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K Street Files: Lobbying Help Wanted at Toyota

All those soon-to-be out-of-work Democratic lawmakers may want to rethink their criticism of Toyota Motor Corp., which took a beating this year on Capitol Hill during hearings into automobile defects.

That’s because the Japanese auto manufacturer may be looking to fill an opening for its chief lobbyist. The spot has been vacant since Oct. 1, when Josephine Cooper left to start her own firm. Cooper, who had been with the company for seven years, helped her bosses navigate the Congressional grillings.

The company has been coy about what it intends to do with Cooper’s old job, which was group vice president for public policy and government/industry affairs.

Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss would not say what the deadline was for filling the position or if a search firm had been hired. But she said the government affairs operations were not being ignored.

“There are plenty of people still in place,” she said.

Dian Ogilvie, senior vice president for Toyota North America, is overseeing the Washington office on an interim basis, according to a Toyota news release. In the first three quarters of this year, Toyota spent $3.6 million on federal lobbying.

The Ways to a Means

The new firm of a former top staffer for incoming Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) reeled in its first clients last week, a little more than a month after opening its doors Oct. 1.

According to Senate lobbying records, the upstart Blue Stone Strategies signed up America’s Health Insurance Plans and CareCore National on Monday. The new firm is run by Behrends Foster, a former AHIP lobbyist and Camp staffer, and Chris Long, a one-time aide to former Rep. Buddy Darden (D-Ga.) and a former lobbyist at Associated General Contractors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Bockorny Group.

In an interview, Foster said the timing of his new venture was “incidental” to the recent election results, which are expected to put his old boss in charge of one of Congress’ toniest committees. Still, Foster said he’s looking to expand his young firm quickly and bring on more tax and trade work.

“When I started discussing this with folks, there were only 178 Republicans in the House. It’s not that I saw, six, seven, eight months ago that I saw there was going to be a 60- to 65-seat swing,” Foster told K Street Files last week. “I’d like to say I foresaw this, but I didn’t really.”

Paying the Bills

Just when you thought it was safe to put your checkbook away, debt-retirement season has arrived again. On Thursday, National Republican Congressional Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and likely Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) are hosting an event for Rep.-elect Francisco “Quico” Canseco, who beat six-term Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) on Nov. 2.

The Texas Republican’s victory left his campaign more than $1.1 million in the hole, Federal Election Commission records show, and the new House GOP leadership is already busy helping him and others in the coming weeks pass the cup to help pay down their debt. The $1,000-per-person event benefiting Canseco’s campaign will be held at the Capitol Hill Club.

Midterm Influence

Chamber Watch, a union-backed, nonprofit organization released an analysis Friday of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s political spending on the 2010 midterm elections.

Chamber Watch is a new group funded by Change to Win, a labor federation that counts Service Employees International Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters among its members.

In its findings, the organization said the chamber “played a central strategic role in a coordinated effort to elect Republicans in this fall’s elections.” It is not surprising considering that the business community for the most part opposed measures in the 111th Congress such as the cap-and-trade and health care bills.

A surprising aspect of the group’s study is how much money the chamber spent — relative to its overall $75 million political budget, of course — on Democratic incumbents who were serious underdogs going into Election Day: Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Jim Marshall (Ga.), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Travis Childers (Miss.) and Glenn Nye (Va.). The chamber spent nearly $2 million helping House Democratic incumbents ahead of Nov. 2, including almost $440,000 on Kratovil, $390,000 on Marshall and about $80,000 on Nye.

“While the U.S. Chamber played for keeps when it came to attacking Democratic incumbents on behalf of Republican candidates, when it came to supporting Democrats, the Chamber appears to have acted more for appearances than out of any real support for the candidates,” the Chamber Watch report said. “In general, where the Chamber supported a Democrat, it ran ads in favor of that candidate (as opposed to attack ads on the candidate’s opponent which often have far greater impact).”

Chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder said his group didn’t determine its support from party labels. “We have an accurate yardstick to measure where candidates stand on pro-growth policies, and it’s our How They Voted Scorecard,” he said.

K Street Moves

DentaQuest, a dental benefits provider, has brought on Claudine Swartz as its vice president of government relations. In her newly created position, Swartz will oversee state and federal governmental affairs. She joined DentaQuest after serving as assistant vice president for policy at the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. Swartz had also worked at the University of California Health System.

“Claudine brings terrific experience in health policy,” DentaQuest President and CEO Fay Donohue said in a statement. “I am confident that her work will support our mission to improve oral health.”

• Dave Natonski has joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s communications team as a senior manager of media relations. Natonski spent the past two years as communications director for Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.). Previously, he was press secretary and legislative assistant to then-Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.).

Please send tips to kstreet@rollcall.com. Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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