Airlines Put the Skids on Lobbying

Posted September 24, 2004 at 3:51pm

Amid turbulent times for the U.S. airline industry, lobbying by the largest carriers has taken a nose dive. [IMGCAP(1)]

In the three years since the terrorist strikes on Sept. 11, 2001, the airline industry has cut back its lobbying fees by nearly one-fourth, according to an analysis of lobbying records.

The seven largest airlines, plus their Washington trade association, spent a total of $13.6 million in lobbying expenses last year, down from $17.4 million in 2001.

That’s a decline of $3.8 million, or 22 percent, according to an analysis of figures compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.

Meanwhile, air carriers have shed many of their longtime lobbying firms, decreased the amount of money they contributed to the Republican and Democratic national conventions and even pulled out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Even the Air Transport Association has cut the staff by 25 percent, according to President Jim May.

Among the biggest carriers, Delta Airlines has shaved nearly $1 million from its annual lobbying budget. In 2001, the company spent $2.8 million on lobbying. Last year, it spent just $1.9 million.

United Airlines and US Airways — both of which are in bankruptcy — also slashed lobbying expenditures.

United Airlines cut lobbying fees from $4.1 million in 2001 to $2.1 million in 2003. And US Airways reduced lobbying by one-third, to $840,000, last year.

Along the way, most airlines canceled some lobbying contracts with Washington’s biggest firms.

Delta, for example, cut loose Barbour Griffith & Rogers “due to our overall need to reduce expenses,” said Delta spokesman John Kennedy.

Northwest Airlines ended ties with the lobbying firm formerly known as Bergner Bockorny Castegnetti Hawkins & Brain; American Airlines let go Washington Council Ernst & Young; and Continental Airlines ended its contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Meanwhile, lobbying reports for Southwest Airlines show that the successful discount carrier employs the same frugalness in Washington that it does in the air: The company spent just $200,000 in lobbying fees in 2003 — far lower than any other major carrier.

Signatures’ Future in Doubt? If you’re a waiter, bartender or chef at Jack Abramoff’s Signatures restaurant near the White House, don’t expect to invest your future there.

That’s the message the restaurant’s staff received last week in a letter from management announcing that it has canceled the 401(k) retirement plan for restaurant employees.

In a letter dated Sept. 20, Signatures General Manager Kathleen Kain wrote: “This is to advise you that [Signatures Restaurant] is terminating its employer retirement plan … You will receive a letter from our payroll processor, PAYCHEX, advising you of the options available to you with regard to your accumulated retirement funds.”

The letter is the latest in a string of setbacks for employees of Abramoff’s business enterprises in the months since the one-time star Republican lobbyist became the target of a federal investigation into his lobbying practices.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee opens a series of hearings this week on the exorbitant lobbying fees that Abramoff charged several American Indian tribes for lobbying work in Washington.

After the investigations began, Abramoff was fired from his well-paid job at Greenberg Traurig and has since shuttered the Jewish deli he owned on Pennsylvania Avenue and closed down a school he had funded.

Sources at Signatures say they have heard nothing about the future of the restaurant, and Kain did not return a call for comment last week.

But the cancellation of the employee’s retirement plan could signal that the days of half-priced sushi night on Tuesdays may be numbered.

Lazio’s New Role. Former Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) has landed a plush new post at one of New York’s largest financial firms.

Lazio, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), will join JPMorgan Chase as executive vice president for global government relations and public policy starting this week.

Lazio, who also will serve on the firm’s executive committee, said his “goal now is to add value to the firm, its shareholders and employees.”

After his Senate defeat, Lazio joined a group called the Financial Services Forum, which comprised CEOs of 20 large banking, securities and insurance companies. JPMorgan Chase was one of the member companies.

K Street Moves … The biotechnology company Amgen has added two people to its revamped Washington office. Jonathan Spear, the new vice president of public policy, had been vice president of government relations for Baxter Healthcare. Phil Noguchi joins Amgen after 30 years with the Food and Drug Administration. In his new role, Noguchi will be responsible for monitoring regulatory affairs.

Also: Dave Woodruff has left the Hill to become government relations manager for Volkswagen of America. Woodruff, a Michigan native, worked on both sides of the Capitol. He served as communications director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee under then-Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), and he worked for Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and, most recently, as chief aide to Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.). … Laura McPherson has joined the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association as a director of government affairs. She brings 17 years of experience to the wireless-phone trade association, including stints with the National Association of Realtors and the American Diabetes Association.

Al Jackson, a former vice president of political affairs and grassroots advocacy at the American Hospital Association, has moved to the public relations firm Ketchum. He will be a senior vice president of public affairs. … The law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP has hired Michael Lemov, a one-time aide to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to serve as a counsel with the firm. Most recently, Lemov had been deputy general counsel in the Congressional Office of Compliance.