There are a great many things that can motivate a person to run for public office, running the full spectrum of ethical defensibility. In the case of Colorado's most upwardly mobile Republican member of Congress, Rep. Cory Gardner, his time in office has been marked by an unrepentant embrace of the trappings of power in Washington, D.C. It seems as though every eyebrow-raising junket that makes headlines in the last few years has had Rep. Gardner's name quietly listed on the roster. There was the posh Florida yacht getaway that sub the subject of a CBS hidden camera investigation. The high-priced junket to Israel that featured a member of Congress (not Gardner personally) un-cooly skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galillee. Most recently, Rep. Gardner and his wife Jaime Gardner went on a lavish paid trip to Ireland, where they took in the sights between four-hour "work days" focused on "energy development issues."
As the Colorado Independent's John Tomasic reports, Cory Gardner is not the only politically upwardly mobile member of the illustrious Gardner family. Wife Jaime is doing just fine:
U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner has drawn attention for being a champion of oil-and-gas industry interests on Capitol Hill and for being well compensated, if indirectly, by the industry for his efforts. Energy industry representatives have paid the lion’s share of donations into his campaign coffers over the last three years and, in 2010, Gardner made national headlines when Koch Industries and British Petroleum threw him a swank DC fundraiser the same week BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was wreaking environmental havoc in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Tuesday, the watchdog Sunlight Foundation reported that the Gardner family is now making money more directly from the industry. In August, the oil-and-gas-industry-backed Consumer Energy Education Foundation appointed Gardner’s wife Jaime president. [Pols emphasis]
The main mission of the Education Foundation appears to be to push positive information about oil and gas to the public, to promote arguments against environmental regulation and to recruit students to work for the industry…
Jaime Gardner’s new employer is tied closely to the Consumer Energy Alliance, an oil-and-gas nonprofit group also dedicated mainly to messaging. Both organizations are run out of the same Houston office the houses oil-industry lobby shop HBW Resources. David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, is a member of the board for the Consumer Energy Education Foundation — the “principal officer” of both groups, according to Sunlight. Another high-profile HBW lobbyist is Michael Whatley.
Rep. Gardner has been a steadfast advocate for the energy industry during his entire career in elected office. Rep. Gardner sits on the powerful Subcommittee on Energy and Power on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Congress. He has proven an ally not just of the booming oil and gas industry in his district, but such far-flung interests as drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. That Gardner's wife is a power player in pro-energy politics, and was way back when Gardner was a nobody state legislator, shouldn't come as any surprise:
Jaime Gardner’s appointment as president came two weeks after the Gardners returned from a $17,000 five-day junket to Ireland, paid for partly by oil companies channeled through the nonprofit Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange. Rep. Gardner was asked to speak on developing oil resources off the Irish coast.
Jaime Gardner has worked for years in various government positions tied to public land management and energy development. She has also worked for energy nonprofits in the past. She worked for the Department of the Interior during the Bush years as a Special Assistant for Alaska Affairs.
At the very least, Cory's detailed Alaska drilling product knowledge makes a lot of sense now!
Cory Gardner is in many ways the luckiest man in Colorado politics. The seat that Gardner took from Democrat Betsy Markey in 2010 was relatively competitive, but redistricting the following year strongly reinforced the seat toward Republican control. At this point, Gardner is a Congressman for as long as he wants to be, barring advancement or a truly major scandal. That makes him very popular with people who need their industry given long-term support.
And the fact is, it's not at all unusual for industry flacks and aspiring political players to hook up (here's looking at you, Frank and Shannon McNulty). The professional ethical questions created by such personal relationships don't stop people from having them, of course. Republicans, for their part, are just as quick to point out that Sen. Michael Bennet's wife Susan Daggett was an attorney for the Sierra Club.
You're right, probably not a very good comparison. But there's still not much Democrats can do about the Gardners, other than hope the power players they are becoming, and what that represents, can be part of a winning message elsewhere.