As they say in Washington, "If you've got a phone -- and a half-million or so bucks -- you've got a lobbyist."

So the government of Sudan, which has been getting just dreadful press in recent years -- having your troops and their militia allies committing genocide often upsets people -- has hired a Washington lobbyist to help out.

Robert Cabelly, a former State Department hand who worked in the Bush I and Clinton administrations on African issues, and his firm have a contract worth $530,000 a year, not including transportation expenses, to represent the murderous regime.

This did not sit well with Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who has been spearheading the drive in Congress to stop the slaughter in the Darfur region. Wolf took to the House floor last week to condemn the agreement -- "Where will the lobbying wheel of fortune stop next?" he asked -- and to blast the State Department for waiving sanctions on doing business with Sudan so Cabelly could get the contract.

President Bill Clinton issued the executive order imposing the sanctions. Congress last year passed a resolution regarding genocide in Sudan, and President Bush has repeatedly labeled the actions in Darfur as genocide. The United Nations is investigating.

Wolf wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that "increasingly this town has appeared up for grabs to the highest bidder, with well-reputed lobbying shops representing the interests of some of the world's most unsavory governments." But "I would have hoped for more from the American government."

The State Department, asked about Wolf's letter, issued a response saying that "we believed that Robert Cabelly, in advising the Sudanese Government, would provide a perspective on U.S. concerns and policy that would be useful in advancing the peace process and resolving the crisis in Darfur."

But Wolf has yet to receive a response from Rice. "I would hope and expect they will reverse" the waiver, he told us, adding that "nobody would have represented the Soviet Union during the days of Ronald Reagan."

The Los Angeles Times reported in the spring that the head of Sudanese intelligence was secretly flown here in April for meetings with U.S. officials about terrorism. (Sudan, an official state sponsor of terrorism, according to the State Department, knows a lot about these things.) So the Sudanese should surely have an adequate "perspective on U.S. concerns and policy."

What part of G-E-N-O-C-I-D-E don't they get?

Floridians Know the Drill -- or Do They?

Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.) issued a press release Monday touting the startling news that "Vast Majority of Florida Public Backs Offshore Drilling." In fact, there was a 20 to 1 ratio of support for "expanding offshore energy production," Peterson said.

The release hailed "findings" by the Interior Department. "These findings serve as a clear confirmation of what we've suspected all along," Peterson said, which is that the Florida press and "too many Florida lawmakers" don't understand what people in the Sunshine State really want.

Those out-of-touch lawmakers, the entire congressional delegation -- some of whom despise each other -- appeared in full Kumbaya mode the other day to denounce any gas exploration on Florida's Outer Continental Shelf.

But wait a minute! This wasn't an actual poll of Floridians. Rather, these were comments solicited by Interior's Minerals Management Service -- not heretofore known as a polling service.

Asked about the delegation's cluelessness, one Florida GOP aide was stunned the release came out "today of all days" -- when Hurricane Wilma hit and an oil rig was floating off Dauphin Island on Alabama's Gulf Coast. "More rigs in Hurricane Alley isn't the answer," he said.

On the other hand, "digging for coal under Independence Hall," he said . . .

FEMA's Helping Hand (Cont.)

FEMA, still doing a heckuva job. Monday, with South Florida reeling from Hurricane Wilma, FEMA was offering an online alternative for those needing help. So if you happened to have power or, more likely, if you had backup power and wanted to go to FEMA's Web site and apply for help online, you were greeted with a box that said: "Step 1; Register Online." Then a big red notice: "Temporarily unavailable."

And yesterday anyone trying to register got an ominous "Bad Gateway" message, warning of an evil "upstream server."

On the Hill, Their Best Shot

Time to roll up sleeves on the Hill. The attending physician's office there says, in contrast to last year's shortage, that flu vaccine supplies appear to be adequate at the very least to cover lawmakers and staff members and other workers.

Last year, Loop Fans may recall, there was a tiff over lawmakers' not following federal guidelines that called for the limited supplies to go mainly to the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, long-term-care patients and people with chronic illnesses. (Anyone claiming to meet the guidelines, even members of the press, was inoculated, no questions asked.)

This time there may even enough for "frequent visitors," such as reporters and lobbyists.