Brain Drain

Posted April 8, 2005 at 5:58pm

The D.C. government-affairs practice of Greenberg Traurig, where embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff used to work, has continued to lose lobbyists — and clients. [IMGCAP(1)]

The most recent departure will be that of Shawn Vasell, a former colleague of Abramoff at Greenberg and at his previous firm, Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds. Vasell did not return calls seeking comment, but he plans to start a lobbying job in the D.C. office of tech giant Hewlett-Packard in May.

“He will be a great asset for HP and our customers,” said John Hassell, the company’s director of federal and state government affairs.

Before taking up a lobbying career at Preston Gates, Vasell served as state director to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

The exodus from Greenberg also has added three staffers and many clients to the D.C. outpost of Indiana law firm Barnes and Thornburg, which until recently had two primary lobbyists on staff. Barnes and Thornburg declined to comment, saying the firm does not discuss personnel or client matters.

The three former Greenberg lobbyists who have joined Barnes and Thornburg in the past few months are Edward Ayoob, former legislative counsel for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Neil Volz, one-time chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), and Kevin Ring, a former aide to Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.).

Since those three lobbyists signed on, Barnes and Thornburg’s client roster has soared by more than a dozen clients, including such former Greenberg accounts as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which last year paid Greenberg more than $1.1 million, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, according to public documents.

Transition Team. The D.C. office of the MWW Group is undergoing major changes. For starters, the firm’s longtime managing director, Jonathan Slade, has exited to become a partner at the Cormac Group, a lobby boutique whose signature clients include AT&T, the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Football League.

Slade said he is taking with him several clients including the U.S. Education Funding Corp., Keiser College of Florida and the American University of Antigua. “I always wanted to become a partner in a smaller, entrepreneurial firm,” Slade said.

Cormac and MWW plan to pitch clients jointly and share work, said Slade and MWW Executive Vice President Bob Sommer. Slade also will

remain a senior counselor with MWW, which is owned by the Interpublic Group of Cos.

Cormac Group’s John Timmons said, “I’ve known Jonathan for a long time, since we were staffers 20 years ago. I admired the practice he built at MWW.”

Another longtime MWW lobbyist, Christine Pellerin, plans to leave for the law firm Fleischman and Walsh.

In addition, MWW has added Chris Bowlin, most recently a lobbyist with Bockorny Petrizzo and a former Congressional affairs liaison at the Labor Department, as a senior vice president. Bowlin, who has also worked in-house for the Health Insurance Association of America — a predecessor of America’s Health Insurance Plans — said he will focus on health care, pension and tax policy.

And Bill Morley, the Congressional affairs vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has joined MWW as senior VP and managing director of the D.C. office, succeeding Slade. Before his seven years with the chamber, Morley served as general counsel to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on the Judiciary Committee.

With the addition of Morley, Bowlin and the consulting agreement with Slade, Sommer said that “we’re expecting very significant growth in the firm over the next 12 months.”

Lobbying is G-g-r-r-r-REAT! What do Tony the Tiger, the Keebler Elves, the Kool-Aid man and the Pillsbury Doughboy have in common? Answer: a looming problem in Washington.

Concerned that rising child obesity rates could prompt Congress to rein in the ability to market certain foods to kids, the parent companies behind the cartoon spokesthings have banded together to form the Alliance for American Advertising.

The food giants — including Kellogg’s, General Mills, Kraft and PepsiCo — and their cuddly brands face no immediate challenge on Capitol Hill, particularly in Republican hands. But they see a looming threat in the increasing attention focused on the issue by health experts at agencies and nonprofits around town. Call it a dangling anvil, or a lit TNT fuse.

The lobbying firms Davidson and Co. and Legislative Strategies will lead the alliance, focusing for now on gathering research and feeling out attitudes on the Hill.

“There’s a long lead time on this, but you’ve got to start some place,” said Jim Davidson, principal of Davidson and Co.

A Feather in Their Cap. The political consulting and telemarketing powerhouse Feather, Larson and Synhorst DCI has added two Republican National Committee staffers to its ranks.

Rich Beeson and David James both served as regional political directors at the RNC, and both join the FLS team as senior vice presidents.

In a statement, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman said “losing tremendous operatives like Rich and David is a loss for the RNC, but it’s great they will be continuing to work to elect Republicans around the country.”

The firm, headed by Bush-Cheney 2000 political director Tony Feather, earned $21.3 million last year for working on President Bush’s re-election campaign.

Retiring the Tin Cup. Matt Keelen has traded his tin cup for a pair of loafers, so to speak. Eager to escape the drudgery of campaign finance for the weighty world of policy, the longtime fundraiser left his firm, Keelen Communications, earlier this year to join the lobbying shop of Valis Associates.

“As a fundraiser, you fuel the engine but you never get to steer the car,” he said. “I wanted to get more into issues.”

And while Keelen has no Capitol Hill experience, he’s got access galore, thanks to raising more than $60 million for Republican Congressional candidates, including Reps. Chris Chocola (Ind.), Mike Ferguson (N.J.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), and Sens. George Allen (Va.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Jim Talent (Mo.).

As a lobbyist, he’s not completely free of the fundraising grind: Now, he said, he has to write checks. “I’m sure other fundraisers are having fun at my expense,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve got copies of my checks stapled to the wall.”

His Name on the Door. With his promotion to principal, Tony Valanzano adds his name to the shingle at Bracy Tucker Brown, the lobbying shop he joined five years ago.

The longtime lobbyist worked for the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee before joining the American Council of Life Insurers.

Two for Tew. The D.C. lobby team at Tew Cardenas has grown by two. Jay Timmons and Mary Beth Nethercutt have joined the Florida-based firm’s advocacy group. Timmons, previously executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, will head Tew Cardenas’ federal domestic practice area, while Nethercutt, a former official in legislative affairs at the Commerce Department, will join as a partner focusing on government affairs and appropriations.

K Street Moves. Suzanne Mencer, a former director at the Department of Homeland Security, has joined the law and lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt and Farber as a senior member of the firm’s government relations practice. In her work for the department, Mencer headed the Office for Domestic Preparedness, an agency with a $4 billion budget. … The International Air Transport Association has hired Douglas Lavin to lead the group in Washington. Lavin comes to the IATA from the Federal Aviation Administration, where he had been assistant administrator for international aviation. … Business Executives for National Security has picked up two former Congressional staffers to serve as directors of policy in the group’s Washington office: Danielle Camner, most recently a senior policy adviser to Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.), and Kiersten Coon, who has worked for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). … Broadcast Music Inc., an organization responsible for protecting musical copyrights, has tapped Janet Staihar to raise the group’s profile in Washington. Staihar is the principal of the public relations firm Staihar and Associates.