The bill’s passage in the House already seemed inevitable. But Mr. Boehner and his deputies told the Wall Street lobbyists and trade association leaders that by teaming up, they could still perhaps block its final passage or at least water it down.
“We need you to get out there and speak up against this,” Mr. Boehner said that December afternoon, according to three people familiar with his remarks, while also warning against cutting side deals with Democrats.
That sort of alliance — they won a few skirmishes, though they lost the war on the regulatory bill — is business as usual for Mr. Boehner, the House minority leader and would-be speaker if Republicans win the House in November. He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.
They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed.
Some of the lobbyists readily acknowledge routinely seeking his office’s help — calling the congressman and his aides as often as several times a week — to advance their agenda in Washington. And in many cases, Mr. Boehner has helped them out.
As Democrats increasingly try to cast the Ohio congressman as the face of the Republican Party — President Obama mentioned his name eight times in a speech last week — and as Mr. Boehner becomes more visible, his ties to lobbyists, cultivated since he arrived here in 1991, are coming under attack.
The woman he hopes to replace, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, derided him on Friday as having met “countless times with special-interest lobbyists in an effort to stop tough legislation” that would regulate corporations and protect consumers. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, through a spokeswoman, charged that he “epitomizes the smoked-filled, backroom, special-interest deal making that turns off voters about Washington.”
Mr. Boehner, who declined to be interviewed for this article, and his lobbyist allies ridicule such criticism as politically motivated by desperate Democrats. His actions, they say, simply reflect the pro-business, antiregulatory philosophy that he has espoused for more than three decades, dating back to when Mr. Boehner, the son of a tavern owner, ran a small plastics company in Ohio. And fielding requests from lobbyists is nothing unusual, he says.
“I get lobbied every day by somebody,” he said last month after a speech in Cleveland. “It could be by my wife. It could be the bellman. It goes on all day, every day, every place.”
Mr. Boehner — a 60-year-old, perpetually tanned, sharply tailored, chain-smoking golfer — is not as fiery as Newt Gingrich or as unrelenting an arm-twister as Tom DeLay, two of his Republican predecessors in top House posts. It is his reputation as a “Chamber of Commerce” Republican and his fund-raising skills — he has raised $36 million for Republican causes during this election cycle, more than almost anyone else in his party — that explain, in part, his rise.
If elected as his party’s leader in the House, Mr. Boehner will certainly lean on his industry allies for help as he builds coalitions necessary to push legislation through Congress, his office acknowledges.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said the industry ties only help make Mr. Boehner a better Republican leader. “Like the American people, Boehner — a former small-business man — is most concerned right now about the issue of jobs,” he said. “So he often speaks with employers, rather than, for example, labor unions or environmentalists who support job-killing policies.”
His lobbyist friends also defended the close ties.
“Does he have a lot of relationships in this city? Yes, absolutely,” said Mark Isakowitz, a friend whose Republican firm represents more than three dozen financial, telecommunications, energy and consumer products companies as diverse as Coca-Cola and Zurich Financial Services. “But I think all the good lawmakers do.”
Mr. Boehner won some of his first national headlines in 1996 after he was caught handing out checks from tobacco lobbyists to fellow Republicans on the House floor. Then the fourth-ranking House Republican, he said he had broken no rules and was simply assisting his lobbyist friends, who were contributing to other Republicans’ campaigns.