Help With the Nitty-Gritty

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Heritage Foundation has never seemed to have had any trouble communicating its ideas, but when Congress started talking about banning private funding of congressional travel, meals and lodging, the conservative think tank decided it needed outside help.

The foundation hired Cleta Mitchell , a partner at the law firm of Foley & Lardner , to lobby and to prepare think-tank officials on how to deal with Congress on the issue. Mitchell, a former member of the Oklahoma state House, is a specialist in campaign finance, lobbying and ethics issues, and financial disclosure.

Michael Franc , Heritage's vice president for government relations, said the organization usually doesn't lobby on policy issues because of its 501(c)(3) status, but it has been allowed to do so on legislation that directly affects the foundation. In hiring Mitchell, Franc said, Heritage sought "someone who's well versed in (c)(3) laws" and has good ideas on the subject.

Foundations, special interest groups and corporations sponsor congressional seminars, retreats and other trips to get their issues before lawmakers -- usually in very nice settings with extracurricular activities. It's educational, they say, and sometimes is the only way to get lawmakers out of Washington to see the impact of their policies.

But good-government types say privately funded travel is simply another way to buy access.

After a lot of hoo-ha following the Jack Abramoff lobbying and golfing scandal, both chambers backed off from legislating major restrictions, at least for now. Congress may feel different after the August recess or November elections, and Heritage and other groups remain watchful.

Heritage canceled its August seminar on security issues because it decided that it would be too difficult to attract lawmakers at this time, but it's proceeding with plans for its orientation for new legislators after November. The orientation is held in Baltimore.

"The uncertainty is chilling," Franc said.

First Responders in Lobbying Emergency

Having a bipartisan shop has its advantages. Republicans can lobby for one client, while the Democrats buttonhole lawmakers for another client.

And then there are times when everybody gets drafted for the team.

A lobby registration for the giant law and lobby firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld popped up recently showing how a big lobby organization can throw a lot of people from both parties at the job.

The client was LifeCare Management Services, a Plano, Tex., company that operates long-term-care hospitals. The company, along with the rest of the industry, was concerned earlier this year about a proposed change in Medicare rules on compensation.

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