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James Pasco, Fraternal Order of Police lobbyist, influences gun debate and more

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The National Rifle Association endorsed candidates in about two-thirds of congressional races in this year's midterm elections, spending over six million dollars to support candidates.
Tina Wilson-Cohen is an NRA-certified firearms instructor. The NRA says training is still a major part of its mission.

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By James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 1:30 PM

An important figure in the national gun debate is the Washington lobbyist for the nation's largest police officers union, the Fraternal Order of Police.

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James O. Pasco Jr., as national executive director for the union, worked against the nation's big-city mayors and police chiefs in 2007 when those groups launched a major campaign to reverse a decision by Congress that kept federal records about guns used in crimes from being made public.

The FOP's backing was crucial in deflecting the chiefs' criticism that the secrecy undermined crime fighting. "It was very effective," said Arkadi Gerney, special assistant to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who has crusaded for tougher gun laws.

Pasco is a product of the capital's revolving-door culture. Before joining the FOP in 1995, he was the chief legislative representative for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency that regulates the gun industry and enforces federal gun laws. People who know him describe him as a charming operator whose motives can be opaque.

"Jim knows everybody in Washington," said James Cavanaugh, a former high-ranking ATF official and a friend of Pasco's. "And he moves like a shadow through the halls of power, as if it's a little town. If you want something done in Washington, there's only one guy to call, and that's Jim."

As the national police union, the FOP primarily focuses on traditional labor issues, such as collective bargaining or Social Security and pension benefits. But the FOP has frequently weighed in on gun-related issues during Pasco's tenure.

In 2008, the FOP wrote the Justice Department questioning "ballistics microstamping," which involves a firing mechanism that puts a microscopic code on a bullet, an aid to crime-solving that would impose additional costs on the gun industry. Last year, the FOP asked the Justice Department to fund the gun industry's "Don't Lie for the Other Guy" program to teach dealers how to avoid making illegal gun sales.

In May, gun industry lobbyist Lawrence Keane gave the FOP's charitable arm $100,000 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry group representing gun manufacturers. Keane said the gift was unrelated to the FOP's positions on issues.

Pasco is more than a lobbyist for the FOP. At the same time that he has worked for the police union, he has kept a lucrative side business representing beer, cigarette and entertainment companies out of the FOP's Capitol Hill offices. His firm, Jim Pasco & Associates, has represented Philip Morris, MillerCoors Brewing Co. and Sony BMG Entertainment, according to his disclosure reports filed with Congress. The filings show that Pasco used the FOP's address and phone number and his FOP e-mail address while working for corporate interests.

"I'm allowed to have my own clients provided there is no conflict with the FOP," Pasco said.

The FOP's president, Chuck Canterbury, said Pasco can have outside clients as long as he has Canterbury's permission. Pasco has earned $4.5 million since 2000 for this private lobbying work while also working as the chief lobbyist for the FOP, his reports to Congress show.

Positions overlap

It is unusual for an in-house lobbyist for a nonprofit to have a side business representing corporate interests, according to specialists in tax law. The practice is not prohibited under the rules for fraternal organizations in the U.S. tax code, but it raises questions about possible conflicts of interest, said Roger Paul Colinvaux, a Catholic University law professor who is an expert on tax-exempt organizations.


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