Revolving Door Keeps Spinning Despite Lobbying Reforms

Former Montana senator Conrad Burns's lunch in the Senate dining room is called
Former Montana senator Conrad Burns's lunch in the Senate dining room is called "a small courtesy." (Jeff Chiu - Associated Press)
By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, October 4, 2007

Former senator Conrad Burns of Montana is the latest example showing the loophole in the new ethics and lobbying reforms that were enacted last month.

A few days after the legislation became law, Burns strolled into the weekly Wednesday meeting of Senate conservatives in the Mansfield Room just a few steps off the chamber floor. Asked what he was doing there, Burns smiled and announced, "Lunch."

After losing his re-election bid last year, Burns signed up to work with Gage. That's a lobbying firm on Capitol Hill founded by his former staffers, where Burns is not considered a lobbyist but is an adviser to a host of the firm's clients, most of whom have a connection to the Big Sky state. The former senator must observe a one-year cooling-off period-- the new law will extend it to two years starting in January -- before he can represent clients before his old colleagues.

Ethics experts say that senators-turned-lobbyists are no longer allowed to use the Senate gym or the chamber's clutch parking spots, and they are forbidden from coming onto the Senate floor, which is generally considered the ultimate perk to alumni.

But senators-turned-lobbyists are not barred from attending lunch with their old Republican colleagues and listening in as they discuss the legislative and political agenda ahead, perhaps gaining insight that most other lobbyists would pay top dollar for.

Democrats have not allowed former senators into their lunches in the past, but two years ago they repeatedly invited billionaire Steve Bing into their policy lunches; lawmakers said he was an expert at helping them deliver their message because he had produced Hollywood movies. No specific provisions in the ethics rules forbid big donors like Bing from attending the lunches.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) organizes the lunches and sees no reason to bar his former colleagues. "There's no lobbying that ever goes on," he said. "That's kind of a small courtesy to former senators."

In recent years, several former senators who turned to K Street have attended the GOP lunches on a semi-regular basis. They include Slade Gorton (Wash.), who after losing in 2000 took a lobbying job with the firm now known as K&L Gates; Rod Grams (Minn.), who also lost in 2000 and began lobbying for Minnesota clients such as 3M for Hecht Spencer and Associates; and Tim Hutchinson (Ark.), who lost in 2002 and began lobbying for Dickstein Shapiro.

And We're Live, Take 1

Memo to the staff: Beware of the live broadcast interview. You never know what's going to happen.

Faces are still blushing in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office after her appearance on the Tuesday edition of daytime gab show "The View."

Even before Pelosi (D-Calif.) walked on stage, Whoopi Goldberg and her co-hosts -- with former news anchor Barbara Walters leading the pack -- started flirting with the speaker's husband, Paul Pelosi.

"You wanna take a look at Nancy Pelosi's handsome husband?" Walters asked the audience, followed by whooping and hollering.

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