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Lobbying Bill Sparks Populist Uprising -- on Both Sides

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The National Right to Life Committee and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) are locking horns -- not over abortion, but over whether thousands of top executive branch officials should have to disclose the names of people who lobby them.

Driven by the over-the-top, clandestine lobbying of Bush administration officials by now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has unanimously approved the Executive Branch Reform Act. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she backs the measure, which would require senior bureaucrats to report quarterly whom they speak to about government actions, and that she expects it to get a vote in the House.

But Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, is vowing to stop the bill at all costs. He thinks it would discourage officials from meeting with citizens, including his own members. That makes it downright undemocratic. And he is consistent: He led a coalition that helped kill broad ethics reform legislation last year because it would have imposed a similar type of reporting requirement on grass-roots lobbying.

Grass-roots and executive-branch disclosure "are of a kind," Johnson said. "They both have as a purpose to insulate policymakers from ordinary citizens and citizen groups in order to enhance the influence of certain inside-the-Beltway elites." He points out, for example, that communications from lawmakers and other elected officials would not be disclosed under the Waxman proposal.

Johnson is recruiting activists and has lined up the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America (CWA) as allies. "We believe this bill poses a tremendous threat to any American who wants to communicate with a member of the executive branch," said Shari Rendall, a lobbyist for the conservative CWA. "The burdens of this bill are onerous on government officials and intimidating to the public."

The legislation's advocates are also preparing to fight and they hope eventually to expand reporting to include lobbyists' meetings with lawmakers. Liberal watchdog groups such as Public Citizen, Common Cause and Democracy 21 yearn to give the public a clearer picture of who asks what from government officials all over the nation's capital.

But for now they are content to start with the executive branch. "It's not a burdensome reporting requirement, and it is important information for the public to know," said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen's Congress Watch.

Johnson and his allies are just as determined and are trying to spark protests nationwide with e-mail such as this: "Waxman wants to sell his bill as an expansion of 'government in the sunshine,' [but it's really] a tanning salon: a structure in which executive branch officials would be isolated from the real world and then exposed to intense, artificial and unhealthy radiation generated by privileged inside players such as himself."

A Peek Into Corporate America

Not waiting for Congress to impose new disclosure laws, shareholder activists have persuaded some of the nation's largest companies to disclose their political spending on such things as issue campaigns. General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and American Electric Power recently agreed to report how much they give trade associations for politics and lobbying. Home Depot said it would report "soft money" gifts such as corporate donations to political advocacy groups.

The decision was announced by the Center for Political Accountability, Trillium Asset Management and Green Century Capital Management. The four companies join 15 other major corporations that have adopted increased transparency policies since 2005.

Separately, Aegon USA, a financial services firm, has begun to list on its campaign finance reports the events at which it gives money to politicians, a disclosure not required by law. It said its $5,000 donation to the leadership fund of Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) was made during a "ski weekend." Anyone see a trend?

Government Client? Not So Fast

Qorvis Communications, a fast-growing D.C. PR shop, is still waiting for the $3 million, or 13 percent of its revenue, that Saudi Arabia owes it from last year. But Qorvis managing partner Michael J. Petruzzello said he is confident that the payment will show up soon, now that the Saudis have a new U.S. ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir.

"I'm not at all concerned," Petruzzello said. "It will all be resolved imminently." Then again, delays are common when countries are involved. "This is not the last time that they or any of my government accounts have been late," he added. "That's what happens when you work with governments."

Lobby for Money? Not Me

Last week, former attorney general John D . Ashcroft blasted Sirius Satellite Radio's proposed acquisition of XM Satellite Radio Holdings on antitrust grounds. He is a consultant, no surprise, to the merger's main opponent, the National Association of Broadcasters.

Thing is, XM says that Ashcroft's office also approached it to see if it would hire him to help with the merger fight, but the company turned him down. XM accuses Ashcroft of "parroting" NAB's views for money, a charge Ashcroft and NAB deny.

Separately, former senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) says he has acted out of "passion" to accept the chairmanship of the Poker Players Alliance, an organization of 160,000 gambling enthusiasts that wants to reverse a law banning online poker.

Ex-Top-Aide Hires of the Week

Dutko Worldwide has hired Judy Lemons, a former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Andy Wright, former chief of staff to Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.). The Watts Consulting Group of former congressman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) has added Steve Pruitt, once the top Democratic aide at the House Budget Committee.

Public Strategies Inc. has hired Lee Godown, former chief of staff to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.). Joshua F. Hurvitz, former legislative director for Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), has joined American Continental Group. And ML Strategies, the consulting affiliate of law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, has hired Jeremy Rabinovitz, former chief of staff to Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.).

David E. Yudin, former director of the city of Chicago's Washington office and more recently legislative counsel to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), has joined B&D Consulting as a senior adviser.

Brad Woodhouse, a longtime political operative with strong ties to liberal causes, was named president of Americans United for Change, replacing Karen Olick, a former chief of staff to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Olick joined the media and communications firm Squier Knapp Dunn.

Apparently thinking ahead, XM Satellite Radio last summer hired as a senior vice president Jeff Blattner, who was chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee staff of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and also helped run the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in the 1990s. XM is involved in a huge antitrust effort to win government approval to merge with Sirius Satellite Radio.

And on the GOP side, Dan Meyer of the Duberstein Group, a top aide to former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), will replace Brian Conklin as the White House's chief lobbyist in the House.

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