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K Street Files: Tea for $280K

A grass-roots “tea party” group has spent more than $280,000 on an advertising campaign this year bashing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and other Democrats, according to campaign finance records. The group’s disclosure forms offer a glimpse into the political future of the upstart populist conservative movement. Through its political action committee, Tea Party Express raised more than $550,000 in 2009 and may soon begin donating to campaigns.

Mark Williams, a radio personality who runs the organization, said his group traces its beginnings to six years ago, when it helped build momentum for the ouster of ex-Gov. Gray Davis (D-Calif.). In recent months, Tea Party Express helped organize the March on Washington with former House Minority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and is considering getting more directly involved in supporting candidates.

“There’s always the possibility that we will do campaign contributions if we find people who are in line with what we think,” Williams said. “This is so grass roots that no one knows where it’s going and how exactly we’re going to get there.”

‘Dr. Evil’ Takes On Health Care. A group run by sharp-edged lobbyist and public relations maven Richard Berman plans to saturate the airwaves in six states starting today with television ads warning about the high cost of proposed health care reforms.

The spots are part of a $10 million campaign spearheaded by the Employment Policies Institute, which is financed by Berman’s business clients.

The ads will be airing in Nebraska, North Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Connecticut and Maine. Many of the Senators from those states will be critical swing votes when the chamber takes up the health care legislation, as soon as this week.

Berman, whose clients have included restaurants and other business interests, has set up a variety of nonprofits over the years, including the EPI, to press various causes.

Over the years, Berman has gained a reputation as an aggressive player in Washington, D.C., who has provoked the wrath of consumer groups and organized labor. A union leader once dubbed him “Dr. Evil.”

Berman said the health care advertising campaign is funded by a number of his clients, whom he declined to name.

“These are people we do business with and have an interest in the issue,” he said.

Berman indicated health care was a major issue for his group, which also underwrote a multimillion-dollar effort opposing the union-backed “card check” proposal in Congress.

“We’re putting some serious money behind it,” said Berman, executive director for the EPI.

The health care ad campaign will run about eight to 10 weeks, he added.

“Then we will see where we are,” he said. “Our goal is to educate people as to how this is playing out. It is so big most people don’t understand it. We hope to be able to bring some clarity to it.”

The ads feature June O’Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office from 1995 to 1999, who speaks about the debt crisis facing the country.

“Many of the plans to reform heath care will make this crisis worse,” she says in the commercial, which is airing nationally on Fox News, CNBC and CNN.

Road Rage. The U.S. PIRG’s Education Fund has released a new report suggesting that large campaign contributions are skewing how transportation projects are funded.

The report notes that of the federal funding for transportation earmarks in fiscal 2008 only about 10 percent was allocated for much-needed highway and bridge repairs. Instead, the vast majority of the $570 million in transportation earmarks was steered to new highway projects, which are the ones sought by developers and road builders.

“Unfortunately, bridge repair projects are not thought of as very glamorous or newsworthy by local elected officials, business groups and other people that influence congressional earmarks,” Mark Stout, a former New Jersey Department of Transportation official, wrote in the report.

It notes that the construction and transportation industry contributed $80.4 million to federal candidates in the 2008 election cycle, with 53 percent going to Republicans and 47 percent to Democrats.

The report focused only on overall campaign giving and total earmarks, and did not draw links between specific projects and contributions from individual developers. The authors argued that Congress shortchanged bridge repair despite the public outcry over the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people in August 2007.

K Street Moves. Archibald Galloway, a one-time military legislative aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), has set up shop at Potomac Advocates as a partner. Galloway, who focuses on defense clients, also represents the Boeing Co. and Computer Sciences Corp. through the Foxtail Group. “I have a great passion for military and defense,” said Galloway, who previously was with the firm King & Spalding.

• Tad Segal and Joe Clayton, both formerly with Widmeyer Communications, have launched Outreach Strategies, a firm focused on advocacy communications and media relations. Clients include the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

• Adam Geller, CEO of the Republican polling firm National Research Inc., has joined the lobby shop of Clark Lytle & Geduldig as an associate partner. Geller most recently served as the pollster for the New Jersey gubernatorial campaign of Gov.-elect Chris Christie (R). Geller’s corporate clients have included Walmart, Liberty Natural Gas and Boyd Gaming Corp.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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