The Viacom Inc. takeover of CBS Corp. holds deep implications for the control of news and entertainment outlets in the nation. It also is being watched, with some nervousness, by Washington lobbyists.
These big mergers can play havoc on the Washington offices of the companies involved--who needs all those in-house lobbyists?--and could mean a parting of ways with some hired guns and more business for others.
"When you have a merger, you never know how the parties will line up. Sometimes you survive, sometimes you don't," said one Washington hand.
The current crop of Viacom and CBS lobbyists weren't talking yesterday. Viacom referred interview requests to New York and when asked about plans for a merged Washington lobbying team, Viacom executive Susan Duffy said, "It's way too premature to talk about that."
Particularly notable in Viacom's Washington office are Carol Melton, senior vice president for government affairs, and DeDe Ferrell, vice president, government affairs. Some of Viacom's outside lobbyists have included Michelle Laxalt of the Laxalt Group and daughter of former senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.); Christopher O'Neill, son of the late House speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), and partner Andrew Athy Jr.; Wiley, Rein & Fielding, the law firm of Richard Wiley, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; and Kimberly Fritts at podesta.com and a former political director for the Jeb Bush for Governor campaign in Florida.
CBS's in-house team includes Martin Franks, senior vice president and former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; John Orlando, vice president, Washington, and formerly an aide to Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.); and Gail MacKinnon, vice president, federal policy, a former Republican Hill aide. Outside lobbyists have included Wiley's firm--Susan Buck; Mimi Dawson, a former FCC commissioner; and Maria Cino, former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee--as well as podesta.com and others.
Meanwhile, Wiley joined a group of top Viacom and CBS executives yesterday on courtesy calls at the FCC yesterday. They also plan to meet with key lawmakers to discuss antitrust and regulatory issues resulting from the merger.
Texan Wants to Break Eppard Connection
While transportation lobbyist extraordinaire Ann Eppard has attracted a variety of clients in large part due to her connections to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.)--she used to be Shuster's chief of staff--at least one Texas politician is trying to get her dropped as a lobbyist.
Development Corp. of Harlingen commissioner Hector Casas, whose group helps fund the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, has been raising questions since July about whether the chamber should be paying Eppard $120,000 a year for her services. Casas has two worries. He's concerned about Eppard being under indictment in Boston on charges of corruption, and about the chamber being subpoenaed in connection with an ethics committee probe of Shuster and his dealings with Eppard, a development that was reported Monday in Roll Call.
"I understand the presumption of innocence, but one of the big problems is Ann Eppard is so intertwined with Bud Shuster there's a lot of ethical problems aside from any legal problems," Casas told The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin. "She's on her way to being a poster child for lobby reform, and Harlingen's going to be caught in the middle of it."
Casas does not appear to be winning his battle: The chamber, which originally retained Eppard in 1997 to secure an interstate designation for a highway, decided not to cut off Eppard's contract in a closed session last week. But Casas is vowing to continue his crusade.
Anne Shepard, chairwoman of the board of the Harlingen chamber, says Eppard is doing other transportation work important to Harlingen. Says Shepard: "We have been very pleased with what she has done."
Eppard did not return a telephone call for comment.
Alaska Natives Here for Future
Several hundred Alaska Natives are coming to Washington today for a national forum examining the future of the 110,000 Alaska Natives. The forum, principally sponsored by the Alaska Federation of Natives, will bring them together with Clinton Cabinet members, Alaska's congressional delegation and others.
Julie Kitka, a Chugach Eskimo and president of the federation, says the Alaska Natives want to increase national awareness of their people as the Alaskan state legislature considers how to handle the highly sensitive issue of what fishing, hunting and other rights should be afforded to Alaska Natives who live off the land. Commercial and sport fishermen say they are discriminated against when Alaska Natives get priority.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has announced that on Oct. 1 the government will take over allocation of fishing rights on federal property in Alaska unless the legislature agrees to a constitutional amendment to guarantee a subsistence priority in times of shortage. The legislature meets next week to deal with the issue.
"We hope this forum changes the political atmosphere so it can be resolved. They've ignored us because we're a minority," Kitka said.
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