Musharraf Makeover Proves Too Much for One Lobby Firm

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lobbying can be an unsavory business. Just ask former senator John Edwards of North Carolina. He hopes to ride that fact to the Democratic nomination for president.

Then again, lobbyists love it when companies and countries get into trouble. The bigger the problem, the larger their fees.

So it was noteworthy last week that Cassidy & Associates, one of D.C.'s biggest lobbying firms, resigned from its just-signed $1.2 million-a-year lobbying contract with the government of Pakistan.

Cassidy dropped the engagement, it said, because the military crackdown by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had rendered its efforts to generate good will useless. "We thought it best to withdraw from the account as the dramatic changes in Pakistan impeded our effectiveness on their behalf," said Tom Alexander, Cassidy's spokesman.

A statement by the Pakistani Embassy, however, raises the prospect that the decision was more mutual. "The contract for one year was still at the trial phase when, during the course of the first month of association, both the Embassy of Pakistan and Cassidy & Associates came to the conclusion that the latter could not effectively implement the contract as lobbyist," an embassy spokesman said in a statement. "As a result, Cassidy & Associates asked for withdrawal from the contract that the Embassy has accepted."

Cassidy says it was not pushed out by Pakistan. "There was never any concern about our work expressed by the embassy," Alexander said.

Whatever the story is, there's no need to worry about Pakistan (not that you would). It still has a lobbyist, the same one it has had for 2 1/2 years. Van Scoyoc Associates continues to represent the government at half the price Cassidy was charging -- $660,000 a year. "We work with the embassy to address legitimate concerns that have been raised in Congress and recent actions by the government of Pakistan," said Mark Tavlarides, a vice president of the lobbying firm.

And clearly, with no regrets.

Romney's D.C. Connections

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was never a Washington denizen, but several of his top advisers are.

Former congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.), who is chief executive of the lobbying shop Clark & Weinstock, is Romney's policy chairman.

Former senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who chairs Romney's domestic policy task force, is co-chairman of Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations, a lobbying firm.

A frequent shadow of Romney's at debates and elsewhere is Ron Kaufman, chairman of the executive committee of Dutko Worldwide, also a lobbying firm.

Two lobbyists are advising Romney on economics and tax policy: Cesar Conda of DC Navigators and Brian Reardon of Venn Strategies.

Among Romney's paid help are Washingtonians Barbara Comstock of the PR firm Comstock Corallo; Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a lawyer from Patton Boggs; and the advertising team of Alex Castellanos, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens.

Religion vs. Ethics

It's finally happened. Things have gone so far in the nation's capital that ethics is getting in the way of religion.

Bible study groups all over the region are being threatened by the new ethics and lobbying law.

Cleta Mitchell, an ethics lawyer at the law firm Foley & Lardner, was asked by a lobbyist whether he could continue to invite lawmakers and their aides to a weekly Bible session in his office. The reasons for the question: He served beverages and pastries.

Mitchell inquired on Capitol Hill and came back with this advice: keep the orange juice and coffee; lose the pastries. That comes too close to providing a meal (which a lobbyist can no longer buy for someone who works in Congress).

Church study groups of all kinds also could be in danger. In many places of worship, study groups alternate from one participant's home to another. So, what if it's a lobbyist's turn to host and provide the space and a meal. Can Senate staffers attending eat?

"The staffers should ask permission from the Senate ethics committee," Mitchell suggests.

A Republican Speaks Out (of School)

Former House majority leader Richard K. Armey of Texas is a loyal Republican and, lately, a lobbyist. But last week he declared that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was "the most able politician in America" and would win the presidential election.

At a luncheon presentation sponsored by his employer, the law firm DLA Piper, Armey said: "I don't think Hillary Clinton is going to make a mistake. She's going to win that election."

Armey also declared Clinton a "fascinating person" and extremely tough. "Don't mess with her" was his advice to the other candidates.

His advice to his fellow Republicans was to keep their distance from James Dobson, the influential head of the social conservative group Focus on the Family. "You could probably hurt yourself electorally by making Jim Dobson happy," Armey said.

As for his prediction about his old congressional stomping grounds, Armey was not hopeful about the prospects for Republicans. Democrats, he said, "will hold both bodies" after the 2008 elections.

Probably not good for your lobbying biz, Mr. Leader.

Hire of the Week

It's a family affair at Nahigian Strategies, a political and legislative communications firm. Keith Nahigian, 39, started the company in 2000 after he left John McCain's presidential campaign. His brother Ken recently joined him after working for McCain as a senior staffer on Capitol Hill.

"I was pursued by multiple law firms and corporate offices," said Ken Nahigian, 36. "But having the opportunity to build on something and keep it in the family was a no-brainer."

And, no, Keith "never lobbied me or the Senate Commerce Committee during my tenure on the Hill," Ken said. "Guess he knew I wouldn't take his meeting."

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