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K Street Files: Frenemies Align on Reforming Earmarks

Lobbying watchdog Melanie Sloan, who runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and K Street heavyweight Rich Gold were strategizing one day about what real earmark reform would look like.

If you’re waiting for the punch line, it’s not coming. No joke, Sloan and Gold apparently were the driving forces behind a coalition of unlikely allies that announced several earmark reform proposals Tuesday.

Others behind the effort included K&L Gates lobbyist and former Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.), who served on the Appropriations Committee; Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense; and Public Citizen’s Craig Holman.

They are urging Congress to curb campaign contributions from entities seeking earmarks and to bar legislative staff from fundraising activities. They also want a new database for earmarks and random Government Accountability Office audits of earmarks.

Though some in the group would like to abolish earmarks, Walsh and Gold, who heads the public policy practice at Holland & Knight, argued that Congress should not give up the power of the purse.

“While earmarks have been abused, I believe they are a legislative tool the Congress should retain,” Walsh said during a press briefing to announce the effort.

The process, Gold said, “really is broken. The result of these reforms will really be to make the process more transparent, more clean.”

Gold added that he and his colleagues in the coalition have received positive feedback from Congressional aides.

“We’re all really confident this will get picked up and folks will run with it,” he said, though lobbyists are under no obligation to abide by the proposed reforms at this point.

Still, Walsh hinted at the potential conflicts ahead.

While interest in the effort has been “universal,” the reaction wasn’t universal, he said: Staff members’ faces lit up at the idea of a ban on attending fundraisers, while K Street colleagues looked sullen.

 

Dream a Little DREAM

The Service Employees International Union has gone in on $300,000 worth of radio ads in support of an immigration bill, the DREAM Act, which is stalled in the Senate. The union’s Spanish language spots will also be paid for by the Mi Familia Vota Civic Participation Campaign and America’s Voice and will air in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada and Texas.

Senate Democrats recently fell short in attaching the provision, which would provide a pathway to citizenship to some young illegal immigrants, to a defense reauthorization bill. The proposal is a likely candidate for consideration during a lame-duck session of Congress.

“Today, it is critical that our community understands who is on their side and what is at stake if we do not hold our elected leaders accountable in November,” SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina said in a statement announcing the radio ads. He added that last week, Republicans “made a clear choice to crush the dreams of tens of thousands of high-achieving immigrant youth.”

 

Fundraising Scrolls

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants lobbyists to help the coffers of former sportscaster Harold Johnson (R) on Wednesday at the Capitol Hill Club. Johnson is challenging freshman Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) this fall.

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