Just Like Old Times

Posted October 21, 2005 at 5:26pm

A blue-chip collection of former aides to the once all-powerful Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski treated their former boss to a trip down memory lane last week.

The revelers, many of them now working as lobbyists, convened at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda for a reunion of Rosty staffers. It was billed as an opportunity to “relive great memories and exchange tall stories.” [IMGCAP(1)]

The group of 80-plus nibbled on crab cakes — and nostalgia — until midnight, sources at the party said. But as the stories of the past flowed, there were no references to the former Illinois Congressman’s legal woes, which landed him in jail and later won him a presidential pardon from former President Bill Clinton.

Attendees recalled the old days, when being a lobbyist was a lot easier: All you needed was a cozy relationship with a committee chairman and paying clients. (At least that’s the lore.)

Lobbyists and former Rosty aides on the host committee included John Salmon, a partner at Dewey Ballantine who was chief counsel on the Ways and Means Committee in the early 1980s; Joseph Dowley, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge who was Rostenkowski’s administrative assistant; and James Healey of BKSH & Associates, a one-time top political aide to the former Congressman.

Salmon said the reunion was something that Rosty alums had talked about doing for a long time. “We’ve all gone in different directions — some of us are in Washington, but some are all over, in academia,” he said. “There were a lot of reminiscences. I think it was a very emotional evening” for Rostenkowski.

Other lobbyist/hosts were the OB-C Group’s Charles Mellody, Charles Brain of Capitol Hill Strategies and Jeanne Campbell of Campbell-Crane Associates. Janice Mays, minority staff director on Ways and Means, was also there.

“Everyone was happy to see the boss, his wife and each other,” Brain said.

Could this be a sign of hope for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and his circle of lobbyists?

Ladies Who Lunch. A group of House GOP women chiefs of staff and top aides on committees and in the leadership are carrying on a tradition of girl-only get-togethers.

The most recent, held earlier this month in the Whip’s office and catered by Tortilla Coast, brought together about 40 female Hill aides and a duo of women lobbyists: Susan Hirschmann, a lobbyist who was previously chief of staff for

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and Kathryn Lehman, who took up the trade this year after spending 15 years on Capitol Hill, most recently as chief of staff for the House Republican Conference.

And what are lobbyists doing there? Their in-the-circle “credentials” as former chiefs of staff are still valid — and, it turns out, the original idea was Hirschmann’s when she was on the Hill. Mildred Webber, deputy chief of staff in the Whip office, helps organize the gatherings now.

“Kathryn Lehman and I would co-sponsor them when she was chief of staff for the Conference and now Lori Salley (chief of staff for Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce) and I did this latest one,” Webber wrote in an e-mail. “The purpose of the lunch is to network, to share information, to get to know each other better, and to hopefully grow our numbers.”

Lehman, who points out that she is under her one-year lobbying ban, said she was there in her capacity as a former staffer. “We are lobbyists now, but we also worked there for a long time and these are our colleagues and we want to continue to be helpful. We were not there to lobby.”

Even the folks at the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington say it’s on the up-and-up. The lobbyists are “allowed to go to a lunch and see old friends and former colleagues,” said a CREW spokeswoman.

Taking on the Lobbyists. Readers might recall that last week Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) entered into the Congressional Record some fervent comments against a lobbyist whose firm has taken up the cause of Sudan’s government. Now he’s gone a step further.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter, the Congressman is cautioning his peers about meeting with the lobbyist Robert Cabelly of C/R International.

“I urge members to use caution in accepting meetings with this firm,” Wolf wrote. The government of Sudan “has armed militia to abduct, rape, and murder innocent men, women, and children. The same government that is responsible for the displacement of millions of people who continue to die in large numbers.”

Wolf also penned a lengthier note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose department granted Cabelly’s firm a waiver to represent the country, which the U.S. has sanctions against.

“I was deeply disturbed to learn … that the Government of Sudan has hired Mr. Robert Cabelly, managing director, C/R International, to lobby on its behalf,” he wrote to Rice. “Increasingly this town has appeared up for grabs to the highest bidder … [but] I would have hoped for more from the American government.

“My heart breaks when I recall the two young rape victims we interviewed during my last trip to Darfur,” Wolf continues in the letter to Rice. “I would welcome your comments on this decision and the possibility of seeing it reversed.” Cabelly, who declined to comment for last week’s story, could not be reached for this story.

K Street Moves. Sarah Walter, a former legislative director for then-Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), has hung out her own shingle. Walter Consulting, her firm of one, specializes in health care policy and will work with such clients as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Boston Scientific. After leaving Capitol Hill in 2004, Walter first joined Venn Strategies. “It’s great being my own boss,” she said.

Tim Fisher has joined MetLife as vice president and head of international government relations. He comes from the Washington, D.C., office of insurer ACE INA, where he was vice president of global government affairs.

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.