Of Arks, Unicorns And K Stree

Lobbying, Lecturing And Litigating From A New Location

It was notorious. It was called the “K Street Project,” and it was set up by Tom DeLay, then majority leader of the House of Representatives. 

K Street here in Washington, D.C., is the address of a vast array of high-powered lobbyists who pull in millions to represent “special interests” before Congress. DeLay’s spin on this was ruthless: Any lobbyist who planned on chit-chatting with Republican members had better cough up campaign contributions to ease the conversation.

Well, times have changed a bit. DeLay is currently appealing his conviction for illegal use of campaign funds under Texas law. If he fails, he could spend a few years in a Texas prison. 

And we here at Americans United have moved to K Street. Let me assure you of a few things. First, we don’t pay anybody just to get in the door to advocate for religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Second, if we had been at this location during DeLay’s tenure, there probably would have been no amount of money we could have paid to see him; he didn’t much like AU.

In fact, DeLay, a Religious Right ally, once told a fellow writing a piece on him for The Washington Post that every time he tried to pass some “good” legislation in the House “Barry Lynn stopped it.” This was actually news to me. Moreover, the writer himself called me to try to figure out why DeLay was so “obsessed” with me “since I had frankly never heard of you.” I like to think I exist somewhere between wheeler-dealer and complete unknown.

More to the point, why did we move? We (along with the Bank of America) owned a building on Capitol Hill. Our Board of Trustees, however, after carefully considering the options, decided that it would be best to rent space downtown than to continue to shoulder the expense of owning a building. This sale allowed us to set up a modest nest egg and will give us a needed cushion when times are tough economically.

Moving your office is supposed to take a few months off your life – and I’m sure appearing on too many Fox News Channel shows does as well – but things went relatively smoothly. We were up and working by day two in our new digs.

The one thing that made me nervous as we scheduled the moving date was the thought of another crippling D.C. snowstorm – an event local weather forecasters love to dub something like “Snowmageddon” or “Snowpocalypse.” On Wednesday of our move week (we dubbed it the “P and P week” – purge and pack), we had a very unpleasant wintry mix of ice and snow. It took me about 90 minutes just to drive the eight blocks between our old office and CNN where I was scheduled to do “Anderson Cooper 360°” that night.

The Cooper show was a nice respite from P and P. I debated Ken Hamm, the head of the group Answers in Genesis. His latest project is to be a partner in the construction of a “Noah’s Ark” theme park near his Creation Museum in Grant County, Ky. 

With his own money, Hamm can build an ark-sized water slide if he wants, but unfortunately he wants taxpayers to subsidize this effort by giving him a sales tax rebate – up to about $43 million. 

Hamm was offended that I considered this a “subsidy” at all, but I maintained that the difference between his effort and the construction of a sports stadium was that the purpose of his facility would be to convert people to his religious perspective. When Cooper asked him if he wanted to convert people, Hamm – like so many of his peers – wouldn’t admit that was the purpose of the project. (For the biblically inclined, this kind of dodge always reminds me of Peter’s trifecta denial that he knew this fellow Jesus when asked by the Roman soldiers.)

Hamm was clear that dinosaurs would be depicted on the ark since he claims they obviously lived in Noah’s time, but got a bit standoffish about inclusion of unicorns, a species he notes on his website also existed at the time.

I never got home that night because of the ice, and we didn’t have any heat for the next few days either. Nevertheless, like the original Noah, I did not turn first to the government to assist me; my wife Joanne and I just broke out some extra blankets and a few batteries for a flashlight. By moving day, the ice was reduced to slush and the movers started taking truckloads of documents and furniture to the new location.

Now, about K Street. We aren’t really going to clean up its reputation. But AU’s legislative team is going to do what lobbyists should do: Make sure that the views of Americans United members are ably and honestly conveyed to political leaders in Congress and in the administration. This is what the Constitution meant when it guaranteed the right of all of us “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

At their best, lobbyists for the Constitution have no interest but that of the preservation of the freedoms guaranteed therein – for all Americans.

P.S. AU’s new address is: 1301 K St., N.W., Suite 850, East Tower, Washington, D.C. 20005. (Our phone number – 202-466-3234 – remains the same.)

Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.