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Probe Amplifies Conflict-of-Interest Questions for Chamber of Commerce Chief

Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also serves on three corporate boards.
Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also serves on three corporate boards. (By Chris Kleponis -- Bloomberg News)

The Chamber will soon launch its third anti-trial-lawyer newspaper. It already owns two legal periodicals, the Madison County Record in Illinois and the West Virginia Record in Charleston, which publish stories that highlight what it considers trial lawyers' abuse of lawsuits against businesses. It will shortly open a yet-unnamed newspaper in southeastern Texas, which it calls a hotbed of anti-business legal actions.

In addition, the Chamber plans a huge new effort to "manage" government's reaction to global warming. The tentatively named Institute for Energy Security, Competitiveness and American Jobs will raise about $20 million from oil companies, electric utilities and automakers to try to temper Washington's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Donohue vs. Airlines

A travel industry coalition called the Discover America Partnership unveiled a proposal last week to ease the entry of foreign visitors into this country and to promote tourism in the United States abroad. To pay the plan's $300 million tab, the group suggested that a modest fee could be imposed on airplane travelers leaving this country -- an option that the Air Transport Association opposed.

Donohue ridiculed the airlines' position. Nobody cares "about a $2 fee on the ticket or something, they just don't want to get in another line to pay it," he said. "Would your El Salvadoran maid, legitimately in the United States, who is going home to see her family, care about a $2 fee? If she does, she shouldn't go."

People will be miffed at that statement, he added, "but I don't care."

Winners and Losers

Low-income people and small-business owners were the big winners in legislation the Senate passed last week that would boost the minimum wage and expand tax breaks for small businesses that would be hurt most by the change.

Yet buried in the bill were write-offs not just for small firms but also for restaurants and retailers of any size. Score victories for the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation, which lobbied hard for the measure.

The legislation's losers include the Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers, which tried and failed to block the bill's elimination of tax-free deferred compensation for highly paid executives.

A major thumbs down also goes to the AFL-CIO, which called the Senate's action "disgraceful" because of the business benefits, even though it has fought for a minimum-wage increase for years.

Hires of the Week

African Americans are vastly underrepresented among lobbyists. The Washington Government Relations Group, a trade association of black lobbyists, has about 100 members and a database of black federal lobbyists that tops 200 names. That compares with 31,000 registered lobbyists overall.

But the Democratic takeover on Capitol Hill has thickened the ranks of black lobbyists quickly, thanks in part to the new prominence of the Congressional Black Caucus. African American staffers who have recently joined the lobbying ranks include: Paul Brathwaite, former executive director of the caucus, now with Podesta Group; Joyce Brayboy, former chief of staff to Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), now with Glover Park Group; Richard R. Boykin, former chief of staff to Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), now with Barnes & Thornburg; Jennifer Fisher, ex-aide to Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), now at the American Dental Association; and ex-caucus aide Myra Dandridge, now at the National Association of Broadcasters.

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