On Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, after more than a month of silence, Fidel Castro made his first public comments about the news that the U.S. and his island nation will restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostility. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

A new advocacy group lobbying for U.S.-Cuba normalization is applauding the reopening of embassies in the United States and Cuba, a move announced by President Obama this morning.

Engage Cuba, which formally launched last month, is led by political consultant James Williams and includes 15 major companies, trade associations and other groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, Consumer Electronics Association and Choice Hotels.

“We applaud this important step in bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together, and urge Congress to hasten the day when American travelers and companies have the freedom to engage with one of our nearest neighbors,” said Williams, who plans to travel to Havana on Thursday to visit the embassy.

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Engage Cuba has already recruited some major bipartisan players in lobbying circles: in addition to Williams, its senior advisers include Steven Law (president of American Crossroads GPS and former chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnell, as well as ex-executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee) and Luke Albee (a Democratic lobbyist and former chief of staff to Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.)). And it recently hired GOP lobbyists Billy Piper and Kirsten Chadwick of the Republican lobby firm Fierce Government Relations.

Comings and goings

The American Bankers Association has hired Andy Guggenheim, who was counsel for the House Small Business Committee under Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), as senior counsel.

Erik Jones, former investigative counsel in the Senate and House who most recently served in the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), has joined the law firm Venable. He is the head of Venable’s congressional investigations practice and will work with the firm’s state attorney general and e-commerce, privacy and data security groups.

Allison Wielobob has joined the law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan from the Department of Labor, where she was a senior employee benefits law specialist.


Victory for lobbyists in tribal reforms: Lobbyists are celebrating new rules announced by the Obama administration Monday that change the process by which the government recognizes Native American tribes, The Hill reports. A previous draft of the rules, issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was criticized for making it too easy to obtain tribal status by requiring tribes to prove their history dating back to just 1934 instead of 1900, and by allowing tribes that were previously denied recognition to apply again.

From the story: “In the weeks before the rules became final, advocates made a last-ditch push for alterations, meeting with White House and Interior Department officials to press their concerns. Top aides to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a Connecticut business group, lobbyists for a California Indian tribe and commercial gaming interests all huddled in the last month with officials tasked with reviewing BIA’s final rule.

Following the money

Former senator Russ Feingold‘s Russ for Wisconsin is hosting a reception this evening in Madison, Wis. (Contribution information: $1,000/$500/$250/$100).

New lobbying contracts

Corning Inc. has hired Wiley Rein to lobby on net neutrality issues.

Internet domain name registry Donuts has hired Dutko Worldwide to lobby on domain name and Internet governance policy.

Marcus Food Co. has hired K&L Gates to lobby on Senate bill to authorize appropriations for the Coast Guard for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

Crown Consulting Inc. has hired Gephardt Group to lobby on FAA reauthorization and transportation appropriations.

New lobbying terminations

NoChokePoints Coalition has ended its contract with Northfork Strategies.

Columbia College of Missouri has ended its contract with McAllister & Guinn.