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In a Harsh Climate for Lobbyists, the Forecast Calls for . . . More Lobbyists

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To hear the presidential candidates talk, you'd think that lobbyists were about to be exiled from the capital city.

Republican John McCain has dumped anyone who lobbies from his campaign staff, and on the hustings he lambastes "corruption" in Washington. Democrat Barack Obama is even more outspoken. He doesn't accept donations from federal lobbyists and frequently hammers them in his speeches.

But K Street's response is not to flee in fear. Instead, it's getting ready for one of its busiest periods ever.

Attacks from the presidential wannabes and the likelihood that Congress will become even more Democratic -- read: more activist -- means that many corporate interests will face increased danger next year and will have to employ more of the people whose job is to protect them -- lobbyists.

"Next year will seem like 10 years," predicted Richard H. Baker, president of the Managed Funds Association and a former Republican congressman from Louisiana. In anticipation, his group, which lobbies for hedge funds, has more than doubled the number of lobbying firms it normally hires.

"It's going to be a very, very busy year; we might as well brace ourselves for it," agreed Daniel A. Mica, president of the Credit Union National Association, the lobby for credit unions, and a former Democratic congressman from Florida. He's asking his state affiliates to boost their budgets so they can bring more people to Washington to press for their causes.

"It doesn't matter which one is president -- there is going to be a tremendous need for lobbying," Mica said.

Health care will probably be an early focus, especially if Obama wins. America's Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance lobby, has been working for two years to get ready. Its newest weapon: a network of what it hopes will be 100,000 people who are willing to contact their lawmakers to defend private insurers.

The National Federation of Independent Business, the small-business lobby, is also concentrating on health care. Expecting a major push on the issue next year, it's spending substantial sums to collect as many as 500,000 names on an Internet petition at http://www.fixedforamerica.com. Those who sign up will be called on to ask Congress for changes in health-care policy that benefit small-business owners.

"There's a lot of talk about change in this election; you have to get ready," explained Dan Danner, NFIB executive vice president. "We anticipate a much, much greater level of activity than we've had in the last few years."

Lobbying's guns-for-hire also foresee a gold rush in their billings. One reason, they say, is that Congress has been stalemated for so long on topics including taxation, energy prices and climate change that a flood of legislation probably will come tumbling out under a new president.

"There's going to be a whole lot more activity for people who do what we do," said Jack Quinn of the lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates. That's "a perverse irony," added Nicholas W. Allard of Patton Boggs, given the candidates' anti-lobbyist views.

Two More Buses

The buses keep rolling in lobby land. Consumers Union has a large vehicle, actually an RV, roaming through the lower 48 states collecting stories about health care.

The Cover America Tour is videotaping Americans with complaints about their medical experiences to bring to life what it calls "our broken health-care system."

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has a bus in the lower 48 as well.

It's Party Time!

The nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation reports that at least 370 parties are scheduled during the presidential nominating conventions -- shindigs sponsored by such high-profile companies as Bank of America, Eli Lilly, AT&T and Anheuser-Busch.

The watchdog group said the Democratic conclave in Denver will feature a late-night party at the Loft sponsored by USTelecom, among others, and a luncheon organized by financial services companies. The Republicans in Minneapolis-St. Paul will sport a reception co-sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters and hospitality suites courtesy of Honeywell and Citigroup, among others.

But not every lobbying event will be frivolous. Seeking positive publicity, the Credit Union National Association will give away a house at each convention to the family of a disabled military veteran.

Hires of the Week

The Cohen Group is beefing up its military might. The international consultancy has hired retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Yakovac Jr., 59, a former military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, and Daniel P. Fata, 36, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO affairs.

Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, is also adding high-level staffers in Washington. Kenneth M. Connolly, 44, has joined from ML Strategies to lobby on energy and environmental issues, and Todd M. Malan, 41, longtime president of the Organization for International Investment, the lobby for foreign-based companies with U.S. subsidiaries, will handle international issues.

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