Forget Cash -- Lobbyists Should Set Support for Lawmakers in Stone

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It looks increasingly likely that the Democrats will pass some sort of ethics reform legislation that, on the off chance that it would close some cash spigots to lawmakers, could require more creative approaches by lobbyists.

Well, not too creative. Fortunately, neither the House nor Senate proposals, we're told, restrict our favorite way for lobbyists to curry favor and gratitude -- and get extended face time with lawmakers: funding those eponymous charitable or educational centers -- the Sen. Preston Flubus Center for the Study of Left-Handed People, and the like.

Granted, these member-connected projects, such as the Joyce Murtha Breast Cancer Center in Rep. Jack Murtha's Pennsylvania district, are often worthwhile. Ditto the Sen. Trent Lott Library at the University of Mississippi or even the Burns Telecom Center at Montana State University in Bozeman, there because of former senator Conrad Burns. There are countless other buildings, programs and chairs named for lawmakers. (Best to give to the building funds, as the programs and chairs most likely will disappear the moment the lawmaker leaves office.) But either way, special-interest groups get to give money for things very near and dear to the hearts of lawmakers -- literally to a monument lasting far longer than a member's tenure. Nothing is as important to our representatives save reelection itself. And some contributions lead to those annual gala dinners at members' alma maters or schools where more face time may be had.

Best of all, such contributions don't even require disclosure. The institutional recipients may disclose the donations in their annual reports, or use the donor list to raise more money, but the individual members obviously don't need to.

Once Lawless, Always Lawless?

New Defense Secretary Robert Gates is said to be putting together his inner office staff and perhaps bringing more new blood to the Pentagon. But it's not going to be easy.

First, there's the problem of recruiting top people to join an embattled administration in its last two years. It's especially hard to recruit someone not in government for a job that requires confirmation. In addition, Gates was happily ensconced in academia for several years and hardly thinking of returning in this position. Finally, he comes from the intelligence community, not the DOD world.

But maybe he could follow the example of Bill Casey, his late boss at the CIA, who was looking for ways around the agency bureaucracy to set up back channels with business leaders to make contact with some of the world's more odious dictators, such as Libya's Moammar Gaddafi.

As Gates recounts in his 1996 book "From the Shadows," Casey "bypassed" the operations directorate structure, "reached down and found an individual case officer he liked and trusted, and gave him the task of making these contacts. The officer's improbable pseudonym was 'Lawless.' "

Still is. And now Richard Lawless works for Gates. He's the deputy undersecretary of defense for Asia and Pacific affairs. Maybe Gates will introduce himself.

Cheney's Smooth Talking

Administration officials -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser Stephen Hadley and others -- seemed a bit off-stride, less self-assured, last week as they got a bipartisan hammering on the Hill and from the media about the war in Iraq.

It fell, once again, to Vice President Cheney to show how to take the long view in handling this sniping. On "Fox News Sunday," he told Chris Wallace: "Well, I think if you look at what's transpired in Iraq, Chris, we have, in fact, made enormous progress," and he noted that Saddam Hussein is dead. "The fact is we've come a long way from where we started in Iraq," he said. "Now, no war ever goes smoothly all the way. . . . Lots of times you have to make adjustments, and that's what we're doing here."

That's the ticket. Always bumps in the road in any war.

Lawyers Group Name on Trial

Seems that the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) was onto something when members voted to change its name to the American Association for Justice (AAJ).

Its archrivals at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) have proof that it was a smart move, according to a Jan. 4 memo to donors by ILR President Lisa Rickard. ILR paid for two national surveys and focus groups in three cities and found that the name ATLA produced a decidedly "unfavorable" response from participants.

But the name AAJ scored substantially better on the favorability scale, she said, "at 56 points, a 13-point difference, which is a statistically significant gap." What's more, "the name change has a lasting impression." However, when told of the name change, focus groups were aghast and quite "skeptical." And trial lawyers still come off badly.

So here's the plan: "If we begin to use the name American Association for Justice in referring to ATLA," Rickard said, "we become willing participants in their scheme to hide their real identity and we elevate their favorability rating. ILR will continue to refer to AAJ as the trial lawyers association in all public comments and written materials and we encourage all of you to do the same."

AAJ -- that's the trial lawyers -- spokeswoman Chris Mather said this "endorsement from the Chamber of Commerce gives me second thoughts" about the name change. She suggested the ILR might be called the "Chamber of Corporate Criminals." "They defend Halliburton, Philip Morris, Exxon and Enron," she said. "We are fighting for people and they are fighting for corporate bottom lines."

These folks really, really don't like each other.

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