Professor: Shusters ‘cornered’ transportation

In the four months since U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th, took the reins of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a lobbying and consulting firm owned by his father – a former representative and transportion committee chairman Bud Shuster – has received at least $22,500 for representing the freight rail industry, records show.

Bud Shuster’s company, Strategic Advisory Group (also listed as Strategic Advisors), has worked for years on behalf of the Association of American Railroads, an industry coalition representing several major freight companies. But with Shuster’s son now overseeing House transportation legislation, the business relationship could raise questions among those who follow congressional connections.

“I don’t think they can avoid some sense … that they’ve kind of cornered the transportation sector,” said Ray Wrabley, a political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.

Bud Shuster said on Friday that he no longer works as a lobbyist, instead describing his work as consulting. There’s no need to actively avoid the image of a political connection with his son, he said, because there simply isn’t one.

“I’m an adviser to a couple companies, but I haven’t lobbied for years,” the former representative said. “If I did, I wouldn’t be able to lobby my son.”

It’s far from unusual for former politicians to leverage their influence as lobbyists and consultants, representing business or nonprofit interests in meetings with their former colleagues.

Even Congress members with lobbyist spouses aren’t uncommon. A 2012 report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted 44 federal lawmakers with relatives in the field, including Shuster.

“There’s probably some perception of insider access” in those cases, Wrabley said, although he noted that many with close relatives in the lobbying industry likely avoid direct on-the-job contact.

Direct lobbying by relatives is forbidden by the congressional ethics code, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Executive Director Melanie Sloan said Friday.

“Politicians should be careful when they have family members [who lobby],” Sloan said, noting that it can be difficult to avoid some contact when relatives work in the same field.

The Shuster family’s influence in transportation

doesn’t just extend to the House of Representatives: Bud Shuster’s son and Bill Shuster’s brother, Robert L. Shuster, works as an attorney and lobbyist at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major firm. Robert L. Shuster specializes in “transportation issues,” according to his firm profile, and represents clients including the Allegheny County Port Authority and the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

“I do not lobby my brother,” Robert L. Shuster said in a phone message Friday.

Bill Shuster, who is traveling the country to discuss transportation and seaport upgrades, was not available to comment, spokeswoman Gretchen Gailey said Friday.

There’s no indication in government records that the elder Shuster lobbies his son directly, nor that the brothers share a political relationship.

In fact, federal disclosure forms back Bud Shuster’s claim that he hasn’t engaged in any lobbying since 2011. Nevertheless, the railroad group paid his company an estimated $90,000 last year and is on pace to pay another $90,000 this year, in funds described on filings as “income related to lobbying activities.”

Claiming on forms that you’ve engaged in “no lobbying issue activity” is a common practice for those who don’t want to divulge details on their work, according to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group. Lobbying is officially defined as direct contact with lawmakers on a client’s behalf, the report noted; as long as direct contact is avoided, it doesn’t need to be disclosed.

The Association of American Railroads is Strategic Advisory Group’s only major client, federal documents indicate. At its height in 2004, Bud Shuster’s firm took in more than $1 million representing several companies, but since 2011 it has appeared to serve only the freight rail industry.

In mid-2011, the last time Bud Shuster indicated active lobbying work took place, he listed “railroad regulations” as the issue at hand, according to the filings.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.