He’s Back?

Posted September 9, 2005 at 4:43pm

As fallout from Katrina swirls, one of the storm’s earliest impacts on the political landscape is clear: Former Rep. Chris John (D-La.) is now leaning heavily toward seeking his old seat.

John, who has been working as a lobbyist at Arent Fox since his unsuccessful Senate bid last year, said the hurricane’s ravages are helping convince him to re-enter public life. [IMGCAP(1)]

“I have a lot of knowledge and experience to offer,” John said, adding he is “very close” to a decision on challenging freshman Rep. Charles Boustany (R) for the 7th district seat.

Whether or not he makes the race, he said he “would certainly hope that I would be considered in any kind of commission that would look at what happened and why, and I certainly want to be involved in the rebuilding of New Orleans.”

In his eight years in office, John said his top priority was pushing a bill that would have dedicated offshore oil and gas royalty payments to financing coastal restoration projects.

He said the measure, which passed the House three times but was scuttled by Western Senators and the White House, could have blunted Katrina’s impact.

“This is not to say ‘I told you so,’ but to get more energy into rebuilding our coastline for the next hurricane that’s going to come,” John said in a telephone interview Friday as he boarded a plane for his native Lafayette, La.

Charities on the Frontline. Hurricane Katrina hasn’t just changed the Congressional agenda, but it also has affected the way groups articulate their lobbying message.

Before Katrina, John Davies, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, had kept an eye on proposals by the Senate Finance Committee to change the laws that govern charitable groups such as his own. His group hired Cassidy & Associates to watch the measures.

But now, the work his organization is doing has become a lobbying message in itself.

“It’s remarkable to see how fabulous these not-for-profits are — they are literally saving people’s lives,” Davies said. “We helped [Louisiana State University] open a field hospital for 1,000 in an old Kmart. My point is, in emergencies like this it becomes clear the value that we in the independent sector provide to society. It’s a wonderful thing if we could remind the lawmakers of the value we provide.”

Davies added: “We want absolute transparency and reporting and think that folks who break the law ought to be held accountable.” But he said the issues brought up in Congressional hearings could be dealt with under existing laws.

In Baton Rouge, Davies added, the housing stock has dried up and the city’s services have been stressed to the max. “Our supermarkets are running out of food regularly,” he said, leading citizens and evacuees to turn to charities for help.

As for BRAF’s own budget, Davies said he just asked his executive committee for an additional $500,000. “Our budget just got blown in a big way,” he said.

Jill Kozeny, a spokeswoman for Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said any changes to the 36-year-old laws that govern nonprofits would be to boost charities, not hamper them.

“Sen. Grassley’s purpose has always been to build public confidence in the nonprofit sector, so his effort would help strengthen the charitable sector,” which would in turn help the hurricane’s aftermath, she said.

Although Grassley has said he wants to introduce legislation on charities this Congress, Kozeny said the hurricane has “certainly changed the Congressional calendar.”

BRAF’s lobbyist, Cassidy & Associates’ Todd Boulanger, added: “No doubt increasing transparency and enforcement are good things. However, at this time Congress should first focus on bolstering charitable giving before they consider drastically altering the ways charities conduct business.”

Katrina and the Lobbyists. The star-studded (by Washington standards, that is) fundraiser last week at the home of PR and lobbying maven Gloria Dittus brought in nearly $300,000 for five different Hurricane Katrina relief groups. Notable attendees included Lindy Boggs, the former Congresswoman, ambassador to the Vatican and Pelican State native, as well as her daughter Cokie Roberts of ABC News; former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.); and former Reps.-turned-lobbyists Bob Livingston (R-La.), Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John; Disney’s top lobbyist Preston Padden; International Dairy Foods Association CEO Connie Tipton; and H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, owner of Van Scoyoc Associates. Corporate contributors included BellSouth, Pfizer, the American Beverage Association and Exxon Mobil.

What had been planned as a quiet dinner with Dittus and the Tauzins morphed into a 280-person shindig that included an emotional speech from Tauzin.

“Thank you for caring, thank you for sharing,” he told the crowd assembled on Dittus’ patio. “You haven’t seen the worst of it. … But don’t count Louisiana, Alabama and the Mississippi Gulf Coast out. We’re comin’ back.”

Dittus, who traveled over Labor Day weekend with a team of volunteers and supplies to the Gulf region, added: “It’s an honor to be an American today. Thank you again for digging deep.”

The funds that lobbyists donated to as part of the effort were the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, the American Red Cross, Alabama Governor’s Emergency Relief, Mississippi Hurricane Fund and the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Fund.

“It is a terrible tragedy that has befallen the earth,” said lobbyist Robb Watters, who, along with his colleague and wife, Blair Watters, served on the event’s host committee. “It’s wonderful that the Washington business community can come together in a bipartisan nature. I hope we can help everyone who has been displaced.”

K Street Moves. DeDe Lea is rejoining the government affairs shop at Viacom as senior vice president of governmental relations. When the media giant splits next year, Lea will take over domestic and international policy for the new Viacom. She starts work next week for the company’s current shop, where she will serve until the split. She has spent the past year lobbying for media giant Belo, after seven years with Viacom.

Spitfire Strategies, the strategic communications firm, has three new senior staffers. Lobbyist Mary Dwight comes to the firm from Heidepriem and Mager and will serve as a vice president. Colleen Chapman, also a vice president, served as the top policy manager for the American Cancer Society. Karin Wallestad, the firm’s new director of strategic planning, was director of media relations at the American Public Health Association.