Trade Group's Quick Advice: Slow Down

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, January 12, 2006

With lawmakers rushing out new plans for cleaning up their relations with lobbyists in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, there's one trade group that would like a larger role in the deliberations. Indeed, it would like members of Congress to take a collective big breath and slow down a bit.

The group? The American League of Lobbyists.

Paul Miller of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies and president of ALL said the group is not particularly opposed to major changes in lobbying rules. It simply wants "transparency" in what the Congress is up to in the rush to reform.

"Congress cannot just put out a package and rush it to the floor for a vote," Miller said. If lawmakers move too fast, too far to "appease the public," he said, they could find themselves back next year trying to undo unintended consequences.

Lawmakers could change their rules rather than pass laws to restrict members from taking fancy trips paid for by lobbyists, Miller said.

He expressed concern about proposals to prevent lawmakers and staffers from going to work as lobbyists for two years after leaving the Hill. They generally are restricted from lobbying their former colleagues for a year.

The one-year cooling-off period isn't being enforced, Miller said, and he doubts there would be any real enforcement on a two-year ban.

"The finger-pointing can't be just pointed at us. Jack didn't force anyone to take anything," Miller said, adding that Abramoff was never an ALL member.

ALL, which says it has more than 700 members, provides networking and educational opportunities for lobbyists. It also developed a voluntary lobbyist code of ethics.

Miller said ALL's board will meet Jan. 23 to decide on a strategy for dealing with possible legislative action, but that he knew one thing: "We'll do what we do best: lobby."

VCIC Gets Lobbying Help

Members of the emerging industry of biometric technology companies who are trying to sell the Registered Traveler security program to the nation's airports have formed a coalition to help boost their credibility and their voice in Washington.

Perhaps more important, the Voluntary Credentialing Industry Coalition (VCIC) has scored some substantial lobbying help: Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates . Maybe even more important, the leader of the Wexler & Walker team for the client is Tom Blank .

Yes, the Tom Blank who was acting deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration and who created the agency's Office of Transportation Security Policy. During his time at TSA, the agency developed the Registered Traveler program, which is now a pilot project at the Orlando airport and allows airline passengers who undergo biometric screening and pay a fee to go through security faster. The industry wants to expand the program in which private companies would sign up frequent fliers and be responsible for background checks and necessary technology.

Blank joined the lobby shop in September and is prevented by federal ethics restrictions from contacting TSA officials for a year, although he could lobby members of Congress.

He said he cleared his work for the VCIC with ethics officials at TSA. Particularly "in this climate," Blank said, "I dial the agency ethics officials pretty often."

An e-mail from TSA deputy chief counsel Elizabeth Buchanan advised Blank not send a copy of the release to the agency, "because that would be a communication from you to TSA. . . . Then you leave the line in about 'Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, where Blank is vice chairman, will coordinate day-to-day activities and advocacy for the VCIC.' This is one fact about the organization among others and is fine as written."

Blank said he and the lobby shop are "trying very hard to comply" with the ethics rules.

Earlier in his Washington career, Blank was an aide to then-House member Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.). Blank also was communications director to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Among the members of the Wexler & Walker team for VCIC: Timothy Hannegan , a top aviation lobbyist; Anne Wexler , a former senior aide to President Jimmy Carter; and former TSA official Chad Wolf .

Among the members of the coalition are officials of Iridian Technologies, Saflink Corp., Verified Identify Pass Inc. and Lockheed Martin.

By the Numbers

His lobby and consulting shop is less than a year old, but the money doesn't appear to have been too shabby for former attorney general John D. Ashcroft . According to year-end disclosures for the Ashcroft Group 's five lobbying clients, the firm brought in $269,000 for the last six months of 2005. As the Chicago Tribune noted this week, these totals "so far represent in some cases only initial retainers or billings."

In only one case -- for Oracle Corp. -- was Ashcroft one of the registered lobbyists. But Oracle's legislative affairs director, Robert Hoffman , said Ashcroft did not end up doing any actual lobbying and only advised the company on antitrust issues.

Here's how the money shook out: The Ashcroft Group reported receiving $220,000 from Oracle; $20,000 from Israel Aircraft Industries International; $15,000 from Choicepoint; and $14,000 from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Many of Ashcroft's restrictions on lobbying his former Justice colleagues expire early next month.

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