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GOP Assails Sandlin Family Ties

Clarification Appended

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s family situation is becoming a major headache for the South Dakota Democrat in her tough re-election bid, with Republicans ramping up their criticisms of her voting record — and her lobbyist husband’s extensive list of clients.

In March 2007, the lawmaker married lobbyist and ex-Rep. Max Sandlin, a Texas Democrat who lost his seat to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) in 2004. Since his defeat, Sandlin has been a registered lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig and the International Government Relations Group, which now goes by the name Mercury Public Affairs.

According to Senate lobbying records, the former Member represents a number of big-name clients, including Peabody Energy, Air Canada, Advance Auto Parts, the National Association of Broadcasters and Vanguard Health Systems — companies with substantial legislative interests during the 111th Congress.

Max Sandlin did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Herseth Sandlin’s campaign also declined to discuss the matter in detail, offering only this statement from campaign spokeswoman Betsy Hart in an e-mail: “It is the policy of Representative Herseth Sandlin that no member of her family may lobby her or any member of her staff.”

The Congresswoman’s policy appears to be in line with House ethics rules, said Ken Gross, a lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. After a wave of negative press, Democratic leaders in both chambers adopted new — but separate — guidelines in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, a proposal that attempted to curb the perceived cozy relationship both parties had with for-profit interests.

As the lawmakers first considered the proposal more than three years ago, ethics watchdog Public Citizen distributed a memo showing 42 Members with relatives that were serving as go-betweens for the business community and the legislative process. The list included past and present Congressional leaders Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as well as Reps. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Signed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 14, 2007, the ethics law beefed up disclosure requirements, instituted new gift bans and imposed mandatory “cooling off” periods for Members making the switch to lobbying after leaving office.

The law also included chamber-specific restrictions on the lobbying activities of Members’ relatives. In the House, registered lobbyists married to Members are barred from “making any lobbying contact” with their spouses or their spouses’ staffers. The Senate enacted far more stringent guidelines, barring all immediate family members, including spouses, from lobbying the chamber, according to a Senate Ethics panel lawyer. The Senate restrictions, which also include some exceptions, were an apparent variation of the “Daschle Rule,” named for the voluntary ban adopted years before by former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) and his wife, Linda, a registered lobbyist.

Linda Daschle’s work became a minor theme in her husband’s ill-fated 2004 race with now-Sen. John Thune (R). Less than a month before that election, Thune’s campaign placed a full-page advertisement in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader criticizing a lobbying contract that Linda Daschle’s employer had with the drugmaker Schering-Plough.

“Only one candidate has personally profited from big drug companies,” the Thune campaign ad said. “That candidate is Tom Daschle.”

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