Revolving Door Keeps Spinning Despite Lobbying Reforms

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.

But it was Goldberg who set tongues wagging when she said she wanted to -- well, this is a family newspaper, so let's say -- spend romantic time with the speaker.

"But we should wait on that because you're still in office. I don't want to cause a problem," Goldberg said.

As might be expected, Pelosi remained silent underneath her signature permanent smile. And her press office later remained predictably subdued.

"She enjoyed being on the show," Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly told us via e-mail. "It was a fun chance to talk to (primarily) women around the country about what Democrats are doing in Congress."

And We're Live, Take 2

Memo to white-collar-criminal defense attorneys: Never, ever let your client go on live TV, radio or Web chats, without your presence.

Consider the case of Ben Stevens, the former state senator from Alaska and son of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Both father and son are deeply enmeshed in an expanding federal corruption probe in the state. So the son decided, out of the blue last week, to call up a local talk-radio show in Alaska and lash out at the federal prosecutors, accusing them of various malfeasance and taking part in a "public stoning" of the Stevens clan.

While Ted Stevens has an official policy of not talking about the investigation, his son went on at length about the spiraling probe.

In a move likely to send shivers down the spines of most defense lawyers, Ben Stevens spent the last few minutes of his on-air session attacking the FBI and the Justice Department, which has run the probe out of Washington in its Public Integrity Section.

"There's no question they're targeting us. We're big fish in their mind. He's a big, big fish, big man. I'm just a little, you know, guppy," Ben Stevens said, specifically accusing the Washington-based prosecutors of inappropriate leaks. "We all know the innate characteristics of prosecutors; let's just put it that way. They're not from Alaska. When's somebody going to take a question and say, 'What are these guys, these prosecutors from out of the state, coming up here and doing this?' "

Scandal Watch

The contest is officially on to see who will be the 10th current or former staffer to Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) to publicly acknowledge having spoken with the Justice Department. Last Thursday, Doolittle and a handful of current staffers told the House they had been subpoenaed for documents in the three-years-and-counting investigation into the lawmaker's financial ties to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

For now, Democrats hoping to win his suburban Sacramento seat have identified nine current or former aides who have testified or been interviewed in the probe: two chiefs of staff, one deputy chief of staff, three legislative directors, one scheduler, one senior executive assistant and one field representative.

Rather than being "gratified" by these subpoenas -- which was Doolittle's choice of words to an earlier batch of subpoenas -- he's fighting this latest round in federal court.

One final note on the Larry Craig scandal.

Any day now, a Minnesota judge will be issuing his ruling on the Idaho Republican's bid to withdraw his guilty plea in the airport-restroom sex sting, but for those lawmakers who find themselves in legal binds in faraway places, hiring big-shot Washington lawyers isn't always the best idea.

Consider this exchange between Billy Martin-- defender of celebrities such as Michael Vick-- and Judge Charles A. Porter last week.

Martin: "Judge, we are not now here asking you to find Senator Craig innocent of these charges. We are not here to do that."

Porter: "We don't do that in Minnesota."

Martin: "I'm sorry?"

Porter: "We don't do that in Minnesota. We have guilty or not guilty."

Best of luck, Senator.

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