which spent $8,440,000 on lobbying expenditures in 1998 alone. Boeing has given $578,100 in soft money to the two major parties in the past three years, significantly enhancing the job security of each one of the members of the congressional team, both Democrats and Republicans.

More directly, Boeing has given $660,175 in PAC contributions directly to candidates during the 1997-1998 cycle, including $2,250 to Hulshof, $7,000 to Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kans., and $1,500 to Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., all of whom Jackson faced off against that night.

Would Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., be extra-tenacious on defense because Boeing hadn't anted up a red-hot cent for him? Did Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., feel slighted by Jackson since Boeing had only given him a paltry $500?

These questions hung in the air for probably no one.

Miller, Jackson, and their turquoise-clad cohorts were dressed and warming up for at least 20 minutes -- missing twice as many of their practice layups as they hit -- before any of the congressional team even arrived. The bleachers were as empty as a ghost town, with fewer than a dozen spectators, until about 85 kids arrived from the two local charities that would benefit from the evening.

With the representatives not yet out on the floor, the kids instantly started rooting for the Lobbyists, shouting for autographs and encouraging Craig Ramich, the backup center from the NFDA, to dunk, and cheering loudly when he did. Boeing's Jackson did a lot of fancy moves in the air that rarely translated into baskets, a routine he maintained throughout the game.

The congressmen arrived just before the scheduled start time, and rushed into their uniforms -- white shirts that read "Members" -- so fast they apparently didn't consult the roster about who should be wearing what number. But you could tell that they didn't need the practice by the way they handled the warm-up drills. Passing was sharp and scoring was frequent.

The tone of the game was set at tip-off, when Jackson's quick but careless swat of the ball led to a Members basket. Throughout the night, the Lobbyists failed to capitalize on congressional miscues, and the Members -- who regularly shoot hoops at the House basketball court -- pulled together enough to overwhelm their inexperienced opponents. The Members repeatedly turned the ball over, but the Lobbyists couldn't -- or wouldn't -- translate congressional mistakes into baskets.

On the Lobbyist side, Miller was strong, if something of a hotdog. Jackson was decent and hard-working. John Busher of United Airlines also helped keep the Lobbyists in the game. UA has given $410,000 in party soft money in the past three years and $198,700 in PAC contributions to candidates in the last election cycle, including $2,000 to Thune and $1,000 to Tiahrt.

Some tight, scrappy defense was provided by Adam Schwartz of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. His PAC in the 1997-98 cycle donated $789,771 to a group of candidates whose members included more than half of the opposing team.

At the half, the Members led 41-32. The edge see-sawed between teams until midway through the third period, when the Lobbyists lost a small lead and never got it back again.

The Members seemed to find their groove in the second half. Passes from team captain Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., that would've sailed out of bounds during the first period found their way to the basket, often from the hands of Thune and Hulshof. The congressmen also helped keep the advantage with a smoother defense. Kind and Thune were toughest under the basket, responsible for most of their team's offensive rebounds.

The Members seemed to anticipate the Lobbyists' every move, as if their moves on the court were as predictable as their political maneuvering.

Thune, assuredly, was somewhat familiar with Schwartz's moves -- the NRECA's PAC was one of Thune's top 10 contributors in 1997-98. And Tiahrt received $11,500 in PAC contributions from Jackson's employer, Boeing.

The pace of the game slowed significantly in the fourth period, when even the best of the Members descended to the flat-footed play that plagued the Lobbyists throughout the second half. Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., the slowest of the congressional players, barely made it back down the floor after some changes of possession.

Aside from the theatrical protests of a local sportscaster serving as the Members' celebrity coach, only Hulshof ever seriously disputed the refs, shouting about the aggressive and un-whistled hand checks by the NFDA's Miller and Boeing's Jackson. The spotty play of the lobbyists got a late-game boost from Busher and Robert Drummer of the American Moving & Storage Association, who changed a few sure turnovers into jump balls by diving to the floor or tangling up congressional players.

All to no avail. The legislators went on to beat the Lobbyists, 76 to 68. Miller, the Lobbyists' team captain, rejected a reporter's questions about whether his team rolled over to give a win to the men to whom they regularly give PAC checks as an effort to curry favor. "Absolutely not," Miller insisted. "They kicked our butts. As you saw, Thune and Hulshof can shoot the lights out."

Indeed, Hulshof, Thune, Inslee, and Kind were the Members' standout players, representin' as well as any sweaty, middle-aged YMCA hacker.

Total proceeds for the two local charities -- Hill Staffers for the Hungry and Horton's Kids, Inc., a local tutoring and mentoring program -- amounted to $5,546. That's about 3 percent of what the NFDA donated in PAC contributions to federal candidates from 1997-98, 0.83 percent of what Boeing donated, and 0.7 percent of what the NRECA donated during the last election cycle.

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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