After Social Security? Corruption

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fresh off its success in raising a grass-roots wave of public opposition that helped block President Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security, Americans United to Protect Social Security has redefined itself.

The name is shorter -- Americans United -- and the mission is broader: public corruption, education, health and energy costs, economic prosperity and such.

Yesterday, Americans United unveiled a $1 million advertising campaign urging support for legislation proposed by Democratic lawyers aimed at tightening the restrictions on lobbying.

The 60-second spot asks "What time is it?" while showing shots of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Vice President Cheney's former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, all of whom have been indicted for various offenses. "What time is it when Republican leaders are indicted for money laundering, bribery and obstruction of justice. . . ."

The answer, the ad gives, of course, is that it's "time for a change."

"Until we can clean up cronyism and corruption, you can't get on to the other issues," said Karen Olick , executive director of Americans United and former chief of staff to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Americans United is a 501(c)(4) nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization, which means that it can freely raise funds for its grass-roots lobbying, but those contributions are not tax-deductible and the donors don't have to be identified. The group has received initial support from organized labor, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Brad Woodhouse , director of communication, says Americans United hopes to raise $10 million to $20 million from labor, individuals and others.

Also on board at Americans United, Kim Molstre , deputy director, and Kelly Baird , national field coordinator.

Olick says the group is focused only on issues and will not get involved in political campaigns. "We are not liberal or conservative," she insisted. "We're going to talk about mainstream issues that people care about."

Executives Back Looser Reins

Talking about lobbying reform . . . The American Society of Association Executives (sometimes referred to as the "association of associations") is weighing in on plans to overhaul lobbying laws. ASAE, like some other trade groups, is concerned Congress may being acting too fast. ASAE opposes a measure that would ban all privately funded travel for members of Congress because, it believes, the ban would discourage true fact-finding trips and meetings with diverse groups.

John H. Graham IV , ASAE's chief executive, who wrote lawmakers yesterday, is holding a news conference at 10 a.m. today at the National Press Club to talk about the group's position and to explain what it is that associations do and how they benefit the community.

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