Altria Official Can’t Lobby GOP Leaders

Posted September 5, 2003 at 6:27pm

Abigail Pearlman, one of the tobacco industry’s top Washington lobbyists, has agreed to limit her lobbying activities on Capitol Hill because she is romantically involved with Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House.

Pearlman, the director of government affairs for Philip Morris parent Altria Corp., will no longer talk business with members of the House Republican leadership because she is dating Blunt, according to David Tolvar, a spokesman for Altria.

“When any of our employees are involved or have a close personal relationship with any Member of Congress our approach is to not have that person lobby that person or anyone on the staff,” Tolvar said. “In this case, Ms. Pearlman is not going to lobby Congressman Blunt, any of his staff or the elected leadership of the House,” Tolvar said.

Tolvar said Altria adopted the companywide policy when it learned that Pearlman was involved with Blunt, who divorced his wife last year.

“This is a new situation for us,” he said. “We don’t inquire or comment on the personal lives of any of our employees.”

Tolvar said that Pearlman already had barred herself from talking to Blunt about legislation affecting Altria. She will continue to lobby Senators and rank-and-file House Members.

Congressional ethics rules do not explicitly ban family members or close personal friends from lobbying Members of Congress, but they do caution lawmakers to avoid conflicts of interest.

The decision to bar Pearlman from lobbying House leaders, Tolvar said, “goes far beyond the actual law.”

The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Blunt quietly tried to add a provision that would benefit Philip Morris to a homeland security bill in the closing hours of last session.

The legislation would have helped the tobacco company by making it harder to sell cigarettes over the Internet. Republican leaders quickly scuttled the plan when they found out about it.

One of Blunt’s sons, Andrew, is a lobbyist for Philip Morris in Missouri, where he works on state issues.

Blunt defended the provision as “good policy” but has steadfastly refused to comment on his relationship with Pearlman.

Blunt’s spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

Blunt’s relationship with Pearlman is far from unique in the halls of Congress.

More than two-dozen lawmakers have sons, daughters or spouses who work on K Street representing a range of corporate clients, including some of the most influential people on Capitol Hill, such as Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Republican Policy Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the former Majority Leader.

Most of the lobbyists face few restrictions on their Capitol Hill activity, and Congressional ethics panels rarely investigate such relationships.

Altria’s policy change makes Pearlman the most recent corporate lobbyist to see his or her responsibilities altered due to a personal relationship with a key lawmaker.

Years ago, Linda Daschle, a former Federal Aviation Administration official and wife of the Senate Minority Leader, agreed to stop lobbying the Senate on behalf of her clients with the Washington firm Baker Donelson Bearman & Caldwell.

More recently, Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last year barred his son, Key, and son-in-law, Steve Barringer, from lobbying himself or his staff in order to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.”

Altria’s decision also represents a blow to the firm’s Washington office.

New York-based Altria is the parent of Philip Morris, the world’s leading tobacco company, and Kraft Food, the second-largest food and beverage maker in the world. Together, Altria is the 10th-largest U.S. corporation and one of the most influential on Capitol Hill.

Though Pearlman is not the head of the office — that position is filled by John Scruggs — Pearlman was a central part of the company’s lobbying efforts in the House.

Her strong ties to the Republican leadership help make her one of the most successful tobacco industry lobbyists in town.

Although she will no longer lobby the Republican leadership, Tolvar said, Pearlman will “continue to be involved in a number of issues that are affecting our business.”