While official Washington remained closed today, lobbyists said they were already working with clients from big financial institutions to small East Coast towns in storm-ravaged areas to assess what they might ask of the federal government when it reopens Wednesday.
“We have clients affected and they will need help,” said Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, who runs Marlowe & Co. and represents clients from North Carolina to New Jersey. “They are just reporting in on damage.”
Washington lobbyists representing towns and businesses in affected areas said their clients are still taking stock of the damage and will wait to see what aid will be covered in presidential disaster declarations before asking the federal government for extra help. Congress may take up a supplemental spending bill for disaster relief when it convenes in a lame-duck session.
“A lot of the work that you do with the community is to help them understand what the declaration means, what are eligible activities,” said Matt Ward, a lobbyist Sustainable Strategies DC who represents North Hempstead, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn. “It depends on the type of emergency and type of declaration … then, [we] advocate back if it’s not good enough.”
Ward said he spent the last year trying to win a grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to replace 1960s-era water pumps behind the hurricane barrier that separates southern Stamford from the Long Island Sound.
“It would have been nice if funding poured over the walls,” he said. Instead, it was water. “So our concern was will those pump stations fail?”
Marlowe said that normally with elections looming, the government works quickly to put together disaster aid packages. But with just a week left before the elections, he said, the Obama administration might be able to offer little more than encouraging words.
“I will tell you that the White House has been absolutely incredible. They have been in touch with everyone, with cities, with mayors and me,” said Virginia Mayer, a lobbyist who represents Hartford, Conn., and Boston.
While her clients emerged largely unscathed, she said, many cities will spend the next week documenting the damage in preparation to submit requests for federal assistance.
Some of the hardest-hit areas were difficult to reach today. The New York City federal affairs office in Washington, D.C., referred questions to its main office in the storm-ravaged city. But that line remained busy for several attempts at contact throughout the afternoon.
A call to the D.C. office of the New York Stock Exchange Group was not immediately returned. But CEO Duncan Niederauer said in a statement that the exchange would return to normal trading Wednesday.
“Our building and systems were not damaged and our people have been working diligently to ensure that we have a smooth opening tomorrow,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities suffering in the wake of this terrible natural disaster.”
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Financial Services Roundtable provided members with storm updates and resources on how to file insurance claims.
“We sent email updates throughout the storm about closings and emergency planning by banks,” said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of public policy at the Financial Services Roundtable. “Additionally, we are now collecting facts about fee waivers, insurance claims, disaster relief contributions, etc.”
Other groups, such as the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, put out statements today explaining flood insurance, recovery suggestions and how the storm might affect their industry.
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America also issued a statement from its president and CEO, Don Santa, saying the natural gas pipeline system was weathering the storm well.
Unions also wasted no time responding to the weather calamity, and some mixed politics into their messaging. AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser wrote in an email that union workers were keeping busy in the storm’s wake.
He noted that Americans rely on firefighters, police officers and other unionized public employees and urged the public to press Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on his views. “They should talk to the [International Association of Fire Fighters] and other first responder unions.”
While some lobbyists were fielding requests from clients, others said the workload was calm.
“I have not had an email or call from a client in the past 24 hours,” Steve Elmendorf, who runs Elmendorf/Ryan, said mid-morning today.
Jim Noone, a lobbyist at Mercury/Clark & Weinstock who represents the state of Connecticut, said that the strengthening of state-level Federal Emergency Management Agency offices in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and Hurricane Katrina had decreased the need for Washington-based lobbyists in times of crises.
“The need to work it through Washington government relations representatives has probably diminished by the series of events that have happened over the last 10 years,” he said. “The emergency operations infrastructure that has resulted allows states and large communities to interact directly with federal emergency departments.”