Sweet Charity

Posted January 26, 2007 at 5:47pm

For the time being, House lawmakers can put their black-tie garb in storage. [IMGCAP(1)]

In their rush to tighten ethics rules as soon as they took power, House Democrats inadvertently targeted local charity events that rely on lawmaker participation to raise funds. The little-noticed change bans Members of Congress from accepting free tickets to any benefit that is organized by a group employing lobbyists.

Since many, if not most, of the fundraising galas that make up the town’s after-hours social scene get bankrolled by corporate money, the measure could have a sweeping impact on local philanthropy. As several people involved with the events explain, lobbyists fork over for the galas because they are valuable opportunities to get face-time with Members.

“It’s important for lobbyists to be able to tell their bosses they got to talk to a lot of Members, so they know money was well-spent,” a Republican lobbyist said.

Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, said her group, which represents nearly 600 charities and nonprofits, plans to weigh in on the change. “We don’t want to be in a situation where they can be misused, but we don’t want them to be so closed-off that lawmakers can’t go to events that are reasonable for them to go to,” she said.

But a senior House aide said Democratic leaders already were aware of the issue and called it the result of a “technical drafting mistake.”

He said authors of the rules package should have made it clear that charity events were meant to be considered in the category of “widely attended” events. Members and staff are still allowed to attend those functions thanks to an exemption in the gift rules.

Instead, however, free tickets to nonprofit fundraisers got lumped in with a new ban on all gifts from lobbyists and the organizations that employ them. The House ethics committee made their interpretation of the new rule clear in an advisory memo issued earlier this month. “Under the revised rules, House Members and staff also may no longer accept free attendance at charitable events sponsored by entities that retain or employ registered lobbyists or foreign agents, or sponsored by such lobbyists or agents themselves,” the memo states.

The senior aide said Democratic leaders plan to fix the foul-up soon by attaching a clarification to “an appropriate vehicle.”

If they don’t, the disease-ball circuit will never be the same.

Contact Sports. Speaking of new ethics rules ruining a good time, Roll Call reported this week that lawmaker anxiety over appearing too cozy with K Street is sacking Congressional attendance at Super Bowl XLI. We could find only three fundraising events being staged around the big game — with the House Conservatives Fund hosting a reception the night before, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) gathering supporters at a breakfast the morning of, and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) actually offering tickets to the event as part of a multiday package.

It appears we missed one. Lobbyists looking to support House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) while taking in the NFL championship can cut his campaign a check for $4,200, or $5,000 for political action committees. Attendees will nosh with the Congressman during a game-day luncheon at Joe’s Stone Crab before heading over to Dolphin Stadium for the kickoff, according to a copy of an invite. Conyers’ camp did not respond to a request for comment.

To the Bank. Just in time for last week’s Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on credit card companies, the American Bankers Association inked a deal with the Democratic lobbying firm Glover Park Group. Sources said that Glover Park’s Joel Johnson and Joe Lockhart, both Clinton administration alums, will take the lead. Glover Park offered no comment.

The panel, chaired by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), looked into credit card companies’ fees, billing and marketing practices. More hearings and Congressional investigations are on the way.

Meanwhile, in proof that there is life after the elections for Republican lobbyists, DC Navigators continues to reel in clients, most recently inking deals with GlaxoSmithKline, AT&T and Unisys.

K Street Moves. Timothy Yehl, formerly the chief of staff for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), has joined the lobbying and public relations firm MWW Group as co-managing director and senior vice president of the Washington, D.C., office. Along with MWW’s William Morley, Yehl will help oversee lobbying, public relations and other government relations work for the firm’s clients. “Tim is a tremendous addition,” said Michael Kempner, president and CEO of MWW Group, in a statement.

• Valis & Keelen have picked up a pair of hires. Eric Dell joins the company from the office of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), where he served as chief of staff and legal counsel. Michael Falencki comes aboard after leaving the office of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), where he was deputy chief of staff.

• The tech-focused lobbying and consulting firm e-Copernicus has brought on three new employees: Robert Schill, who will be director of federal affairs and is a former aide to then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.); Juana Ines Pacheco, formerly with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, joins as senior adviser; and Rachel Mager comes on as executive assistant.

• Direct Impact has added Shannon Graham, previously vice president of public affairs for the Pennsylvania-based Bravo Group, as vice president for client services.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.