After Santorum Left Senate, Familiar Hands Reached Out
Richard Perry/The New York Times
By MIKE McINTIRE and MICHAEL LUO
Published: January 5, 2012
In the years before he lost his Pennsylvania Senate seat in 2006, Rick Santorum worked hard to win hundreds of millions of dollars in additional Medicare money for hospitals in Puerto Rico.
He sponsored at least two Senate bills and pushed to amend a mammoth Medicare overhaul to include the extra spending, which would have benefited Universal Health Services, a Pennsylvania-based hospital management company with facilities in Puerto Rico. If it seems at odds with the small-government philosophy Mr. Santorum now espouses in his presidential campaign, it was in line with his legislative efforts to help businesses in his state.
And some of those businesses were happy to return the favor.
Within months of leaving the Senate, Mr. Santorum joined the board of Universal Health Services, where he collected $395,000 in director’s fees and stock options before resigning last year. He also became a consultant to Consol Energy, after years of advocating drilling and extraction policies helpful to the company, a Pennsylvania gas and coal producer. And he consulted for the American Continental Group, a lobbying firm whose clients won earmarks he sponsored.
As Mr. Santorum’s standing in the race for the Republican presidential nomination has been energized by his strong showing in the Iowa caucus, so too has the scrutiny of his activities since leaving the Senate. When he left office he was not especially wealthy, but records show he wasted little time fashioning a lucrative post-government career based largely on income from businesses that had benefited from his work in Congress.
John Brabender, a senior adviser to Mr. Santorum’s campaign, said Thursday that the former senator had not drastically increased his net worth since leaving Capitol Hill and that it would be wrong to link his consulting work with anything he did in the Senate.
“He’s done a lot of things that have helped a lot of companies and a lot of individuals,” Mr. Brabender said. “Almost anywhere he went, there’s somebody who benefited from his legislation.”
Certainly, Mr. Santorum would not be the first politician to take the revolving door to greener pastures in the private sector. But a look at his record both in and out of the Senate finds overlaps between the two, suggesting that connections he made while in office helped soften the sting of his unexpected re-election defeat.
“Given his long and well-documented efforts aimed at providing American consumers with affordable energy,” said Lisa Seay, a spokeswoman for Consol Energy, the company hired Mr. Santorum “to provide strategic counsel on a variety of public policy-related issues.”
A financial disclosure report Mr. Santorum filed last August as part of his presidential campaign shows the full extent of his newfound wealth. He earned a total of more than $1 million in the previous 18 months from several jobs, including a fellowship with a conservative research organization, serving as a commentator for Fox News and a handful of consulting contracts, as well as income from rental properties in Pennsylvania.
The campaign has repeatedly highlighted Mr. Santorum’s humble Pennsylvania roots — he is the grandson of a coal miner — and sought to portray him as a champion of working people. Indeed, he was one of the poorer members of the Senate and by his own admission was living paycheck to paycheck at times. But by the time his Senate career drew to a close, he had become an emblem for some of a pay-to-play culture on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Santorum enjoyed unusually close ties to Washington lobbyists while in office. For several years, he held regular breakfast meetings with a handpicked group of 30 to 40 power players, ostensibly to brief them on the Republican agenda. But the meetings began with a representative of the Republican National Committee circulating a list of open jobs at trade associations and other lobbying shops, according to one participant.
The jobs list was part of a carefully plotted effort by party activists and leaders to make sure these positions were filled by Republican loyalists, an effort that was championed by Tom DeLay in the House and came to be known as the “K Street Project.”
The meetings became a lightning rod for criticism during Mr. Santorum’s unsuccessful 2006 Senate re-election campaign. Mr. Santorum would later deny being part of the K Street Project, but his support for the effort was reported in several news accounts. And while he was never accused of wrongdoing, the harsh glare from the attacks ultimately forced him to step aside from his role spearheading ethics reform legislation in the wake of the scandal involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In 2006, Mr. Santorum led all federal candidates in contributions from lobbyists and their family members, taking in roughly $500,000, nearly 40 percent more than the next closest candidate, Senator George Allen, a Virginia Republican, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. That tightknit relationship could make it difficult for him to appeal to Tea Party members and other voters yearning for a candidate free of inside-the-Beltway taint.