There's often nothing a client likes more than a lobbyist with some tie to a congressional leader or two. So members of the Tennessee-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell law firm are quite pleased with their growing links to new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

The latest: J. Keith Kennedy, senior public policy adviser and co-chairman of the firm's public policy group, has taken off to serve as deputy sergeant at arms of the Senate, an appointment by Frist. Kennedy earlier served as staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee under Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.).

In announcing Kennedy's departure for the Senate, the firm notes its other connections: Lee Rawls, Howard Liebengood and Martin Gold.

Rawls, a former Baker, Donelson lawyer who is now a top aide to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, is heading to the Hill at the end of the month to serve as Frist's chief of staff. He also worked for Frist from 1996 to 2000.

The connection with Frist aides Liebengood and Gold, who used to run their own lobby shop, goes through former senator, now ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who had been a partner of Baker, Donelson (the "Baker" in the firm's name is his grandfather). Liebengood was the Senate sergeant at arms when Baker was Senate majority leader and Gold was a counsel to Baker then. Liebengood is now chief of staff in Frist's personal office, and Gold is his top floor assistant.

All this possible access to the Senate leader is "helpful" to the firm, said Baker, Donelson lobbyist John Tuck. "It's a windfall. It's a very positive thing for the firm."

But Tuck says the firm is "a good bipartisan operation," noting that one of the co-chairmen of the public policy group is Linda Daschle, wife of Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) -- though she is committed to not lobbying her husband or other senators.

Reproduction Rights Group Hires Lobbyist

Concerned about what it sees as the increasing influence of the "religious right" in Washington, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is bolstering its legislative presence.

The group has hired its first in-house legislative coordinator, the Rev. Robert W. Tiller. Tiller is an ordained American Baptist minister who most recently was director of government relations for Bread for the World, an anti-hunger group, and the American Baptist Churches USA.

Marjorie Signer, spokeswoman for the coalition, said the 30-year-old group had not felt the need in recent years to duplicate other abortion-rights organizations' lobbying. The coalition in the past has brought clergy to lobby the Hill, written letters to lawmakers and on occasion used outside consultants.

"Now there is so much emphasis on religiosity . . . we need a mainstream religious voice on the Hill," Signer said.

The coalition comprises 39 member organizations from the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Reform and Conservative Judaism, and the Black Church Initiative, among others.

Two Take Off From Airline Outfit

The Air Transport Association is losing two senior people: Robert P. Warren, senior vice president and general counsel of the airline trade group, and Michael Wascom, vice president for communications.

Warren has left to run the William and Eva Fox Foundation, which supports the development of theater actors. Previously, he was an associate independent counsel in the early 1990s, involved in the investigation of corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Wascom leaves this week and starts at the American Red Cross as senior director of congressional affairs in two weeks.

Healthy Changes

On the healthcare front . . . Gordon Johnston, a former deputy director of the Office of Generic Drugs at the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, has signed on with the Generic Pharmaceutical Association as vice president of regulatory affairs. More recently, he was an associate at Lachman Consultant Services Inc.

Also, Perry Bridger, a senior analyst at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will be joining the Health Strategies Consultancy, effective May 12.

New Faces at Carmen, Direct Impact

The Carmen Group is bulking up. Gary Hoitsma, who was press secretary to Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, signs on as managing director of the transportation and infrastructure practice. Also joining the practice: Victoria Wassmer, former acting chief of the Transportation Branch of the Office of Management and Budget who was more recently with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

John Ladd, who was chief counsel of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and more recently in private practice, joins Carmen's private sector practice.

Direct Impact, a grass-roots subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, has brought on Steve Schmidt, former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Vlad Cartwright, who headed the D.C. office of the Edison Group, an Atlanta-based grass-roots firm, and earlier worked on the staff of former Rep. Butler C. Derrick Jr. (D-S.C.).