WASHINGTON—According to Capitol Hill sources, Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-IL) came to the painful realization this week that agribusiness lobbyist Stephen Fischer, who had been kind and generous toward him for months and had often met up with him for drinks after work, was not, in fact, his friend.
"Steve used to call all the time to catch up and ask about my family and chat about the genetically modified feedstock industry, but now, nothing," said Schilling, who admitted he was still struggling to accept that all their "good times" together at Washington steak houses and nightclubs had not been part of a sincere friendship. "He was such a likable guy—sociable, funny, and he always somehow managed to find great seats to sold-out concerts."
"I thought we were really tight," Schilling added. "But now I can't help but think he was just using me to get stricter seed-patent protections."
According to Schilling, the two first met at a Republican Party fundraiser last spring and "hit it off" immediately. The congressman was surprised to discover Fischer seemed to share his interests in deep-sea fishing, soybean crop insurance, and Big Ten basketball, and recalled in particular how the lobbyist was impressed by Schilling's position on the House Agriculture Committee.
From there, Schilling said, the high-paid employee of Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland began frequently taking him out to exclusive Washington restaurants and to his private luxury box at Baltimore Orioles games, leading Schilling to believe he had found a genuine, affable buddy.
"Sure, I found it unusual that Steve always asked me about the progress of alfalfa silage tax credits and would casually suggest potato-crop insect-management earmarks, but I never thought twice about it," the congressman said. "I just assumed he was curious about my work. Maybe it sounds na•ve, but when a guy does something really nice, like fly you out to Pebble Beach for 18 holes, you just assume he's your friend."
Schilling said any doubts he may have harbored about the friendship were assuaged by the lobbyist's endless generosity, as Fischer often presented him with "thoughtful" gifts of single malt Scotch, once threw a $250-a-plate fundraiser for him, and always referred to him by warm, familiar nicknames like "pal" and "bud."
According to Schilling, it was not until after he sponsored multibillion-dollar switchgrass subsidies on Fischer's behalf that he finally recognized the lobbyist might have had ulterior motives all along.
"I pushed the Switchgrass Cultivation Act through because Steve had told me he was in a tough spot and I wanted to help out a friend," said Schilling, referring to the highly unpopular bill that Fischer had claimed his industry desperately needed. "I really put a lot on the line for Steve, but as soon as the legislation passed, he stopped calling. It's like he forgot I ever existed."
In the weeks since, Fischer reportedly claimed to be too busy to go out with the congressman and eventually stopped answering Schilling's calls altogether. Once he suspected manipulative behavior on Fischer's part, Schilling said he grew despondent, saddened that what he believed had been a promising friendship had vanished so suddenly and left him with nothing but a few boxes of ultra-premium cigars and $47,000 in campaign contributions.
The crestfallen legislator said he now felt unsure who his true friends were, and had begun to question whether fellow congressmen, prominent donors, and even his constituents actually cared about him as a person—or whether they all just wanted something from him.
"It really hurt when I found out Steve threw a catered party at [Washington bistro] Marcel's last week and didn't invite me," Schilling said. "Suddenly he meets all these people from the Department of Agriculture and the FDA and he doesn't want anything to do with me anymore."
"I remember Steve used to always tell me we should go down to his cabin in Virginia for a fishing trip some weekend, but I guess that's never going to happen now," added Schilling, sighing. "God, I'm such an idiot!"
Taking note of Schilling's malaise, several of his congressional colleagues have reportedly come forward in recent days to offer reassuring words and try to cheer him up.
"Bobby's a young freshman congressman, new to D.C., and it can be hard to make friends in this town," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who admitted he made his own multibillion-dollar mistake with a Wall Street special interest in 1980. "One day he'll form a good, long-lasting friendship with a health insurance corporation or oil company that truly appreciates him and supports him as much as he supports it. All of us eventually do."