Talking Turkey

Posted February 27, 2004 at 5:17pm

How much does $1 billion cost? In Washington, a few million dollars.

New Justice Department documents show that the government of Turkey funded a million-dollar lobbying and public relations campaign in Washington last year as it worked to secure $1 billion in U.S. aid as part of legislation funding the war in Iraq.

The lobbying operation succeeded even though Turkey rejected a key demand from the Bush administration: allowing U.S. military forces to launch strikes from Turkish bases along the Iraqi border. [IMGCAP(1)]

Turkey’s campaign in Washington was led by former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) of the Livingston Group and Joel Johnson of the Harbour Group.

Livingston inked a deal with Turkey worth $1.8 million a year, while Johnson, a former top aide to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), earned more than $300,000 for his work.

According to contracts filed with the Justice Department, Livingston arranged

“numerous meetings” between Turkish officials and lawmakers, Congressional aides and other members of the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, the Harbour Group “contacted media outlets to provide background information and encourage[d] interviews with the Ambassador,” according to the records.

Jones, Day, Reavis & Pague, another firm on Turkey’s payroll, was paid $37,500 to “contact Members of Congress and other law firms to discuss anti-Turkish lobbying and to create a more positive environment in the U.S. Congress.”

Northpoint Grounded. After two tumultuous years and $2.5 million in lobbying expenditures, embattled wireless cable firm Northpoint Technology has decided to shutter its Washington office.

The head of the office, former Senate aide Tony Cook Bush, has returned to her old law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Calls to Northpoint’s old D.C. office are being forwarded to the New Hampshire office of Northpoint founder Sophia Collier.

In a document filed with Congress, Northpoint said it closed its North Capitol Street office after spending $240,000 in the last half of 2003.

However, Northpoint is not leaving Washington entirely. The upstart firm will continue to use outside lobbyists to push for permission to use the wireless spectrum it needs to go into business.

Using a cheap, land-based system, Northpoint says it could offer inexpensive cable television service in direct competition to cable operators and satellite-television companies.

However, the company faces stiff competition from well-heeled adversaries who have consistently blocked Northpoint’s efforts to get its hands on licenses for the airwaves.

Going Postal. American Express, Time Warner, International Paper and some of the nation’s largest corporations have launched an expensive new lobbying and public relations push to reform the U.S. Postal Service.

Why the Postal Service? Because everyone from the American Forest and Paper Association to Playboy Enterprises loses millions of dollars when the Postal Service jacks up the price of stamps.

Time Warner alone spends $800 million each year mailing Time magazine, Sports Illustrated and millions of cable bills for its cable subsidiary.

The new lobbying coalition, called the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, is headed by Ben Cooper of the Printing Industries of America, John Runyan of International Paper and Lucie Naphin at RR Donnelley.

The 150 companies and associations in the coalition have hired a group of powerful lobbying firms and hired a media consultant to begin mapping out an advertising campaign.

Lobbyists involved include PodestaMattoon, Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, Preston Gates and The Duberstein Group.

The group, which has already arranged a meeting with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), hopes to approve reform legislation this year.

“If Congress does not act this year to reform the postal system, large rate increases in 2006 may be unavoidable,” the coalitions’ 150 members wrote in (appropriately enough) a letter to lawmakers last week.

Meanwhile, several large mailers have begun signing up their own outside lobbyists for the brewing fight. Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, for example, has registered to represent the Greeting Card Association, the Newspaper Association of America and American Business Media on the issue.

Potato Politics. In an effort to combat the demonization of complex carbohydrates in American dieting, the National Potato Board has launched a $4.4 million offensive to promote “The Healthy Potato.”

The board launched a yearlong advertising campaign last week with ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today, according to Linda McCashion, vice president for public relations at the Denver-based National Potato Board.

Ads also ran in Roll Call and are scheduled to appear in the Oscar edition of People magazine and Parenting.

McCashion said the campaign is all about the potato’s nutritional image. “We were concerned that we were losing ground,” she said.

Popular diets such as Atkins and South Beach have put potatoes off limits to dieters looking to shed pounds and revamp their eating habits.

The National Potato Board is working in conjunction with the industry’s lobbying arm, the National Potato Council, to promote the nutritional benefits of the tuber.

The potato campaign is the latest food fight to have broken out in official dietary circles.

Last fall, Atkins Nutritionals Inc. hired PodestaMatoon to push its low-carb message.

The Department of Agriculture has assembled a 13-member panel of outside nutritional experts that could throw out the traditional food pyramid, of which starchy carbs like potatoes are part of its fundamental foundation.

Other organizations, such as the Snack Food Association, argue that altering the food pyramid is a bad idea.

Tim O’Connor, the National Potato Board’s president and chief executive officer, said that with the food pyramid review under way, “we want [policy makers] to understand that science and mainstream medical associations don’t jump on the fad diet bandwagon.”

But with heavy hitters on K Street pushing the low-carb message, John Keeling, the National Potato Council’s executive vice president, said “we’re in a whole different league now.”

Changes to the food pyramid could come as early as this summer.

New Asbestos Ads. While large U.S. manufacturers spend about $1 million a month on asbestos reform legislation, a consumer group has launched a pricey television and newspaper advertising campaign urging the Senate to dump the bill.

The ads, funded by USAction, charge that the legislation would leave thousands of sick workers without compensation.

The ads feature Perlis Nixon, a former pulp- and paper-mill worker, who suffers from asbestosis.

In the ads, Nixon says: “Some Senators in Washington want to bail out the asbestos companies that knowingly made me — and thousands of others — sick. My doctors says I’m sick. The state says I’m sick. I know I’m sick. But a Senator I’ve never met says I’m not sick.”

Insurers Merge. The National Association of Independent Insurers and the Alliance of American Insurers have decided to join forces to create the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.