Baseball Lobbyists Take Turn at the Plate

Posted March 16, 2005 at 6:47pm

For the lineup of lobbyists who work for Major League Baseball and the players’ union, today’s hearing on steroids will be their version of the All-Star game.

Just as when bitter rivals from the Red Sox and Yankees end up on the same American League team at the “Midsummer Classic,” so too have roughly a dozen lobbyists found themselves in the unusual position of being in the same dugout, working together for the past few weeks in advance of the hearing before the House Government Reform Committee.

Both sides have been working together in meetings and conference calls, trying to shield both the league and players from the potential public relations and legal nightmare of having to answer too many questions under oath about allegations of widespread steroid use by the game’s biggest stars.

The normally competing factions have even hired the same lawyer, Stan Brand, a former House counsel to the late Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.), to help handle the negotiations with Congress and deal with an onslaught of media requests.

“The level of cooperation and coordination has been extraordinary,” said Brand, who since 1991 has also been the vice president of baseball’s association of minor league systems. “It took something like this to unite us.”

But both sides, for now, have decided their immediate adversaries in this fight are Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a political odd couple themselves who have worked hand-in-hand on the issue.

Davis and Waxman have relished that role, batting aside charges of grandstanding and contending their effort has been to achieve a thorough exploration of the public health risks of steroids and establish a level of punishment for abusers that will deter children from emulating steroid-using big leaguers.

In a brief interview earlier this week, Davis expressed mock outrage at the response from baseball executives and players regarding his panel’s subpoenas. “I want to state this for the record: I have never taken steroids. I never smoked pot, either,” he quipped.

Waxman was dismissive earlier this week of the team of lobbyists and lawyers working the issue. “This hearing is causing full employment for lawyers and lobbyists all across town,” the ranking member said.

Waxman’s assertion is not without truth. Baseball’s lobbyists, for both the league executives and the Major League Baseball Players Association, are rarely called on except when an issue like steroids gets put into the leadoff spot in the lineup of Congressional politics.

In the past two years, the half-dozen firms which have represented the MLBPA have collected just $280,000, according to disclosure forms. The point man for union lobbyists of late has been Kevin McGuiness, former chief of staff to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The Office of the MLB commissioner, Bud Selig, has dished out far more money to its lobbyists, almost $1.9 million in 2003 and 2004. But the bulk of that money — $1.4 million — went to Baker and Hostetler, where Lucy Calautti, wife of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and former chief of staff to Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), has served as MLB’s top lobbyist since the league closed its own in-house lobbying office five years ago.

While their billable hours are sure to jump this year because of the steroids issue, many of those representing the league and the players serve these clients because of their own particular love of the nation’s past time and not for financial reasons, according to one MLBPA lobbyist.

Brand, for instance, grew up in New York where he was first a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, until they moved to California after the 1957 season along with the New York Giants.

“There was nothing left but the Yankees,” he said.

When he moved to Washington, D.C., years later, becoming a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, he began attending Opening Day at Camden Yards every year with his son. However, with the Washington Nationals now on the scene, and the fact that he represents the entire league, Brand is taking a lawyerly approach to the upcoming season.

“Now I’m neutral,” he said. “I have to walk a fine line.”

Joel Johnson, who first represented MLBPA for the Harbour Group and continues to represent the union in his new role at the Glover Park Group, grew up a Cleveland Indians fan but is more than happy to have the Nationals in town. He’ll be sitting on the first-base line as part of his 81-game season-ticket package.

At the Nats games, Johnson may run into his chief antagonist this week: Rep. Davis, also a lifelong fan of the game. As chairman of the committee with oversight of the District, it’s no surprise that Davis has an 81-game package of tickets as well, and apparently in a pretty good section.

“I paid full price,” he proudly proclaimed.

Waxman, a Dodgers supporter, is one of the rare protagonists in the steroids fight who isn’t a fanatic. “I wouldn’t consider myself a big baseball fan,” he said, predicting he’ll go to Nats games at RFK “on occasion.”

Despite their shared affection for the game, Davis and Waxman couldn’t disagree more with Brand, Calautti and the other baseball representatives about their hearing today.

Waxman said it’s about children’s health, and the image that high-profile players promote when they take steroids and shatter records while facing little or no punishment from league officials.

But Brand has countered that Government Reform has no jurisdiction over an issue such as steroids in baseball, which the league and the union have recently incorporated into their new collective bargaining agreement. While each of the players and former players who appear today will have his own counsel, he said he has recommended that they refuse to answer any of the questions.

“They would be perfectly in their rights to appear and then object,” Brand said.

That would probably be enough to avoid a contempt of Congress charge, which Davis said anyone who received a subpoena will face if they refuse to show up at the hearing.

The “criminal, prosecutorial overtones” set the confrontational tone of the meeting, McGuiness said. “This hearing has been unlike any other we’ve worked on.”

If a player or MLB executive doesn’t appear, Davis plans to move a contempt charge against those individuals immediately after today’s hearing concludes, with the hope of getting the issue before the full House on Friday before the recess. If approved by the full chamber, a contempt citation would go to either the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia or a federal judge, who would likely call in the U.S. marshals to arrest those in contempt.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Waxman said.

In a letter sent to Selig on Wednesday, Davis and Waxman continued to be critical of MLB’s new steroids policy, saying it doesn’t come anywhere near the enforcement levels of the Olympic drug testing system. That will be a critical issue that the committee will explore with Selig and other MLB officials, who are expected to be the fourth and final panel.

The first panel at the hearing is likely to be led off by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), a Hall of Fame pitcher who is highly critical of steroids in the game. The second panel will be a team of medical experts, followed by the players expected to testify, including former slugger Mark McGwire.

If the testimony gets contentious, Selig won’t be able to block Davis and Waxman from attending any Nationals games in the future. But he may ask for a refund.

According to PoliticalMoneyLine, Davis and Waxman were among five Government Reform members who received contributions from Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball PAC. Davis got $2,000 last year, Waxman $1,000.