Hope for a Veterans Windfall Above All Hopes

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

After years of fighting in vain for what he believed disabled war veterans deserved, David W. Gorman is on the verge of getting more than he asked for.

Appropriators in the House have voted to provide the Veterans Health Administration with nearly $300 million more than veterans groups such as Gorman's put on their wish list, something that has not happened in two decades.

And senators may go even further. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) is pushing a bill that would allow vets with service-connected disabilities to be treated anywhere they want, not just at VA hospitals.

For Gorman, Washington executive director of the 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans, this is a dream realized. "It's a tremendous feat," he said.

Republican-led Congresses constantly disappointed veterans groups. But the Democrats now in charge have come through. Publicity about mistreatment of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has helped, Gorman said, even though that facility is run by the Pentagon, not the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gorman has even had to try to rein in some of Congress's newfound enthusiasm. For instance, he told Craig thanks but no thanks. Craig's plan would cost too much (hundreds of billions of dollars) and would undercut VA hospitals by giving vets an incentive to steer clear of them, he said.

Gorman must also remain vigilant about funding, given a possible veto by President Bush-- and no one would expect otherwise from him. Gorman, 58, lost both legs under fire during the Vietnam War, yet he walks (and plays golf) with only a slight wobble on prosthetic legs.

His organization is just as tough. It has a sophisticated contact system that can inundate targeted lawmakers with faxes and e-mails at a moment's notice. And Gorman intends to keep using that technique. "We have to go through this battle every year," he said.

Whither Quinn Without Gillespie?

Quinn Gillespie & Associates was Washington's eighth-largest lobbying firm last year. This year, its well-connected chief Republican, Edward W. Gillespie, departed to work in the White House. So, what happens to the firm now?

A gradual decline is the street's leading bet. After all, lobbying is a very personal business, and few Republicans have as much entree -- or as much skill in working with the news media and interest groups -- as Gillespie. An inkling of QGA's concern: Gillespie and co-founder Jack Quinn called all 50-plus of their clients last week to give them a heads-up about the change.

But Howard Paster, the executive who oversees the firm, is remarkably upbeat. "It's a strong firm. The client list is pretty impressive. We'll be all right," he said.

Paster said that Gillespie had already been absent plenty (he took a leave to lead the Republican National Committee during the 2004 campaign) and other big-name GOPers on the staff (such as former congressional aide J. David Hoppe) were able to take up the slack. "The whole idea is to have these firms institutionalized and not revolve around individuals," said Paster, a senior executive at the London-based WPP Group, which has owned QGA since 2003.

In the meantime, Gillespie is eager to avoid conflicts of interest in his new job, something his critics have said is all but impossible to do given his representation of every industry you can think of, from banking to pharmaceuticals.

Gillespie has vowed not to deal with his old clients and colleagues. And I hear he will take one extraordinary step: He will not take any more money out of the firm, including the last payout due to him from its purchase, which probably would have amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wonks Thinking Bigger at AARP

AARP's think tank, the Public Policy Institute, quietly cut its staff last year to 42 from 49. One of its best-known Social Security scholars, John Turner, left.

Now the PPI is coming back with a more public mission. "I want to make the work it does more relevant and not just for our own advocacy," said William D. Novelli, AARP chief executive. "We want it to be much more active in the marketplace of ideas."

Charged with grabbing those headlines are the PPI's new senior managing director, Susan Reinhard (former co-director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University), and its new outreach director, Rick Deutsch, who had been at GYMR Public Relations.

Unmasking PACs

The crazy quilt of campaign finance laws allows politicians to double-dip. In addition to taking money for their reelection committees, lawmakers can collect an extra dollop of donations in their "leadership PACs."

Incredibly, politicians do not have to disclose which leadership PACs they run, leaving lots with unidentified beneficiaries.

The Center for Responsive Politics is trying to end the mystery by asking readers to send e-mails saying who they think is in charge of several secretive leadership PACs. Among the unknowns: Leadership Empowerment & Development PAC, Bill PAC and Defending America's Future PAC. Let the CRP know!

Michael Moore to K Street: Stay Home

Filmmaker Michael Moore has made Washington lobbyists an offer that he hopes they will refuse.

Tomorrow night, Moore is holding a free preview of his latest movie, "Sicko," a feature-length attack on America's health-care system. In an advertisement published yesterday in The Washington Post, Moore invited dozens of health-care lobbyists by name to the "exclusive screening" at Union Station.

Chris Lehane, a former aide to President Clinton who is working for Moore, promised that the lobbyists who attend will not be ambushed by the filmmaker, though lots of television reporters -- and Moore himself -- will be there.

Rather, images from inside the theater will be beamed live to MichaelMoore.com, presumably to prove that lobbyists were too ashamed to show their faces.

"This is an industry that wants to avoid scrutiny," Lehane said. "I don't expect many to show up."

He might be wrong. "I love free movies; wouldn't miss it," said Anthony T. Podesta of the Podesta Group. John F. Jonas of Patton Boggs wrote in an e-mail to his colleagues: "I'll bring the popcorn, let's go!"

Hires of the Week

Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates added three Democratic partners: Daniella Landau, Tonio Burgos and Steve Patterson. It also promoted two Democrats -- Tim Hannegan and Joel Malina-- to executive vice president.

On the GOP side, Amy Call, spokeswoman for former Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), has found work with AOL.

Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal expanded its lobbying practice with eight new people, including health-care lawyer Mark W. Weller and strategist Audrey B. Yo ung.

Please send e-mail to kstreet@washpost.com.

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