By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Rep. Albert R. Wynn is the new envy of K Street.
The eight-term Democrat shocked the Washington establishment last week by announcing that he will quit Congress early to become a partner in a major lobbying law firm, Dickstein Shapiro. And in a rare twist, Wynn said he will keep his current job -- representing Maryland's 4th Congressional District -- for two or even three months before taking the new gig. What a deal!
Lobbyists would kill for that kind of access. Many of them spend their whole lives wishing they could do what Wynn will be able to do with impunity: March onto the House floor and shoot the breeze with senior lawmakers; participate in otherwise secret meetings of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Wynn is a high-ranking member; and cut deals with fellow congressmen on issues they care most about.
"Sounds like a good deal for Wynn," said Stephanie E. Silverman, principal in the lobbying firm Venn Strategies. "It's a Wynn-win."
Wynn is not alone among lawmakers to defect before the end of their terms to join the law and lobbying scene. In fact, it's been something of a trend in recent years. Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) left to take over the drug lobby, better known as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Another Louisiana Republican, Richard H. Baker, left the House this year to head the mutual fund lobby. And the Senate's former GOP leader, Trent Lott (Miss.), quit late last year and quickly joined forces with former senator John Breaux (D-La.) and their sons.
But when these others left, they left. They didn't stick around for months to haunt Congress's inner sanctums. That's what makes Wynn's decision unusual -- and makes lobbyists drool.
"He can be a hero to the clients of Dickstein Shapiro," said James A. Thurber, a lobbying expert at American University. "They can call him easily and say, 'You know, we have a client interested in that [congressional] white paper on greenhouse gas emissions. Could we come in and talk to you?' " Wynn, who declined to be interviewed for this column, plans to begin work for Dickstein Shapiro in June. In the meantime, he could recuse himself from casting votes on issues that concern the firm's clients, and there are an awful lot of those. Dickstein has lobbying clients in industries as wide-ranging as tobacco, entertainment, chemicals, energy and software. It also represents a labor union, the Teamsters.
L . Andrew Zausner of Dickstein Shapiro said, "We are highly confident that [Wynn] will conduct himself in the interim with the highest personal and political integrity."
But Jan W. Baran, an ethics expert with the law firm Wiley Rein, believes the House's ethics committee "might advise him to stop voting altogether, which would leave his constituents without a vote in Congress."
Good-government groups have started to huff and puff about potential conflicts of interest. "He's supposed to be representing the interests of his district," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Instead, he has reason to curry favor with Dickstein and its clients, which will soon be paying him."
Republicans are also raising concerns. "This is another example of the Democratic majority's disturbing unwillingness to live up to the ethical standards they campaigned on," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio). Other spoilsports, including Thurber, have called for Wynn to resign immediately, at least from the commerce committee. "The Wynn thing is a scandal waiting to happen," he said.
But that's not K Street's worry. Heavy-duty lobbyists are more than pleased with the way things stand. They're happy to have a man on the inside.Don't Blame SAIC
The latest broadside against legislation that would put the brakes on climate change is an "independent study" conducted by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a leading science adviser to the federal government.
The study, released last month, found that the legislation, co-authored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.), would produce hundreds of billions of dollars of losses in the gross domestic product and substantial increases in electricity and gasoline prices.
On closer examination, footnote No. 5 of the study says that SAIC does not endorse a word of the document. According to the footnote, the study's inputs came from the groups that paid for the report -- the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), which have an interest in the results coming out that way. SAIC used its computer model on the data, but that was the extent of its involvement.
"SAIC is a policy-neutral, non-advocacy organization," the footnote states. "Analysis provided in this report is based on the output from the . . . model as a result of the ACCF/NAM input assumptions. The input assumptions, opinions and recommendations in this report are those of ACCF and NAM, and do not necessarily represent the views of SAIC."
Margo Thorning of the ACCF accepts that view but asserts that the study is not undermined.
The new ethics law, signed by President Bush last year, requires lobbyists to file more forms with various federal entities. Lobbyists also face stricter penalties, some of them criminal, if those forms are less than accurate.
Sound like a problem? Sure. But that's where private enterprise steps in.
Roseanna Haley, longtime document guru for Van Scoyoc Associates, has gone out on her own and started Capitol Filings. She is selling her services to help lobbyists file their now-quarterly reports about each client (twice as often as the old law required) as well as new, twice-annual reports about their campaign-related donations.
"We wish her well in this new venture," said H. Stewart " Stu " Van Scoyoc, president of Van Scoyoc Associates. "We expect to be her first and most loyal client."Hire of the Week
The White House's former top lobbyist, Candida P. " Candi " Wolff, is joining the lobbying department of the law firm Hogan & Hartson.
Wolff, 43, headed President Bush's lobbying effort starting in 2005 and left three months ago to spend more time with her two young children. She said she has been helping with homework and field trips, two things she couldn't do while she held the city's most demanding lobbying job.
But now, she said, "I'm ready" to go back to the grind. She starts today as a partner.
And late-breaking news . . . The new head of Altria Client Services' D.C. office is Bruce A. Gates of Washington Council Ernst & Young.