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K Street Files: Evangelicals Say They’ll Be Game-Changers on Immigration

Move over, big business strategy sessions filled with corporate jargon. “Amen” just might be the new preferred lingo when it comes to pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.

That’s if a fresh effort by evangelical Christian leaders and conservative groups such as Focus on the Family takes off. The Evangelical Immigration Table, backed by the National Immigration Forum, launched a grass-roots advertising and lobbying campaign Tuesday in a fourth-floor room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

It concluded with the nearly a dozen speakers — including Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Soujouners; and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists Convention’s ethics and religious liberty commission — joining hands, with heads bowed and eyes closed in prayer.

Even though the business community has long supported an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, Wallis said the evangelicals are prepared to take on “the lobbyists” in their biblically based fight. “The money on K Street is not about changing big things,” he said. “Yes, we are working with business people. But it will take a social movement” to change the system.

The evangelicals released their statement of principles on immigration reform and touted the endorsement of more than 150 of their leaders including Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. After the event, the group planned to spread its gospel to the Obama administration and Members on both sides of the aisle.

“There are many ordinary days in Washington,” Wallis said. “I think this is an extraordinary day.”

Although this Congress is unlikely to take up the issue, the Christian leaders said they had their eyes set on the November elections. Already, they are mobilizing evangelicals in states such as Florida and Colorado to knock on doors to “energize evangelicals on this issue,” said Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association.

But opponents of immigration reform seem, so far at least, unmoved by the prayerful approach to the issue.

“I’m guessing these people are motivated by the best of intentions,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “The problem is, they’re saying to the guy sitting there in the pew, ‘You’re going to have to sacrifice your job ... because we feel empathy with the illegal immigrants.’ Churches can be charitable with their own resources; they can’t be charitable with my child’s education or with my job.”

To Russia With Lobbying

If you assume this Congress won’t take a vote on trade, typically a politically charged issue, before the November elections, John Engler would say you’re wrong.

The former Republican governor of Michigan, who leads the Business Roundtable, announced Tuesday the group’s “50 Days for Trade” campaign to push for permanent normal trade relations with Russia. He is optimistic that Congress will approve it as Members eye doable accomplishments they can tout back home. “That list is real short,” Engler said at a press event announcing the campaign. Russia PNTR “could go quite quickly.”

Caterpillar lobbyist Bill Lane, whose company has made the issue its top trade priority, said he too is optimistic that Congress could act before the August recess. “Russia should be Caterpillar’s largest export market,” he said.

Engler declined to reveal the roundtable’s budget for the campaign, noting only that it’s “enough to do an impressive and impactful job.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also called for passage of Russia PNTR. And its president, Tom Donohue, in a statement hailed the introduction Tuesday of Senate legislation to that end by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Labor unions such as the AFL-CIO that typically opposed most recent trade deals have not come out against Russia PNTR. But the AFL-CIO does have concerns with it, according to a spokesman.

On Target

At Target Corp.’s annual meeting in Chicago today, a group of shareholders will urge the company to completely halt all political spending.

“Political contributions are fraught with risk, and even seemingly small contributions can have an impact on a company’s reputation and employee morale,” said Larisa Ruoff, director of shareholder advocacy at Green Century Capital Management, a Boston-based firm that is investment adviser to the Green Century Equity Fund, a Target investor pressing for the resolution.

Amid growing shareholder activism over political money, several companies have faced votes this spring on resolutions urging full disclosure of corporate political spending. The Target resolution is unusual in that it calls not just for disclosure but for a full ban on campaign spending, even through trade groups or nonprofits.

It’s the third resolution calling for a complete ban to come before a major company this spring. Last month Trillium Asset Management, another Boston-based investment adviser, urged shareholders to vote for similar proposals at the annual meetings of 3M and Bank of America.

Ruoff said Target shareholders are responding in part to a 2010 controversy involving the company’s indirect support for an anti-gay candidate.

In a proxy statement released before the meeting, Target directors recommended against voting for the resolution. The company strengthened transparency and oversight after the 2010 controversy, the statement noted, but “determined that a complete prohibition of this nature was too absolute and could put Target at a disadvantage if there ever were circumstances when use of corporate funds would be in the best interests of the corporation.”

K Street Moves

John Spitaleri Shaw, a one-time investigative counsel to then-Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), is taking the helm of the Natural Products Association. The group represents makers of dietary supplements, health and beauty aids and foods.

Shaw also previously worked as assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at the Energy Department and was a lobbyist at Patton Boggs.

Eliza Newlin Carney contributed to this report.

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