Aug. 27, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Street Talk: Lobbyist’s Doctor Pals Will See You Now, Senator

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Lobbyist Robb Watters (right) hooks up his friends and political contacts with referrals and medical services. He is on the board of the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, and is pictured with CEO Stephen Badger (left) and Dr. John Larsen.

A GOP Senate staffer, too, found what he calls "an incredible team of doctors" through Watters.

"It was absolutely terrific to get linked in," the staffer said.

When the staffer's Midwestern-based father experienced a serious medical problem, he called on Watters to see if he could help him get to GW where the father ultimately had successful surgery.

"I truly believe they saved his life," the staffer said. "He got the most amazing care all thanks to Robb because you don't just roll into a place and say, 'I'm here.' He directly contacted the doctors."

Watters said he keeps his lobbying practice and his medical volunteer work separate. And though he is a constant advocate for GW's doctors and their pro bono outreach to the community, Watters does not lobby for GW.

Ethics and lobbying expert William Minor, a partner at DLA Piper, said Members and staff must be mindful not to accept benefits from lobbyists that could constitute an impermissible gift, but they are allowed normal social interactions like discussing ailments and seeking doctor recommendations from friends and acquaintances. But they still "can't grant a favor to someone" just because they received good advice, Minor said.

When it comes to his K Street contacts, Watters doesn't have to worry about overstepping any gift restrictions.

Frank Duggan, who is president of Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, credits Watters with helping him and his wife not only receive top-notch medical care but even get an upgraded room at GW hospital "where they must put the Saudi royal princes."

Duggan knows Watters through a mutual friend. When Duggan's doctor scheduled him for heart bypass surgery, the patient called Watters on a Saturday evening.

"He said, 'I'll have Cheney's doctor down there tomorrow,'" Duggan recalled, referencing former Vice President Dick Cheney, a cardiac patient at GW. "I said, 'Tomorrow's Sunday.' Lo and behold, in comes this doctor, who said, 'You don't need a bypass; a stent will take care of it.'"

When Duggan's wife needed cancer surgery, she was placed in a room adjacent to a guarded prisoner, so Duggan called Watters to see if they could move away from that section.

"I don't know how he does it, but he works his magic. I've never seen anybody work the system like this," said Duggan of the palatial room they scored. "He can just make things happen. My wife and I are in great shape, largely because of Robb Watters."

Members of the Medical Faculty Associates credit Watters with helping them to run the business, so they can focus on their patients.

John Larsen, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department, called Watters "a force of nature" in an interview in between patients last week.

"You've heard the old quote that dealing with doctors is like herding cats," Larsen said. "Robb is good with the business stuff, and otherwise the cats become scraggly looking critters."

Steve Badger, CEO of the Medical Faculty Associates, said Watters helped the group negotiate the purchase of a building at 2300 M St. NW that was previously owned by the Carlyle Group. "Robb has connections with everyone," said Badger, who met Watters at a Larry King cardiac benefit dinner more than seven years ago and was impressed with his business expertise.

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