K Street Files: Colombia Is ... Controversy

A public relations campaign for Colombia that included handing out free flowers and coffee at Union Station took a contentious turn Tuesday afternoon when a group of protesters set up outside the station to attack the country’s human rights record.

[IMGCAP(1)]The demonstrators said they oppose a pending, but long-stalled, free-trade agreement between the United States and Colombia.

But Colombia’s effort, called “Colombia is Passion,— has nothing to do with the trade pact, said Maria Claudia Lacouture, general manager of Colombia is Passion. Instead, she said, the campaign is all about promoting travel, tourism and business.

In addition to the flowers and coffee — key exports from Colombia — the effort sported hearts all over Union Station and the National Mall and invited people to “discover Colombia through its heart.—

The protesters, who included union members and environmental and anti-global trade activists, chanted “Don’t believe their lying hearts.—

Tim Beaty, director of global strategies for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said he took part in the demonstration because more than 2,400 trade union activists have been killed in Colombia in the past 20 years.

“The Colombian government has a full-blown campaign to try and improve the image of Colombia, without improving the labor rights and human rights record,— he said, holding a sign that read, “Colombia has blood on its hands.—

Lacouture said the Colombia is Passion campaign is being misinterpreted.

“It is to show the world, starting with the USA, that Colombia has many things to offer,— she said, including music, culture and diversity.

Colombia is Passion has tapped the PR firm Endeavor Global Strategies’ Gretchen Hamel, a former press aide in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative during the George W. Bush administration. Lacouture said Hamel’s firm is not lobbying for the FTA.

Lobbyist With Bite. The all-Democratic shop Elmendorf Strategies has lured Stacey Alexander, chief of staff to Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), away from Capitol Hill. Alexander, whose current boss is a member of the highly sought-after Blue Dog Coalition, will become the firm’s seventh lobbyist.

“Stacey brings to us a wealth of knowledge and experience about the House, the Blue Dogs and the Commerce Committee,— said firm founder Steve Elmendorf, a one-time top aide to former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.).

In addition to working for Matheson, who is on the Energy and Commerce panel, Alexander was a senior associate at the firm APCO Worldwide. She also served as deputy political director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1997 to 1998.

The firm earlier this year hired Jimmy Ryan, formerly chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Alexander, who will focus on such issues as health care and trade, said working with Ryan and Elmendorf drew her to the shop.

“I think the world of Steve,— she said. “He’s got some people over there who are the best political strategists. I think it will be a good fit.—

EFCA Battle Resumes. “Card check— advocates are coming together to storm Capitol Hill on Thursday. American Rights at Work is leading the charge of more than 300 activists from 15 states who will be meeting with Members of Congress to lobby in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The individuals who will be barnstorming Capitol Hill are not themselves union members, but they support the pro-labor bill, according to Kimberly Freeman, acting executive director at American Rights at Work.

“We’re delighted that so many citizens from around the country are converging in our nation’s capital to lobby their elected leaders on an issue they feel very passionately about — passage of the Employee Free Choice Act,— Freeman said in a statement.

K Street Moves. Robert Hoffman is joining Cognizant Technology Solutions and will be opening a Washington, D.C., outpost for the information technology company. Hoffman, who has been with Oracle since 2001, is joining as a vice president of global public policy. Hoffman is chairman of the Information Technology Industry Council and is former senior staffer to ex-GOP Sens. Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Pete Wilson (Calif.), among others.

• Bill LeBeau is joining Holland & Knight as senior counsel in the firm’s public policy and regulation practice group. LeBeau, who will focus on telecommunications, formerly had been in-house regulatory counsel for NBC Universal Inc. and Telemundo.

• Robert Weissman, director of the corporate accountability organization Essential Action and an attorney with the Center for Study of Responsive Law, is joining Public Citizen as its new president. Weissman also served as editor of the magazine Multinational Monitor.

• Peggy Houlihan has been named president of the Small Business Exporters Association, replacing James Morrison, who recently left the organization to handle legislative issues for the Overseas Private Investment Corp. Houlihan previously was a consultant to the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. and was president of the Coalition for Employment through Exports.

• John Runyan, who spent 12 years running International Paper’s federal affairs team, has started his own firm, Runyan Public Affairs. Runyan will focus on legislative and executive branch lobbying, grass-roots advocacy, strategic political work and compliance with ethics. His clients include International Paper, R.R. Donnelley and Sons Co. and the Coalition for Transportation Productivity.

Runyan started his career in Washington on the staff of former Sen. Donald Stewart (D-Ala.).

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