HIGHTOWER: The Speaker's Buddies

Anyone who says it's lonely at the top has never been Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.Ask Dennis Hastert. He's the low-key Illinois Republican who sort of bumbled into the speaker's job after Newt Gingrich tumbled out of it and Bob Livingston stumbled while trying to grab it. Hastert's only been in the top spot a short while, but he's not the least bit lonely, because he finds himself surrounded by bunches of helpful friends.Haley Barbour, for example, is so friendly that he invited the new Speaker to dinner to introduce him to several people eager to be his pals. Barbour was once the Republican Party chairman, but now he's a big time Washington lobbyist, and the people he brought to dinner were lobbyists, too -- representing such outfits as Bell Atlantic, Microsoft, and GTE Corporation. To make their new buddy feel welcome at the dinner, the lobbyists pitched in $100,000 for his political action committee. What a nice icebreaker, huh?Shortly after this dinner, the lobbying firm of Fierce and Isakowitz held a breakfast for Speaker Hastert, inviting a hundred people to donate $2,000 each to Hastert's PAC. You do the math. Fierce and Isakowitz just happen to represent HMOs that are trying to kill the "Patients' Bill of Rights," but I'm sure that had absolutely nothing to do with this friendly breakfast.Meanwhile, Clark & Weinstock -- yet another brunch of lobbyists who need the Speaker to support their legislative agenda -- set up a breakfast for Dennis. And, lo and behold, this breakfast bunch also brought $2,000 each to donate to his PAC. One of his aides said: Dennis "likes to do breakfast." I'll bet. According to the National Journal, lobbyists are hosting at least 10 fundraisers for Hastert in the first few months of his Speakership. As one put it, these little lobbyist gatherings are "a nice way to help the new Speaker get off the ground."This is Jim Hightower saying ... Right. And he'll never get back to earth again.

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