Lobbyists' Good Deeds (Really)

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Monday, December 25, 2006

Evan M. Migdail, a partner in the Washington office of the law firm DLA Piper, lobbied without pay this year to find a way through legislation to increase corporate gifts of food to America's hungry.

After hours of persuasion on Capitol Hill, he was instrumental in adding to the Pension Protection Act of 2006 a provision that gave businesses a larger-than-usual charitable deduction for donations of food to tax-exempt organizations. The new law is expected to generate more than $250 million a year in additional gifts of food to America's Second Harvest: The Nation's Food Bank Network.

Law firms and lobbying companies all over town offer their services free to deserving groups and causes. As usual during this holiday season, this column salutes their acts of kindness.

Many readers will be surprised that lobbyists do good at all. Lobbyists are not much admired. In fact, the first part of the new Congress next year will be largely devoted to enacting ways for lawmakers to distance themselves from professional favor-seekers.

In addition, plenty of people question whether lobbying, pro bono or not, can ever be praiseworthy. After all, lobbyists work to get taxpayer-funded goodies for their clients and thus reduce the amount that the public at large can keep for itself. "Some of us don't think every good impulse deserves a forced transfer from the taxpayers," said David Boaz of the libertarian Cato Institute.

Nonetheless, lobbyists do have hearts and they prove it regularly -- more often than average citizens imagine.

Edward T. Tobin III and his team at the law firm WilmerHale helped persuade federal authorities to drop deportation proceedings against Amadou Ly, a Senegalese immigrant who overstayed his visa when his mother abandoned him in the United States at age 14. Ly's illegal status was discovered because he was a gifted student; he helped his East Harlem high school robotics team reach a national competition, but he couldn't travel to the contest because he did not have the proper documents.

Thanks to the work of Tobin and his colleagues, White House officials, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) and the Senegalese ambassador Amadou Lamine Ba intervened, and Ly was able to remain in the United States to continue his education.

Along similar lines, the law firm Holland & Knight helped engineer the release of Cuc Foshee from custody in Vietnam. Led by Foshee's daughter, Orlando attorney Liz McCausland, Holland & Knight lawyers drummed up publicity about the situation and persuaded Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) to block a trade bill with Vietnam until Foshee was released.

Charity is not always a matter of life and death. Patton Boggs, the lobbying law firm, organized a visit on Capitol Hill last spring for Operation Smile, a nonprofit organization that provides reconstructive surgery for children in developing countries who have facial deformities. The delegation included singer-actress Jessica Simpson, whose celebrity helped bring the group closer to its goal of winning a federal appropriation.

DLA Piper partner John A. Merrigan and others organized conferences in Washington that drew Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and entertainers Lil' Kim and Chaka Khan to focus policymakers on the need for more funding for foster children. The firm also worked on mentoring provisions in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and on appropriations for a model mentoring program in Los Angeles.

Akin Gump lawyers Michael G. Rossetti and Katherine D. Brodie helped secure a $795,000 increase in federal funding for Native American tribal historic preservation. Donald R. Pongrace and Danna R. Jackson, also of Akin Gump, helped another Indian charity, the National Johnson-O'Malley Association, keep alive its children's education program.

Lobbyist Paul A. Equale, an alumnus of the law school at the State University of New York at Buffalo, arranged (through Hillary Clinton) $200,000 in federal money for a project of Carolyn's House, a shelter and learning center for battered women and children.

And Andrews & Bowe, an African-American-owned law and lobbying firm, pressed for legislation that benefits working families, seniors and small-business owners who have fallen victim to predatory lending and abusive debt-collection practices.

Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for the poor around the country, has benefited from free lobbying advice for years. Among those who have helped without charge are James Copeland of CJ Strategies, James H. Dykstra of Edington Peel & Associates, William J. Gilmartin of Jefferson Government Relations, Edward F. Gerwin Jr. of Winston & Strawn, William H. Minor of DLA Piper, Joseph M. Ventrone of the National Association of Realtors, Pam Pryor of We Care America, John Biechman of the National Fire Protection Association and D. Randall Benn of LaBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae.

W. Timothy Locke, a Republican, and his partner at the Smith-Free Group, Democrat James Free, have worked for different presidents -- Locke for Ronald Reagan and Free for Jimmy Carter. Now they are both working on behalf of the same president: James Knox Polk, who, like both lobbyists, is a native of Maury County, Tenn. Locke and Free are seeking funding for the James K. Polk Memorial Association in Columbia, Tenn., to honor the nation's 11th president. That pro bono task begins in earnest next week with the start of the 110th Congress.

Change of Venue

Next week will also mark a new beginning for this column. Starting on Tuesday, Jan. 2, the column will move to the A section of The Post and will appear on the page now called the Federal Page -- right before the editorial page.

The column, renamed, simply, "K Street," will run weekly rather than biweekly as it has for the past couple of years.

Please join me there and please continue to send tips and suggestions. My new e-mail address is kstreet@washpost.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company