Fortune magazine with the ranking of the "Power 25" lobbying groups isn't out until the issue dated Dec. 6, but thank goodness for the Internet. The report is out on the Net (www.pathfinder.com/fortune) and actually includes the top 114.

The top 10 of the Power 25 include AARP, No. 1 for the third year; the National Rifle Association and the National Federation of Independent Business, tied for second; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; the AFL-CIO; the Association of Trial Lawyers of America; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the National Right to Life Committee; the National Education Association; and the National Restaurant Association.

The rankings were based on a survey this fall by the Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies. The questionnaire was mailed to 2,773 people: every member of Congress, Hill aides, senior White House aides, lobbyists and the top-ranking officials of the largest lobbying groups in Washington. Fortune says 427 surveys, or 15 percent, were returned. The participants were asked to assess the political clout of 114 trade associations, labor unions and other special-interest groups.

Fortune reporter Jeffrey H. Birnbaum wrote that the "most surprising ascent" in the rankings was the NRA, which went from No. 4 to a tie for second. "If ever there was a time when the gun lobby should be vanquished, it is now," he wrote, noting the shooting deaths at Columbine High School, Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth and so forth. "Despite the shootings, the NRA is raising record amounts of political contributions, experiencing record growth in membership and boasting about its strongest financial position in years."

Birnbaum's report also noted that the Christian Coalition "experienced the biggest fall from grace," dropping from No. 7 to No. 35.

The Sierra Club didn't make the Power 25 but nonetheless was pleased with its No. 43 slot, reporting in a news release that the survey rated the group "as having the most political clout of any environmental lobbying group."

AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, continues to lead the pack, "a testament," AARP folks say, to the group's very active membership.

"For us the bottom line is how do our members feel," AARP federal affairs director Martin Corry said. "If they're happy, we're happy."

What the Hecht?

Tony Hodges, a small inventor from Silicon Valley, recently learned about how people are related to each other in Washington. After talking to Jim Hecht, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), about a bill that Hodges opposed that would revamp the U.S. patent system, he learned from someone else that Hecht's father, veteran lobbyist Bill Hecht, was lobbying for the very bill that his son was managing for Lott.

Hodges filed a complaint with the Senate Select Ethics Committee, contending that the son had a conflict of interest. Hodges wrote that there might be another brother "whose name I'm told may begin with a 'T' " who also lobbied for the bill as well as "yet another Hecht at the firm of Patton and Boggs [sic] who is lobbying on the bill."

Hodges wrote to the panel that he "felt betrayed by the actions of Jim Hecht . . . by not disclosing to me that his father was lobbying for the bill to which I, as an independent inventor, was opposed."

Bill Hecht and son, Timothy Hecht, are president and vice president, respectively, of Hecht, Spencer & Associates. Herbert W. Hecht II, another son, is a partner at the D.C. law and lobbying firm, Patton Boggs. Bill Hecht declined to comment or say who he was representing. Herbert Hecht did not return a call for comment.

Jim Hecht referred a call to Lott's spokesman, John Czwartacki, who said that Jim, a lawyer, earlier informed the senator's chief of staff, Dave Hoppe, that he learned, months after his assignment to handle the bill, that his father had begun to work on the legislation. After Hodges raised his concerns, Hecht went back to Hoppe and "while there was no violation of the letter or spirit of rules, the decision was made that Jim would step back to avoid even the slightest appearance of conflict," Czwartacki said.

Father never lobbied son, Czwartacki said, adding, "Anyone who knows Jim knows his ethics are beyond reproach."

In the waning hours of the session last week, Congress passed the American Inventors Protection Act as part of an unrelated satellite bill. The legislation, which got strong support from such groups as the National Association of Manufacturers, is intended to speed up the process of getting patent protection for inventions. But many small inventors opposed it, saying it would weaken the U.S. patent system and tip the balance of power in disputes toward big business.

Then There Are the Lotts

Bruce Lott, previously communications director for "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and press secretary to Sen. Lott, has moved over to Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds to handle marketing and media relations for the firm and its clients. Yes, he's from Mississippi. No, he's not related.

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