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Former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) was a major buzz kill when he was in Congress.
Termed “the worst drug warrior” on Capitol Hill by the Libertarian Party, he led the charge among conservative Republicans against the drug legalization movement.
Advocates for medical marijuana once blocked the door to his Congressional office in protest, and when he lost a primary race in 2001, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project called it “glorious news.”
So you might think you’ve smoked something to hear the latest: Barr just signed up to work for the marijuana lobby.
“You reach the point where you realize the federal government has become so big and so intrusive that it really forces you to take a look at a range of issues in a new light,” Barr said in an interview.
As of this month, Barr has signed a contract to lobby for the Marijuana Policy Project. That’s the same group that once sued the government over the “Barr Amendment,” a law that forbids D.C. residents from legalizing pot for medicinal purposes. Now, Barr said, he may be working to overturn it.
The turn is the latest in Barr’s dramatic political evolution since leaving Congress. In the wake of disagreements with the GOP over privacy and spending issues, he quit the party and officially became a Libertarian in 2006. He has since built a platform as a political commentator, ringing the alarm about what he calls the “curtailment of personal liberties,” and he founded an Atlanta-based lobbying and consulting firm called Liberty Strategies.
Nobody seems more surprised about the new arrangement than the folks at the project. Aaron Houston, the group’s top lobbyist, said Joe Seehusen, a former Libertarian Party director who once worked at the group, made the introduction. “He said, ‘I’ve got a friend you should talk to, and you won’t believe who it is,’” Houston said. “Obviously we’re happy to have him with us, and we hope he’ll set an example for some of his conservative colleagues.”
So far, Barr is working with the group to pare back spending on an anti-drug advertising campaign he said “is not a wise use of federal money,” and to forbid federal agents from conducting raids to enforce state drug laws.
Barr said he has only conducted a few Hill visits so far, but “the couple Members I’ve spoken with have actually been very supportive.”
Valenti Suffers Stroke. Jack Valenti, the legendary Washington, D.C., figure and longtime chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, suffered a stroke last week, his family announced on Tuesday.
A longtime Valenti friend, Barry Meyer, who is chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., released a statement on behalf of Valenti’s family saying the 85-year-old is hospitalized at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and “his family tells me that the doctors are encouraged by his progress to date.” His wife “Mary Margaret and his children have asked me to express their deep appreciation of the outpouring of love, support and prayers,” Meyer added in the statement. “Out of respect for Jack and the family’s privacy, we are not going to release any additional information at this time.”
Valenti stepped down as head of the MPAA in 2004 after nearly 40 years with the organization. But Valenti has not taken a low-key approach even in retirement. He still works out of an office at MPAA’s D.C. outpost in a building that was named for him in 2005.
In 2006, he helped a coalition of industry players launch a high-profile effort aimed at keeping Congress from passing new indecency laws, saying that parents have all the controls they need to keep children from watching inappropriate programming.
According to the MPAA, Valenti also serves as president of the Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is affiliated with The Global Fund created by the G-8 countries.
The Means of Bipartisanship. Last week, before heading to an off-the-record meeting with the CEO members of the Business Roundtable, Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) decided to ask a date along. Well, sort of.
The chairman of the committee that is perhaps the most important to business interests asked ranking member Jim McCrery (R-La.) to join him, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
“In the spirit of bipartisanship, [Rangel] asked Congressman McCrery to join him,” said one source. “It was taken as a powerful sign by the business community of bipartisanship at the committee.”
A lobbyist familiar with the meeting said that it signals “a new day” at Ways and Means, which under the chairmanship of then-Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) was viewed as incredibly partisan.
The Business Roundtable, which represents the CEOs of top corporations, declined comment, saying that all such meetings are off the record.
A Democratic Ways and Means spokesman said that Rangel did ask McCrery along and said the move was consistent with Rangel’s bipartisan approach — including the development on Tuesday that Rangel has proposed Democratic ideas to move pending trade agreements forward.
Spelling Bee. It’s a good thing BKSH & Associates registered to lobby for the Public Private Partnership Coalition on trade and budget issues and not spelling. A recent electronically filed lobbying registration for the education coalition listed the group as an “educaiton advocacy” enterprise. Oops.
K Street Moves. Covington & Burling has added Holly Fechner, most recently policy director to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), to its team of lobbyists. While on the Hill, she worked on such issues as retirement security, health care, education and labor.
• Patricia McDermott, a counsel to the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation, has left to join the law and lobbying firm Venable as a partner. She will advise clients on employee benefits matters, executive compensation, payroll taxes and retirement savings.
• Jim Schweiter has joined McKenna Long & Aldridge as a member of its government contracts practice in Washington, D.C.
Bree Hocking contributed to this report.