No Money, No Problem

Posted January 23, 2007 at 6:33pm

Any penny-pinching lobbyists looking to save a few thousand dollars in the sure-to-break-records 2008 presidential race have the perfect candidate to throw their theoretical support behind: Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). [IMGCAP(1)]

Not only has Obama’s presidential exploratory committee said it will refuse all donations from political action committees, but it also is barring cash from registered federal lobbyists. Word has just started to spread among K Street’s Democrats that when it comes to the candidate’s coffers, they’re off the hook.

“Thank, God,” quipped one prominent Democratic lobbyist who does not publicly support any candidate. “Now I’m for him.”

Another well-known K Street Democrat, one who publicly supports another candidate in the party’s primary field, echoed those sentiments, saying lobbyists are high-fiving the move.

“Most people are happy about it,” this lobbyist said. “Some people are going to get hit up by multiple candidates, but not by Barack.”

This lobbyist said Obama can likely succeed in raising the $50 million he’ll need to be competitive in early primaries through online donations and grass-roots support from beyond the Beltway, other Democratic contenders such as Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Joseph Biden (Del.) would find that banning lobbyists’ contributions “could potentially affect their ability to remain competitive” since both have large donor networks in the advocacy world.

The party’s frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will cash lobbyists’ campaign donations, too. But former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) won’t. An aide with the Edwards campaign confirmed that Edwards wants nothing to do with the money of PACs or federally-registered lobbyists.

Among the qualifications for acceptable donations listed on Obama’s Web site are that the funds are not from a PAC. A donor also must certify that, “This contribution is not made from the funds of an individual registered as a federal lobbyist or a foreign agent, or an entity that is a federally registered lobbying firm or foreign agent.”

Dan Pfeiffer, a spokesman for Obama’s exploratory committee, said the prohibition is not limited to Web donations. “The same criteria applies to all donations,” he said, including old fashioned handwritten checks. Pfeiffer said he was not certain whether Obama’s campaign also would turn away funds that lobbyists helped raise from their family members, friends and non-lobbyist clients and colleagues or whether it applies to lobbyists who are registered at the state or local level.

While most lobbyists privately cheered Obama’s move as a money-saver for their own bank accounts, one lobbyist

who supports Obama’s candidacy said he was disappointed not to be able to put his money behind the presidential contender. “He just saved me $2,000, but I wish I could write the check,” the lobbyist said.

Obama, who has been a leading proponent of tightening lobbying ethics laws, has not always shied away from lobbyist and PAC money. In the 2005-2006 cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission, Obama reported collecting about $100,000 from PACs alone, including those connected with BellSouth, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and the National Association of Realtors.

“If you’re a lobbyist you just have to accept that elected officials, especially in the Democratic party, have decided we’re a target and they’re going to score political points on us,” said one Democratic lobbyist.

New Congress, New Clients. Longtime lobbyist Alan Roth, a partner with Lent Scrivner & Roth and, more importantly, a one-time aide to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) has been tapped by pharmaceutical company Amgen, which has been locked in a long-running legislative feud with rival firm Roche.

Roth, who served as Democratic staff director and chief counsel on the tony committee in the 1990s, also added AT&T and Qualcomm to his firm’s client roster and is close to inking a deal with the United States Telecom Association.

“After 10 years as a Democratic lobbyist, it’s nice to get your phone calls returned,” said Roth, who added that the firm is looking to pick up another Democrat. The firm’s Louis Finkel left late last year for a corporate lobbying job with oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp., but Finkel has returned to Capitol Hill to work for the Science Committee.

As for the Amgen-Roche fight, the two companies have been warring over patent laws that could allow a Roche product that treats anemia into the U.S. market to compete with one of Amgen’s most profitable therapies, Epogen.

K Street Moves. Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal has added John Russell IV and Gilberto Ocañas to its national public law and policy strategies group. Russell, who spent a decade on Capitol Hill including a stint as deputy to the chief of staff for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), is signing on as managing director. Ocañas, who in 2000 led the National Latino Presidential Campaign for the Democratic National Committee, will be a senior adviser. “John and Gilberto both will be tremendous assets to Sonnenschein’s public policy practice,” said Mike McNamara, chair of Sonnenschein’s lobbying group.

• Kerry Feehery, communications director to Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), has left Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of the new Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R). Her title will be director of the executive office of the Governor.

• Janene Jackson, formerly a staff member for the D.C. City Council, is joining the D.C. Chamber of Commerce as senior vice president of external affairs, a position that amounts to the group’s top lobbyist.