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A House Seat Won, a House Lost, and a House Leader Divided

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Every once in a while, events move fast in the nation's capital.

Last week, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, through a spokeswoman, said it might be a good idea for the ethics committee to look into some financial missteps by Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) that have been highlighted in the press.

This week -- tomorrow, in fact -- Hoyer is scheduled to host a fundraising reception for Richardson to help pay her campaign's substantial debt.

Whoa!

Richardson was elected to the House last August in a special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald.

Subsequently, Richardson lost her Sacramento home to foreclosure after failing to make payments. She also reportedly owed Sacramento County about $9,000 in property taxes and defaulted on loans six times on two other California homes.

On top of that, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Richardson failed to pay an auto mechanic for hundreds of dollars' worth of car repairs and then abandoned the car at another body shop.

None of this was detailed -- as some of it probably should have been, according to critics -- on Richardson's legally mandated financial disclosure forms.

The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) dubbed Richardson a "deadbeat congresswoman" and filed a complaint. Both Hoyer and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that Richardson's woes might merit an ethics inquiry.

"Mr. Hoyer has always said the ethics committee should look at anything that's raised in the public sphere," Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen Bernards said last week. "That gives people the confidence that the House is policing itself."

But Hoyer's policy didn't deter him from going ahead with the fundraiser to help his beleaguered colleague pay off the $330,000 she owed as of last month. The event is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 tomorrow evening, in rented space at a private residence on Capitol Hill.

Hoyer's invitation seeks contributions of between $1,000 and $5,000 from political action committees, which are pools of money filled by individuals and used by corporations, industries and labor unions to donate to the coffers of lawmakers they wish to assist.

Probably a lot of PACs will pay up. Pleasing the House's majority leader is something political action committees are usually eager to do.

But help for Richardson?

CREW's executive director, Melanie Sloan, thinks Hoyer's effort takes him in the wrong direction. "I'd prefer to see a member file an ethics complaint against Richardson rather than help retire her campaign debt," Sloan said in an e-mail.

Richardson's office did not return a telephone call seeking comment. Hoyer is not deterred and defends his decision to help Richardson. "There is no allegation of wrongdoing," Bernards said. "Mr. Hoyer feels comfortable supporting Representative Richardson as a fellow House Democrat."

Moving On

Harry A. Sporidis is a happy man. After a months-long battle with his former employer, Omnicom Group, Sporidis last week finally settled a lawsuit that had rocked him and the lobbying world.

Late last year, the Washington Group, a lobbying subsidiary of Omnicom, sued Sporidis, one of its senior vice presidents, for stealing away corporate clients when he jumped to another firm. The plaintiff sought more than half a million dollars in damages.

At the time, experts expressed astonishment that the dispute had gone to court at all. Lobbying is a very personal business. Clients tend to stick with their lobbyists like glue. When lobbyists move, one of their calling cards is almost always the "book of business" they can bring with them to the new job.

But Omnicom, an international advertising firm, tried to stop Sporidis from taking his clients with him. Apparently, it failed.

Omnicom declined to comment, and the settlement's terms are confidential. But Sporidis, in a statement, said: "I am pleased with how this matter concluded and that conclusion . . . only confirm[s] my position throughout this entire process. I am excited about moving on with my clients and having a long career in a profession that I truly enjoy."

Sporidis now works as a lobbyist at the law firm Powell Goldstein.

Banks vs. Retailers

For three years now, retailers have pushed hard to persuade the federal government to force credit card companies to reduce the fees they charge merchants. The card companies, in return, have accused the merchants of seeking price controls.

The issue is finally about to come to a head at the House Judiciary Committee, probably in the next few weeks, and both sides have been pulling out all the stops.

Last week, major financial institutions including Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, MasterCard and Visa brought 20 of their top executives into town. They visited 35 lawmakers' offices last Thursday. About 50 congressional staffers also sat through a seminar by the Financial Services Roundtable last Tuesday.

The Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocers that oppose the banks and card companies, held its own "fly-in" in April (its second this year) -- along with the National Grocers Association. More than 100 of the groups' members met with 150 members of Congress. The institute also briefed 19 members of the House Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats at a breakfast that month.

"This fight is huge," said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs at the Roundtable. "This is a lifeblood issue for both sides."

Hire of the Week

The former editor and publisher of Campaigns & Elections magazine has been hired to head the polling division of Qorvis Communications.

Ronald A. Faucheux, 57, has been named president of Clarus Research Group, the PR firm's newly expanded research arm. Its clients will be corporations, associations and the like, not candidates for office.

In addition to his new job at Qorvis, Faucheux will continue to teach at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University and at the Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University. He previously worked as chief of staff to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and headed government affairs for the American Institute of Architects.

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