Breaux’s Future

Posted September 2, 2003 at 5:59pm

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) has finally decided to shoot down speculation that he will bolt to take the top job at the Motion Picture Association of America, telling HOH that he does not want to replace legendary MPAA President Jack Valenti.

But speculation persists that he may retire to open his own lobbying shop, with

various insiders saying that Breaux has mulled the possibility of opening a powerhouse, bipartisan K Street firm with Senate Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.).

After being besieged by supporters wondering about his political future over the August recess, Breaux decided to issue a prepared statement to HOH late Tuesday afternoon declaring that he will not seek the MPAA post. But the carefully worded statement made clear that he would be glad to have the Hollywood lobbying organization as a client if he decides to start his own shop.

“The Motion Picture Association is one of America’s greatest industries,” Breaux said in the prepared statement. “But representing the Association on a full-time basis is not what I would be interested in doing.”

Breaux spokeswoman Bette Phelan said she had not heard talk of a potential Breaux-Nickles alliance, which would doubtless rake in millions of dollars from oil and gas interests based on their home-state connections — and would not do badly with tax clients given the fact that they both sit on the Finance Committee.

Phelan did, however, make it clear that Breaux is keeping his options open. “He has not made any decision about his re-election,” she said, repeating the Senator’s mantra that he will decide his future after Louisiana’s gubernatorial election.

Aides to Nickles, who is also up for re-election next year, continue to refuse to speculate about his future.

Oy Vey. It turns out that Rabbi Milton Balkany, who just got busted for allegedly embezzling $700,000 intended for disabled children, has some close friends in Washington.

Balkany, known as the “Brooklyn Bundler” because of his efforts to raise big money for both parties, has given $4,000 to President Bush’s re-election campaign and $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) this year.

Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.), meanwhile, might be regretting her decision to invite Balkany to serve as guest Chaplain of the House on June 26, where he delivered the opening prayer.

“Rabbi Balkany has worked hard to bring the community together in order to continue traditional religious and cultural values,” Kelly said in her introduction of Balkany. “Not only does he help younger generations understand the intrinsic and extraordinary Jewish culture to which they belong, but he also welcomes others of all religions to engage in prayer, meditation and community.”

On June 25, Balkany had served as guest Chaplain in the Senate apparently at the invitation of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has been a major recipient of the rabbi’s largess.

In the Senate prayer, Balkany expressed a yearning for a bygone era of “tranquil school yards and cool back-porch nights.”

But federal prosecutors in New York allege that the 57-year-old rabbi pocketed a cool $700,000 to pay off credit card bills and help family members. It was grant money appropriated by Congress to help disabled kids.

Balkany, who runs the Bais Yaakov of Brooklyn school for girls, has vehemently denied lining his own pockets — with his attorney suggesting the only sin was sloppy paperwork. “A mistake that is made in good faith is a far cry from intentional criminal conduct,” said attorney Benjamin Brafman.

The Jerusalem Post estimated that Balkany has bundled together about $200,000 from friends to fill the coffers of Bush, Schumer, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R) and New York Gov. George Pataki (R) over the years.

In the current election cycle, Balkany has contributed directly to Bush and Lieberman. The Bush camp told HOH they are returning the dough, while Lieberman didn’t comment.

The rabbi — dubbed the “Robbi” by the New York Post — has also given the maximum $4,000 to the Senate campaign of Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), whose staffers indicate that he has already sent notification that the money will be refunded.

No Comment — Sort of. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) got tripped up a bit on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” when he was asked Tuesday whether Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) should resign.

Van Hollen initially said that he did not know enough about the case, in which Janklow has been charged with second-degree manslaughter stemming from a car accident that left a motorcyclist dead, to comment.

But lawmakers often find it hard to stop commenting, even when they insist they don’t want to comment. So Van Hollen proceeded to say that he just did not know enough about the “drunk driving” case involving his fellow freshman to discuss it.

A C-SPAN host revealed a moment later that she had been slipped a note clarifying that alcohol was not involved in the case, and Van Hollen quickly apologized.

Van Hollen got on the phone later in the day to stress to HOH that he meant no harm.

“I may have made some comment about the case being something that it wasn’t,” he said.

He added helpfully that the mix-up only proved that he did not know enough to comment. “That was my point,” he said.

A New Taxpayer. Rich Meade, GOP chief of staff on the House Budget Committee, spent the August recess taking care of a new baby.

Elizabeth Meade, an attorney for the American Staffing Association, gave birth to Constance Christia Meade. She weighed in at five pounds, 10 ounces and 19 inches long.

“I want to congratulate Rich and Elizabeth on their new arrival,” joked Budget Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa). “I am sure they have her counting from one to 2.2 trillion in no time.”

House Harman-y. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, has picked a new staff director.

Suzanne Spaulding, who once worked for GOP Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), will now be serving Harman on the relatively bipartisan panel. She most recently worked on the Bremer Commission on Terrorism.

She replaces Christine Healey, who will now be working on the 9/11 Commission after more than a decade on the committee.

“Her remarkable institutional memory, her insights and her ability to work in a consistently bipartisan fashion will be sorely missed. The 9/11 Commission is lucky to have her, and I wish Christine the very best,” Harman said.