That's Entertainment -- or Is It?

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Whatever you do, do not call the events at the upcoming presidential conventions that feature Kanye West and the band Daughtry "concerts."

They are not, according to their sponsor, the Recording Industry Association of America. They are multi-hour educational exhibitions at which the artists, well, sing, but only for a short while. They are actually large receptions filled with edifying messages from Bono's One Campaign, which fights global poverty -- a major policy initiative.

Also, please note that all this focus on policy has nothing whatsoever to do with new ethics rules that make it hard for lobbying groups such as the RIAA to entertain lawmakers and their staffs unless the get-togethers are work-related and "widely attended."

"We look forward to co-hosting with our partners at the One Campaign two of the most informative and exciting events at the conventions," said Jonathan Lamy, a senior vice president of the recording association.

He added, surely as an afterthought: "As with any event we are involved in, we make sure to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that it complies with all relevant ethics rules."

Lamy needn't have worried. In recent weeks the congressional ethics committees have issued interpretations of the rules that take most lobbying groups off the hook when it comes to limits on what they can sponsor at the conventions.

The House committee has said lawmakers can go to the good parties as long as they attend as part of a convention delegation, not as a member of Congress. Exactly how that transformation magically occurs is not spelled out.

The Senate committee has said that any event at which 25 or more other people show up is also just fine. Then again, who's counting?

As a result, it appears that almost anything goes despite the efforts last year to rein in lobbyist parties.

"Navigating these waters is like shooting the rapids, but there is a way to do it," said Kenneth A. Gross of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

"People used to think it was carnival time at the conventions," said Robert L. Walker, an ethics expert at Wiley Rein. "Now, it's arguably modified carnival time."

PR War Over a War

Not even a war can happen these days without some assistance from K Street.

Take the still-fresh conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Reporters have been bombarded with quotations from top Russian officials and briefing notes straight from the Kremlin thanks to Ketchum, the public relations firm.

Ketchum has been to working for the Russian government since 2006, when the Group of Eight summit was held in St. Petersburg. "Our role from the outset with the executive branch of the Russian Federation has been to facilitate communication between Russian government officials and international journalists on key issues affecting Russia with the primary goal to increase its openness, transparency and accessibility to the world's media," Ketchum said by e-mail.

Georgians have their own and very different PR operation. Computer hackers, presumably Russian, have blocked many Georgian Web sites, compelling a group of Georgian exiles now living in New York to set up their own pro-Georgia site.

George Shengelaia, a 46-year-old radiologist and neurosurgeon, has created with two other doctors native to that country the Georgian Daily (, which is trying to get the government's message out.

The government is paying the Georgian Daily nothing, Shengelaia said in an interview last week. "We created a Web site to inform the public what's really going on in Georgia," he said.

The trio (Shengelaia does not practice now; the other two are practicing psychiatrists) will convert their company back into the real estate development firm it once was after the market picks up and, presumably, when the violence in their country abates, Shengelaia said.

Hillarycare Redux?

Harry and Louise are making a comeback.

The iconic couple, who starred in the 1993-1994 television ads credited with defeating President Bill Clinton's health-care plan, will appear in new commercials soon.

The famous couple at the kitchen table will remind America that they are still waiting "for a better way" during commercials to air during the Democratic and Republican conventions. But this time they will not be trying to kill a proposal; they will be urging congressional action. They will plead with the new president, whoever he is, to promote an overhaul of the health-care system as his top domestic priority.

Odd bedfellows including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Hospital Association, the Catholic Health Association, Families USA and the National Federation of Independent Business (the small-business lobby) are paying for the commercials, which are being produced once again by the legendary adman-lobbyist Ben Goddard.

Goddard, by the way, is married to the actress who plays Louise ( Louise Clark).

FOLs: Friends of Lobbyists

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner (D) is running for a Senate seat and is the keynote speaker at next week's Democratic National Convention in Denver. He also has another distinction. According to Real Time Investigations, Warner has received $206,556 from lobbyists since the beginning of the year, making him the top recipient of money contributed directly by lobbyists to congressional campaigns in 2008.

Behind Warner are Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with $118,800, and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), with $112,600. Of the 20 lawmakers with the most individual donations from lobbyists, only four are House members, including Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Hire of the Week

The dominoes are falling in Washington's telecommunications world.

Steve Vest is leaving the National Cable & Telecommunications Association to become senior vice president for global public policy at Time Warner. He replaces Gail MacKinnon, who is joining Time Warner Cable as its chief government relations officer.

Veteran lobbyist Rita Lewis, currently a vice president for government relations at the cable TV lobby, will move up to senior vice president, replacing Vest.

Lewis just joined the association in January from the Washington Group, a lobbying firm.

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