When Sen. James McClure retired from Congress this year, he did not throw away his Washington experience and head for the trout streams of his native Idaho.
The three-term Republican said he had become disillusioned with "wet-finger politics" - gutless lawmakers who vote with the shifting breezes. But apparently his dismay with Washington politics did not stop him from wanting to take advantage of it as a high-priced lobbyist. Few people are more marketable than the former senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who is also well-connnected in the administration as a longtime friend of President Bush. With that resume, McClure recruited his two top aides from his days in the Senate and created a consulting firm - McClure, Gerard and Neuenschwander Inc. Their first clients were General Atomics and L.B. Industries, two energy-related businesses that could use some of McClure's clout in Washington.McClure is prohibited by Senate rules from directly lobbying the Senate for his first year out of the club, but General Atomics still felt his firm was worth a retainer of $10,000 a month.
The firm is not McClure's only endeavor these days. His Senate committee used to oversee the management of a needy U.S. commonwealth in the South Pacific - the Northern Marianas. McClure has now hooked up with a proposed foundation that would funnel development money to the islands.
The Northern Marianas, 1,500 miles southeast of Japan, fell under U.S. supervision after World War II. Since then, the United States has supplemented the tiny nation's annual budget and tried to help manage its affairs. During the 1980s, the population tripled to 46,000 people and the Marianas became a tourist haven, a little Hawaii for Japanese jetsetters.
The sewer, water and power facilities on the islands have not kept pace with the boom and the island government is in a bind. It can't afford to borrow more money and the State Department won't let the Marianas take cash from Japan or any other foreign government. So supporters of the islands came up with the notion of a Marianas Improvement Foundation, which would work like a development bank, using the investment capital of private people (primarily Japanese), as well as the sale of bonds. The foundation board would include three Japanese, three Americans and three Marianas residents. McClure apparently is slated to be the foundation's managing director, or possibly the chairman of the board of trustees. His former staff director on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Frank Cushing, is considered a likely candidate to run the foundation.
The proposed foundation is making some in the government of the Northern Marianas nervous. They like the idea of development money coming in to the islands, but they're not sure they want it sifted through Americans in Washington. And they were stunned by the proposed operating budget in the foundation's Washington office - $600,000 a year. "We don't want this to be a retirement firm for (Capitol) Hill people," one Marianas official told our associate, Jim Lynch. Some of the deep-pocket Japanese investors have also expressed reservations about routing their money through Washington. McClure laughed at the rumors leaking out of the Marianas that his salary would be $150,000 a year. He claimed he doesn't know what his salary will be yet and said the rumored figure was "far too high." He is involved, he said, because he wants to help the Marianas get money.
McClure has been a busy guy since he retired, but he may get busier. His name has surfaced repeatedly on the short list of candidates to replace Energy Secretary James Watkins, whose days are numbered in the Cabinet. It might be some time before McClure has time to cast off the politics of Washington which he finds so distasteful.