By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
One of Washington's minor traditions is to name post offices after heroes, usually recently deceased. A lot of them have been named recently for service members killed in Iraq.
But Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) has taken a new approach. He's pushing to name a post office after a prominent, very-much-alive lobbyist.
And that's not all. His legislation started moving through the House on the same day the lobbyist's employer donated $5,000 to him.
That's a tradition of a very different sort.
Smith's bill would name a San Antonio post office after Cyndi Taylor Krier, the vice president of Texas government relations for USAA, a large financial services company based in the same city. The firm knows the federal government well; its banking and insurance customers are members of the U.S. military and their families.
Krier, 57, is familiar with government as well. She's a longtime local politician and officeholder whose grandfather, grandmother and mother worked for the U.S. Postal Service. Smith says she's deserving of the honor.
The House Government Reform Committee approved the renaming on Feb. 26.
On the same day, according to Federal Election Commission records, the political action committee of USAA gave to Smith's campaign committee the most money it's allowed to contribute in a single year to a candidate, $5,000.
The House approved the legislation a week later.
But last Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee balked at approving the measure. Members heard about the post office's namesake and USAA's contributions to Smith and other lawmakers, and they started to ask questions.
Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said they had reservations about naming a post office after a living person. Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) defended the legislation, pointing out that the entire Texas congressional delegation approved of it and that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) had contacted him to encourage its acceptance. He also dismissed any concern about USAA's contributions.
Carper's own campaign committee received $1,000 last November from USAA's political action committee. A Carper spokeswoman denied that there was any connection between his comments and the donation.
Smith and USAA said the donation to Smith had nothing to do with the legislation. USAA noted that Krier is a state lobbyist, not a federal one, and does not decide which federal officeholders get donations. A Smith spokeswoman said that the congressman had not even been aware of the contribution until he was contacted by The Washington Post.
Besides, Smith surely knows what's right and wrong on these sorts of questions. In 1999 and 2000, he chaired the House's ethics committee.
Nevertheless, the bill has been returned to a Senate subcommittee for closer examination. We'll keep an eye on it, too.No Sorrows to Drown on K
Attacks on lobbyists from the presidential campaign trail have not soured the spirits of K Street. Quite the contrary.
A couple of weeks ago, the Raben Group, a fast-growing Democratic lobbying firm, held its annual celebration at the Park at Fourteenth. It drew 650 people, many of them congressional staffers, for a night of dancing and drinking.
The featured drink: the Rabentini, a sweet combination of orange vodka, orange juice, Grand Marnier and Sprite.Hires of the Week
Two lobbying firms have lured senior Democratic aides from Capitol Hill.
American Continental Group has hired Sheryl V. Cohen, the chief of staff to Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). Until January, Cohen, 41, managed Dodd's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The health-care lobbying firm Tarplin, Downs & Young has grabbed Michelle Easton, 40, the chief health staffer to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). She has been a congressional aide, on and off, since 1995. For part of 2005, she worked as a vice president for the main drug lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.