The Humane Society Becomes a Political Animal

President Lyndon B. Johnson's name may grace the Department of Education building now that Democrats control Congress. Former majority leader Tom DeLay blocked earlier proposals.
President Lyndon B. Johnson's name may grace the Department of Education building now that Democrats control Congress. Former majority leader Tom DeLay blocked earlier proposals. (Associated Press)
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Many people may consider the Humane Society of the United States a pussycat. But with 10 million donors and a $120 million budget, it is becoming a tiger among Washington's interest groups.

Just ask Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.). Actually, make that former governor and then-representative. The Humane Society targeted both in last year's elections after Ehrlich supported bear hunting and Pombo supported commercial whaling and trapping in wildlife refuges.

The society also spent lavishly to help pass an initiative in Arizona, fought by agribusiness, that bans inhumane factory farming. And it bested the National Rifle Association on a measure that prohibits the shooting of mourning doves for sport in Michigan.

"They are a worthy opponent," said Andrew Arulanandam of the NRA. "They certainly have a lot of backers with deep pockets."

"They keep us on our toes," agreed Kelli Ludlum of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "We need all of our members to counter their growing effectiveness."

The society's newfound prowess was engineered by its 41-year-old president, Wayne Pacelle. The smooth-talking Pacelle (who travels so often that he doesn't own a pet) was the group's top lobbyist before taking over 2 1/2 years ago. He quickly consolidated his power base by merging with two other animal-protection organizations -- the Fund for Animals and the Doris Day Animal League. He also formed a political affiliate, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which spent $500,000 on key races in last year's elections, and established his own political action committee called Humane USA, which funneled an additional $300,000 to pro-animal candidates.

"The organization has committed itself to political activity as never before in its 52-year history," Pacelle said. In addition to collecting the scalps of opponents on Election Day, the society can claim at least two dozen successful statewide ballot measures including ones that bar horse slaughter and cockfighting. It's fighting similar battles in Congress.

Pacelle's goal is to double the amount of his electoral giving and the extent of the society's lobbying over the next two years. He already can boast an average of 20,000 members in each congressional district and a budget that is twice the size of that of his nearest animal-rights rival, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The activist People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a quarter as large.

Pacelle notes that his group has no corporate connection to the animal shelters that regularly kill surplus strays. Still, lots of animal lovers do not consider his society very humane.

Lately, a growing number of politicians don't, either. "I compensate to some degree for animal advocates who are overly sentimental," Pacelle said. He then quoted his late mentor Cleveland Amory of the Fund for Animals, who said, "I want to put cleats on little old ladies in tennis shoes."

It's All in a Name I

The new trade association that represents stock and bond traders is called the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. But the group's acronym, SIFMA, sounds so distasteful as a spoken word that its staff has been warned to spell out the letters, S-I-F-M-A, whenever they refer to the lobby.

It's All in a Name II

Some big guns in lobbying are pressing to name the Education Department's building in the District after President Lyndon B. Johnson, and they may well succeed now that Democrats control the Capitol.

For years, former House Republican leader and fellow Texan Tom DeLay blocked the proposal. But he's not around anymore, so Johnson acolytes are trying anew. They include ex-Johnson aides and now K Streeters Harry C. McPherson and Lloyd N. Hand of DLA Piper, James R. Jones of ManattJones Global Strategies, and Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America. Lyndon K. Boozer, 43, an AT&T lobbyist and son of Johnson's late secretary, Yolanda Garza Boozer, conceived the project.

And yes, Boozer was named for the great man -- just as he hopes the education building will be soon.

It's All in a Name III

Democratic lobbying shops, eager to capitalize on their new majority in Congress, have sprouted so quickly that they obviously did not bother to apply any imagination to their names.

Kimberly Allman, a former lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America, started Allman Strategies. Steve Elmendorf, a former aide to longtime congressman Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), formed Elmendorf Strategies. And Julie Domenick, most recently at the Loeffler Group, runs Multiple Strategies.

At least Parven Pomper Schuyler Inc. and Heather Podesta & Partners chose boring names without resorting to "strategies."

One long-established Democratic firm with a relatively interesting moniker, the Glover Park Group, is expanding. The new hires include Julie Rochman, formerly with the American Insurance Association; Beth Tritter, ex-aide to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.); Susan Kannel, formerly with Lake Research Partners; and Tracy Sefl and Jason Miner, both formerly with the Democratic National Committee.

On the Republican front, a familiar name will soon head the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Steven C. Anderson, president of the National Restaurant Association, will replace Craig L. Fuller, chief of staff to George H.W. Bush when the elder Bush was vice president, who left the chain-store group last March.

Another New Idea

Fred Wertheimer has fought for ethics reforms for more than 30 years, and he has a new proposal: earmark disclosure by lobbyists.

Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, wants lobbying groups to disclose what narrow projects -- a.k.a. earmarks -- they are pressing for and to identify the lawmakers who are sponsoring them. Versions of this have been advanced in the past by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Lobbyists can now be vague about what they do for their clients. But that would end under the Wertheimer plan. Voters could then decide who elected officials were working for -- lobbyists, their constituents or both. Any thoughts?

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