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K Street Files: Earmark This

Two years ago, Congress passed stringent new ethics rules in an attempt to make a brighter line between K Street and Capitol Hill.

While lobbyists have certainly gotten used to the era of toothpicks at receptions, at least one committee is going further than the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.

The Republican members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have instituted a new rule this year — any lobbyists wanting to meet with staff about a Member- sponsored project or earmark must be accompanied by the Member or a staffer from the Member’s personal office.

“We wanted to be as transparent as we could possibly be,” said Jim Coon, Republican chief of staff for the committee.

“Basically what we wanted to ensure when we are considering certain project decisions [is] they actually had a Member requesting it and not a lobbyist,” he added.

While the Democrats don’t have a hard and fast rule on meeting with lobbyists, Transportation Committee spokesman Jim Berard said “in practice, it’s the same.”

“Usually we work with the Member when it comes to a Member [sponsored] project,” Berard said. “It’s not a hard and fast rule, but there’s seldom a meeting with a lobbyist on a Member’s project, and when there is, it is usually with the Member or with a staffer from the Member’s office.”

Counsel to AIG. Insurance giant American International Group may have given up its Washington, D.C., lobbyists, but that doesn’t mean the company has axed all of its outside consultants.

AIG, which is trying to get the go sign from the Obama administration to dole out about $2.5 million in bonuses, still has Patton Boggs on retainer.

AIG drew criticism from members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this spring when lobbyists from Patton Boggs sat behind AIG CEO Edward Liddy during his testimony before the investigative committee.

Patton Boggs is not registered to lobby for AIG.

“We are providing legal counsel to AIG,” Mitchell Berger, co-chairman of Patton Boggs’ litigation department, said in a statement.

The insurance giant, which used to be one of the most prolific corporate spenders on lobbying, spent $1.25 million during the first quarter of 2009,

according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports.

The money was not used to influence legislation though, according to the report. Instead, it was earmarked for “provid[ing] information about AIG to federal officials in connection with government efforts to address instability and liquidity issues in the financial markets and congressional oversight of federal programs including the Troubled Assets Relief Program,” according to a Senate lobbying disclosure report.

The insurance firm has not yet filed a lobbying termination. AIG spokeswoman Christina Pretto said the company has “ceased federal lobbying.” It does continue to lobby at the state level.

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