The American Cancer Society, which has been bolstering its lobbying capabilities in recent years, was looking forward to some good news on the Hill. Working with other public health groups and even with some tobacco growers, some ACS folks thought Congress might actually pass the tobacco buyout bill.

Well, Congress included the $10 billion buyout for tobacco farmers in the big corporate tax bill it passed this week but did not include a provision the public health groups wanted, to grant the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate cigarettes.

"We were extremely disappointed that Congress chose to miss an opportunity to do something important for public health," said Wendy K.D. Selig, vice president for legislative affairs at the American Cancer Society.

But the ACS isn't giving up, Selig said in an interview. Noting that she would never have believed a year ago that tobacco regulation would be an important issue in a House-Senate conference on a tax bill, Selig said, "You never know where your opportunities are going to arise. . . . We will continue to press upon whomever will listen to the imperative" to enact the legislation.

The society, which has eight in-house lobbyists, is a tax exempt nonprofit. It can do only limited lobbying and no electioneering under IRS tax rules. It formed a new advocacy group -- the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) -- last year to do that. ACS CAN has been developing voter guides and getting candidates' responses on health issues in 19 federal races, including the presidential race.

By making voters more aware about legislative health issues and putting candidates on the record, ACS folks believe they'll be able to make more headway on the Hill.

"We're trying to make people understand that cancer is a policy and political issue," said Selig, a former top aide to then-House member Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), now the CIA chief.

The group will not make endorsements, however. Said Unice Lieberman, director of communications and media advocacy: "Cancer is a bipartisan disease."

Movements on Centrist Stage

Jeff Lemieux, co-founder of Centrists.Org, a nonpartisan think tank, is leaving next week as executive director to join America's Health Insurance Plans, where he will be senior vice president and direct the insurance industry trade group's new Center for Health Policy and Research.

Kelly Buck, general manager of Centrists.Org, will be interim executive director while a permanent replacement is found.

"Over the last decade, my main passion in my career has narrowed toward one goal: universal health coverage based on competing health plans," Lemieux said in a statement.

Also at Centrists.Org, Scott Payne, an environmental scientist, will be launching the tank's Energy and Environmental Policy Project.

News From Another Matt Lauer

Matt J. Lauer, previously executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy at the State Department, has signed on with Qorvis Communications, which does PR for Saudi Arabia and other clients.

The bipartisan commission, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, was established to analyze the government's international public relations capabilities. Last year, the commission warned Congress that cultural exchanges and other similar efforts to win over Muslims were "absurdly and dangerously underfunded."

Qorvis does PR, public affairs, grass-roots and Internet-based campaigns.

Lauer earlier was senior director of media relations at America's Promise, an advocacy group for children's issues; served as communications director for the South Carolina Democratic Party; and did press for the successful Senate campaign of John Edwards (D-N.C.), now the Democratic nominee for vice president.

He has learned how popular NBC's "Today" show host Matt Lauer is.

"I get a lot of fan mail, love letters. . . . [E]everybody at NBC calls me back immediately," Matt J. said in an interview.

Changes Afoot in PR

In other Washington PR news . . . Patti Solis Doyle, previously executive director at HILLPAC/Friends of Hillary, the leadership political action committee of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), has joined the Glover Park Group as a senior vice president of the strategic communications shop. Doyle also worked in the White House as director of scheduling and advance for then-first lady Hillary Clinton.

Financial Dynamics Business Communications has signed on Christopher Colford, a Hill and Knowlton executive and speechwriter for former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt Jr.; and Bob Peirce, a political and public affairs counselor at the British Embassy in Washington who is on leave before taking up the post of British consul general in Los Angeles next year.

Hyde Park Communications has added Rob Black, previously chief spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; and Lisa Wolfe, who worked at RFBinder Partners, a member of the Ruder Finn Group.

Association Executive Goes Solo

Furthermore . . . Health care lobbyist Stephen J. Ubl has left the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), where he was executive vice president for government relations, to open his own lobby shop -- Ubl Health Solutions. Earlier, he was chief lobbyist for the Federation of American Hospitals and, even earlier, worked for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).