K Street’s Most Urgent Push

Posted September 6, 2005 at 3:59pm

You’d think a major election hung in the balance: Over the past week, lobbyists have frantically pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars, organized both large- and small-dollar fundraising events and coordinated aggressive grass-roots efforts.

This time, though, the beneficiaries aren’t candidates. They’re the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Campbell Kaufman, a Baton Rouge native and founder of Cornerstone Government Affairs, said he and his colleagues are collecting donations today — toiletries, blankets, baby formula, school supplies and checks — at their offices at 300 Independence Ave. SE. Kaufman has arranged for a truck to ferry those supplies to shelters and hospitals in the Baton Rouge area. Within two days, Kaufman, relying on his childhood and family contacts, had already lined up destinations that need the supplies he’s bringing down.

Although the capital of Louisiana hasn’t been flooded by water, it has doubled in size, or more, as thousands of people who fled New Orleans relocated to the nearest major city.

“We need to think about how to deal with, at least temporarily, these massive explosions in population growth,” Kaufman said.

Former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), now a lobbyist with the firm Patton Boggs, said he has lent his name to every fundraiser that he knows about to help the hurricane’s victims and survivors. And he plans to attend every one.

“It’s important to keep talking about it and talk about what needs to be done,” he said.

Breaux said that he and former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who heads the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, contacted former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to encourage them in their fundraising efforts, similar to what they did for the victims of the Asian tsunami.

“This is our American tsunami,” said Breaux, who has a son in New Orleans volunteering to cook meals in a kitchen and a daughter who is working for an ambulance company there.

Breaux has turned to the firm’s clients and asked for contributions, though he said he can’t mention them publicly until the clients have pledged.

One of the events to which Breaux has lent his name is a fundraiser at the Northwest Washington home of Gloria Dittus on Thursday.

Dittus, who runs her own public relations and lobbying firm, Dittus Communications, pulled together a collection of lobbyists including Breaux, Tauzin, former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), former Rep. Chris John (D-La.) and former Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), among others to help sponsor the event.

She also rented a bus over Labor Day weekend and traveled to a remote part of Louisiana.

Her bus, packed with 13 volunteers including two EMTs, a nurse and four tons of supplies, arrived in Franklinton, La., after being directed there by the staff of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). The trip took 21 hours each way.

“It was like a war zone,” Dittus said. “We were the first relief that the parish had seen since the hurricane.”

Among the items she brought were baby wipes, diapers, chain saws, deodorant, flip-flops and water. “We started unloading the bus, and all of a sudden people starting lining up,” she said. “I wish we’d had more candles, towels and underwear and deodorant and matches. That’s what they really need.”

Dittus added that she is coordinating her efforts, which she’s doing on a volunteer basis, with the United Methodist Church, a client of the firm.

“I’ve cried for days,” she said. “It wasn’t going to do any good. I’ve got skills. I decided to use them.”

All the money collected at her fundraiser will go to hurricane relief.

“If you look at the list of people who are helping, it’s the leaders of the lobbying community in Washington,” Dittus said. “Lobbyists in this town care about regions in this country, they care about where they are from and will move heaven and earth to help out.”

Of course, for some lobbyists, the hurricane aftermath isn’t strictly a volunteer effort.

Stephanie Leger, who is from Lafayette, La., is the Washington representative for her home state’s governor.

Leger said her office has been inundated with calls from people looking for family members in Louisiana to companies offering to donate goods or services. Her cell phone often rings in the middle of the night, including one frantic call from a friend whose family was trapped.

“I’m a shop of one, and I have an intern who put off going back to school,” she said. “I’m kind of like a traffic cop, connecting people with where they need to go.”

Although her own family is “high and dry,” she said, “it’s just been so horrible to watch what everyone is going through.”

Leger said her duties lately have included meetings with the staff of the state’s Congressional delegation “to put together what we need to do legislatively — how do we make sure our citizens are still receiving their benefits when they don’t have a bank account anymore?”

The $10 billion supplemental, while helpful, Leger said, is just the beginning, especially since three states — Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana — need to share that money.

Jan Schoonmaker, a lobbyist at Van Scoyoc Associates, hails from New Orleans and, since the hurricane, has been working to take care of his clients in the area, including Tulane University Hospital, Ochsner Medical Center and the Audubon Nature Institute.

“Some of us are jumping in when we can when the people we work with in New Orleans are able to call out, or some of my clients have been dispersed and they’re outside Memphis asking for help,” he said. Some of that help included getting clearance for helicopters to evacuate people from Tulane hospital. “Because people can get to me, I can help distribute information.”

The New Orleans-based government affairs employee at Tulane is moving to D.C. to work out of the Van Scoyoc offices. “Everybody’s pitching in doing what they can,” Schoonmaker said. “In the coming weeks, people like me and others that work with New Orleans clients will be talking to the delegation and working with the Appropriations committees on the next round of supplementals.”

His boss, Stewart Van Scoyoc, said last week that, within days, his firm had put together a task force to figure out the best ways to get help to the affected areas.

“We would like to make a major initiative to raise funds for relief,” Van Scoyoc said. “We are starting out internally. The firm will match whatever our employees give.” The goal, he said, is $50,000.

Other firms, in the days after the hurricane, launched similar efforts.

Stuart Pape, managing partner of Patton Boggs, said his firm has kicked in $10,000 to start a firm-wide collection. The firm’s name partner, Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., is from a storied political family whose home base is New Orleans.

“My guess is we’ll raise somewhere close to $100,000,” Pape said. Patton Boggs’ Dallas office also has taken in three lawyers from a small New Orleans firm.

“We have a different connection to New Orleans than some firms, so I think that’s just a little extra incentive to give — although you don’t really need an incentive,” Pape said. “You turn the television on and if that doesn’t move you to do something, then there’s something wrong.”

Rich Gold, who chairs the lobbying practice for the Florida-based law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight, said his shop has mobilized on behalf of clients that the hurricane has affected, including the American Red Cross.

“We’re working with our clients to canvass what their needs are out there,” he said.

On Friday, the firm is holding a casual day: Bring in a donation to the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation and you get to wear casual duds.

“I expect we’ll probably raise $100,000 as a firm,” said Gold, who brought his check a week early and wore a Hawaiian shirt to work.