Lobbyists Hug High-Tech Hub

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

When tech experts Josh Ackil and Matt Tanielian were looking to name their new lobbying firm, they had little hesitation. They decided to call themselves the Franklin Square Group -- even though their offices aren't on Franklin Square.

The reason is simple: The square -- which is bounded by 13th, 14th, K and I streets NW -- boasts the capital's highest concentration of tech lobbying offices.

One industry wag has dubbed it Silicon Square as a result.

The large office buildings around the tree-heavy park contain a who's who of the tech world. Residents include Microsoft, Dell, Sun Microsystems, eBay and IBM. Just a block away are Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, Oracle, Sony and, in brand new offices, Apple and Google.

One reason for the clustering is the proximity of the industry's chief lobbying arm, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). Company reps can easily walk there for their frequent, high-tech powwows.

"With the tech companies working together on so many shared priorities, being close to each other enables them to better communicate and cooperate," said Ralph Hellmann, the council's chief lobbyist.

Geographic proximity does not always bring harmony. Microsoft's unsolicited takeover offer for Yahoo last week stepped up the conflict between the huge software maker and its neighbor, Google. Microsoft wants to acquire Yahoo so it can better compete with Google for online search and advertising dollars.

At least in the District, they can be friendly enemies. Microsoft's Ginny Terzano calls Franklin Square "a collegial neighborhood where it's common to run into someone while grabbing lunch, catching a cab."

Then again, why would advocates for cyberspace care so much about meeting in person anyway? Doesn't that go against the premise of their businesses?

The lobbyists say no. Just because the Web is important to their work, it doesn't mean they no longer have to live by the laws of lobbying, they say. Personal contact remains paramount on K Street, no matter what industry is involved.

Besides, some of the co-locating is largely coincidental. Google, for instance, moved nearby because it happened to find an all-glass, certified "green" building in which it could take an entire floor -- a space large enough to accommodate its rapidly expanding staff, spokesman Adam Kovacevich said. He also said it doesn't hurt to have so many tech colleagues around the corner.

Ackil and Tanielian are currently in temporary space several blocks away on I Street. They both once worked at ITI and expect someday to return to Franklin Square.

"That's home to us," Ackil said, and to the rest of the high-tech industry as well.

Powering Down

Samuel A. Simon, 62, a pioneer in the use of the Internet as a lobbying weapon, is beginning to phase out of the business.

Simon was the first person to bombard the Federal Communications Commission with e-mail lobbying pleas (circa 1990) and the first to put up an advocacy Web site (for Bell Atlantic). In his new role as chairman of Amplify Public Affairs, he foresees the day when he will be less active in the lobbying game.

"After 65, my obligation to work here is less," he said. He founded his former firm, Issue Dynamics, 22 years ago, after starting his Washington career as a lawyer working for consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

Simon's partner and Amplify's day-to-day chieftain is Robin Strongin, 48. She had worked at Polidais, a lobbying firm specializing in health care.

Helping Themselves, Too?

Out of the goodness of their hearts, no doubt, the fine folks at the Federal Communications Bar Association have decided to give a new "excellence in government service award" annually to a worthy federal employee who works in the communications field.

The winner could be someone at the Federal Communications Commission or at any other agency that deals with communications issues -- the very agencies that most of the bar group's 2,700 members are paid to influence.

Executive Director Stanley D. Zenor assures us the award is not an effort to cozy up to the bureaucrats that his members are so eager to persuade. Then again, he conceded, "Everybody in town tries to curry favor with somebody."

Hard to disagree with that.

That Was Then . . .

Two and a half years ago, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complained to the Senate ethics committee about a sale of stock in a hospital company by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Yesterday, more than a year after Frist left Congress, the activist group finally received a response: The ethics panel cannot act in part because Frist is no longer a member of Congress.

"After failing to take action while Senator Frist was in office, the Ethics Committee now notes it does not have jurisdiction over former members," said the organization's executive director, Melanie Sloan.

Think of it as Catch-23.

On the Campaign Trail

The number of registered lobbyists raising money for presidential candidates this election cycle has surpassed the total for the 2004 campaign.

The liberal advocacy group Public Citizen has counted 142 federal lobbyists bundling donations for the candidates, up a bit from 136 lobbyist fundraisers in 2004.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) leads the pack with 59 lobbyist-bundlers, almost twice as many as former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was second before he left the race last week. Among Democrats, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) has the most lobbyist fundraisers with 20.

McCain's front-runner status is also inspiring K Streeters to flock to his aid. Lobbyists Robert Fisher from Verizon and Bill Bailey from Disney are the latest to take "vacation time" to volunteer for McCain.

Hires of the Week

The public relations firm Strat@comm -- that's really the way it spells its name -- is expanding its Washington team with three new hires: Chris Bonner and Allen Hepner will become senior vice presidents, and Kathryn Stack becomes a vice president.

Bonner, 40, comes from Steve Case's Revolution Health Group. Hepner, 49, comes from Issue Dynamics. And Stack, 33, had been with Dittus Communications.

Strat@comm, which is majority owned by Fleishman-Hillard, has 45 employees in the District and 20 in Detroit.

Please send e-mail tokstreet@washpost.com.

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