Railroad Firms Bringing Aboard Lawmakers' Lobbyist Relatives

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

The railroad industry is hiring relatives of Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff members as it faces tighter federal safety legislation, employing a tactic untouched by the Democrats' new ethics proposals: lobbying by congressional family members.

The new Democratic Congress is working on the first overhaul of railroad-safety laws in 13 years. Long attuned to Republican control, railroad companies are now working to keep their GOP allies but also hiring Democratic lobbyists.

Days after Jennifer Esposito became majority staff director of the House transportation panel's subcommittee on railroads, her father, Sante Esposito, and brother Michael Esposito signed up as railway lobbyists. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) has just taken a seat on the subcommittee, and in the coming weeks, the railroad industry trade association said, his father and predecessor in Congress, William O. Lipinski (D-Ill.), will register as a railroad lobbyist, too.

The new lobbyists join Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), a former congressman and chairman of the transportation committee who lobbies for railroads and whose son, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), also has just joined the railroads subcommittee.

The lobbyists said they would not directly advocate for clients through family members. The hirings are legal, experts on lobbying law said, but point to a topic left unaddressed in the new ethics proposals before Congress. While the Senate has voted to ban lobbying by some lawmakers' spouses, neither chamber has moved to limit lobbying by other family members.

"Like every other industry, we felt it was important to have representatives from both the Democratic and Republican side," said Peggy Nasir, spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, which hired Shuster, Lipinski, and Sante and Michael Esposito. "We are meeting all the standards we need to meet for lobbying."

The stakes are high for the railroads. Last week, Congress began debate on a reauthorization of the Federal Railroad Safety Program, which has not been updated since 1994. With government figures showing an increase in railroad accidents and fatalities over the past decade, watchdog agencies, accident victims and many Democratic lawmakers want improved track and crossing inspections, better accident investigations, and heavy fines for companies that break the rules.

It is against this backdrop that the railroads association turned to Sante Esposito.

The Esposito family has a long history with the House transportation committee. Sante Esposito served for nearly two decades as its Democratic chief counsel. Michael and Jennifer Esposito were committee interns and Jennifer joined the railroads subcommittee as staff director in 2004, when Democrats were in the minority.

Sante and Michael Esposito are partners in Federal Advocates Inc. in Sterling, Va., which advertises its transport policy influence on its Web site. Sante Esposito, it says, "enjoys long-standing working relationships with numerous decision-makers in the Congress and Executive Branch."

Sante Esposito said that he told the railroads association, "I can advise you on the best strategy for dealing with the new majority in Congress," and he added that "it was clear right from the beginning that I was not to lobby my daughter."

"I don't think relatives should lobby relatives, but I don't think relatives of members or staff should be precluded from lobbying the Congress."

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