Common Cause Makes Uncommon Error

Posted August 12, 2005 at 5:25pm

Common Cause, a “good government” group that has decried the likes of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for running afoul of Congressional ethics rules, was itself guilty of an error of omission earlier this year. The group did not file its 2004 year-end lobbying report until Aug. 5 — nearly six months late. [IMGCAP(1)]

Ed Davis, Common Cause’s vice president for policy and research, said, “it was a mistake. We had some personnel changes.”

He added that when the group went to file its 2005 midyear report, it realized that the previous one had never been submitted.

On its Web site, Common Cause states that it’s “committed to honest, open and accountable government.” And the group has advocated for stricter laws when it comes to lobbying and campaign funding.

“We regret it,” Davis said, adding that the infraction won’t happen again.

In Common Cause’s late but extremely detailed report, the group reported spending $100,000 on lobbying activities that included efforts to curb the use of “527” groups in federal elections, to strengthen whistleblower protection laws and to push for a measure that would require public disclosure of Iraq reconstruction contracts.

Home Away from Home. As if the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn’t already exert enough muscle in Congress, the big business lobby is now moving in next door.

To supplement the work it does from its marble-palace headquarters across from the White House, the Chamber has purchased a $1.9 million row house on Capitol Hill.

When it opens in late 2006 following a $2 million renovation, the building will serve as a “home base” for the Chamber’s team of 15 lobbyists, said Suzanne Clark, the lobby’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

“We’re already bursting at the seams for office and event space at our headquarters, so why not add space up on the Hill near one of our target audiences?” she said.

Indeed, Clark said the Chamber hosted more than 2,000 events last year at its headquarters and had to turn down requests for others due to space limitations. And the new space should help save the Chamber on taxi fares for lobbyists who are currently located next to Lafayette Square — close to the White House, but not Capitol Hill.

With the move, the Chamber joins a growing list of lobbying outfits who have separate space on the Hill to host fundraisers and other events.

The Chamber consistently ranks among the top corporate spenders when it comes to leaning on Congress. So far this year, it has spent $8.6 million on lobbying, according to PolitcalMoneyLine.

PhRMA’s California War Chest. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the D.C.-based lobbying outfit for the pharmaceutical industry, has raised more than $72 million to get its message out about two ballot initiatives in California. And that pot of money is raising the ire of the group’s opponents.

“Our perspective is, it’s an outrageous amount of money. It’s out of bounds with normal [ballot-initiative] spending,” said Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in D.C, a liberal clearinghouse for ballot measures across the country. “The drug companies are making such big profits, they think they can buy this.”

The fund’s major donors include GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, among others.

According to Wilfore’s group, the coffers of the PhRMA California Initiative Fund are larger than any other single industry group that has worked on ballot initiatives in the past, although some industries have come close. Automakers ponied up $65 million in 1988 when the state was considering five auto insurance reform measures, and tribal gaming interests raised more than $63 million in 1998 over a casino amendment.

The drug companies are fighting against Proposition 79, which would help state negotiators secure cheaper prescription drug prices for uninsured residents by removing from the Medi-Cal preferred drug list the drugs from companies that wouldn’t participate in the discount program. At the same time, PhRMA and its allies are pushing for Proposition 78, a measure similar to one in Ohio that would establish a discount drug program in the state.

PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson said in a statement that “PhRMA and its member companies are working hard to educate Californians about the two vastly different prescription drug initiatives that will be before them in the Nov. 8 special election. The two initiatives mean that in reality, there are two campaigns under way.” This explains the large amount of money PhRMA has raised.

He added that “Proposition 78 is a real-world solution, based on a program that is already up and working in Ohio, that will extend significant discounts to patients. Proposition 79 is based on a failed experiment in Maine that never gave one person access to discounted medicines. California is a big state in population and in size, but we are committed to reaching out to as many people as possible so this opportunity for discounted medicines is not lost. It’s too important to people in need to do anything less.”

California is not only a large state with many pharmaceutical customers but also a bellwether state for legislation that could catch on elsewhere.

“If this is successful in California, it can roll out in other states and then to the federal level,” Wilfore said. “The strategy is obvious of what PhRMA is doing. It’s meant to be a warning to other states.”

The majority of money spent on ballot initiatives funds television and other advertising as well as direct mail efforts. The money is not regulated by campaign finance laws, but California does require disclosures.

Bernie Horn, policy director for the liberal Center for Policy Alternatives in D.C., said that since 2000, states have been trying to negotiate lower drug prices for uninsured, low-income residents who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid programs. Consistently, the pharmaceutical group has fought those efforts, he added.

PhRMA’s strategy “is to have a competing initiative,” Horn said. And that competing measure of Proposition 78, Horn added, would likely preserve the status quo because the drug companies’ participation in the discount program would not carry the added disincentive of removal from the preferred drug list.

Horn said his group was not involved in writing Proposition 79 but has drafted similar proposals in 30 states, including Hawaii, Maryland, Montana and New Mexico.

But PhRMA’s Johnson said: “If these groups really care about helping people who need it the most, they should join us in supporting Prop 78.”

No Surprise. The National Association of Manufacturers, which had recently said it planned to activate support for President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, sent out a carefully worded press release Aug. 8 that said it would announce whether it would throw its weight behind Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. Alas, any suspense ended at a press event on Aug. 10 when the group announced that after carefully evaluating Roberts’ credentials, it would back him.

“This is the first time in our 110-year history that the NAM has taken a position on a Supreme Court nomination,” NAM President John Engler said in a statement. “Judge Roberts’s record is one that fully qualifies him as a Justice who will interpret the law as written, not an activist who will legislate from the bench.”

As for why the business group wants to have a dog in this fight, Engler added, “Business depends on a legal system that is fair and predictable. … With Justices like Judge Roberts on the Supreme Court, we can begin to reduce the exorbitant cost of our legal system that today consumes 2.3 percent of our GDP.”

To help put Roberts on the high-court bench, the group plans to reach out to its national membership and rally the support of other pro-business groups, as well as directly urge Senators to send the nominee through.

K Street Moves. Michael Lemov, a former chief counsel on the House Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, has joined the D.C. office of the firm Jackson Kelly. Lemov, who also served as counsel on the House Banking Committee, is a principal author of the Consumer Product Safety Act and will focus his practice on legislative, product-safety and regulatory matters. … Tim Wigley, most recently a vice president at the PR and lobbying firm Pac/West Communications, has been promoted to executive vice president. In his new role, Wigley will expand the firm’s national public policy efforts.