Shutting the Revolving Door on Sudan

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Monday, March 6, 2006

Leaflets were stapled to trees in a friendly Capitol Hill neighborhood a few months ago. They featured a short article about a resident who had been hired as a lobbyist for the government of Sudan, one of the most violent regimes on earth.

Their message was simple and biting: There goes the neighborhood!

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) agreed with the sentiment, but he did more than tack up a few sheets of paper. As chairman of the House panel that funds the State Department, Wolf complained enough in public and private that the lobbyist, Robert J. Cabelly, dropped Sudan as a client last month.

"No one should be representing the Sudan government," Wolf said in his office last week after screening a videotape that documented the horrors of government attacks on Sudanese villagers. Lobbying for Sudan, he said, would be like fronting for Joseph Stalin during the worst of his murderous reign.

Wolf also sees the Cabelly episode as part of a larger problem. He is incensed that former federal employees such as Cabelly routinely use expertise they gained in government to help foreign leaders with repugnant reputations.

As a result, he wants to slow, and in some cases stop, the revolving door between government and K Street. He may get his chance soon.

Lawmakers are working to revise lobbying laws as a way to protect themselves from the political fallout of recent guilty pleas on bribery charges by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.).

As part of that effort, Wolf wants to prevent former U.S. ambassadors from lobbying for the countries in which they served for 10 years after they leave government. He would also impose lengthy restrictions on other high-ranking and highly informed officials, such as station chiefs of the CIA.

"Strong limitations of more than a year must be considered, not just for former members of Congress and top aides, but those in the executive branch including CIA station chiefs, ambassadors, high-ranking State Department officials and the like," Wolf wrote to the House Republican leadership earlier this year.

His proposal is a slight but noteworthy detour from the main course of Congress's lobbying debate this year. Most of the talk is about toughening revolving-door restrictions on lawmakers and their staffs. Wolf thinks that Cabelly helps make the case for expanding the list and discussed the incident at some length last week.

Cabelly, 55, is managing director of a Washington consulting firm called C/R International LLC. He worked for 13 years in the State Department and the White House's National Security Council. During those years, which extended through the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and one year into Bill Clinton's term, he focused on African relations.

After he left government, Cabelly represented a series of foreign governments for large fees. His clients have included Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Sudan. The State Department last year rated the human rights records of the first three governments as "poor" and Sudan's as "extremely poor."

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