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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.

At least one of AIG’s former lobbyists has landed on his feet. Rich Merski, who was a senior member of AIG’s lobbying operation, is now at Zurich North America.

Replogle Exits Hill. Stephen Replogle, Sen. John Thune’s (R-S.D.) coalitions director since January, is joining Wal-Mart.

Replogle, who held similar positions under Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), isn’t a novice to K Street.

Prior to joining Kyl’s office in 2007, Replogle worked at DCI Group. He also did legislative affairs work for the Commerce Department during the Bush administration.

Replogle will be a director of government affairs for the retail giant.

Bottoms Up. The soft drink trade group American Beverage Association has launched a new coalition to fend off proposals to pay for health care reform by taxing sugary sodas. Called Americans Against Food Taxes, the coalition’s 110 members include the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Supermarket Association, National Restaurant Association, National Association of Convenience Stores and the Corn Refiners Association.

American Beverage Association spokesman Kevin Keane said that until now the groups had relied primarily on speaking directly with Members and staff. “We are now at a crucial time in the legislative process, and we want to make sure our message is heard loud and clear,” Keane said, noting that the coalition is starting an ad campaign this week (including ads in Roll Call).

Lobby 911. Two California emergency physicians made the rounds on Capitol Hill late last week in an attempt to bring back to life the expired Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

The act, passed in 2004 but expired as of January 2009, required hospitals that participate with Medicare to provide emergency room care to undocumented immigrants and provided $250 million a year to reimburse hospitals.

But with broader health care reform taking center stage and immigration reform being as dicey as ever, the doctors said they were facing a tough time.

“All the oxygen has been sucked up by broader health care reform, climate change legislation, the stimulus package,” said Rodney Borger, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in San Bernardino, Calif.

Borger and David Englander of the Riverside County Regional Medical Center met with the staffs of Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), as well as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“We’re looking for a Democratic champion on the Senate Finance Committee,” Borger said.

The doctors said no health care reform proposals currently deal with the costs of treating undocumented immigrants.

“People seem to be reluctant to put anything in the bill that deals with immigration,” Englander said.

But the doctors said the idea drew broad bipartisan support in the past, even among those who have concerns about mixing the politics of immigration with health care reform.

“There isn’t a person who would say you should check a person’s immigration status before treating someone who was in a car accident,” Englander said.

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