Game On

Posted January 30, 2007 at 6:44pm

Capitol Hill’s boys and girls of summer, fear not. The new ethics rules will not bench you just as warmer weather promises the return of your favorite pastime.

The gift ban approved by the House, and pending in the Senate, threatens to end the increasingly popular practice of lobbying interests sponsoring equipment, uniform and league fees for Congressional softball squads. [IMGCAP(1)]

But the International Softball Federation, the world governing body for the sport, is coming to the rescue. Bruce Wawrzyniak, a spokesman for the group, said they want to offer free equipment, and possibly uniforms, to any dispossessed teams to make sure they take the field this summer. “We’re concerned about people being denied the opportunity to play, if they are fully intentioned to do so,” he said.

The nonprofit group employs no lobbyists, so as long as the supplies fall under the $50 gift limit, their offer is fair game, ethics experts said. A gift rule carve-out would allow the group to supply hats and T-shirts, too.

It could be the first time the group has offered to send assistance to an American softball league. Last year alone, it doled out more than a half-million dollars worth of equipment, but the gear went to places like Serbia, Tunisia and Kenya. Since 2002, when it started the program, the federation has shipped nearly $1.9 million worth of softball stuff.

Among the packages it offers is a softball “starter kit” that comes with 12 gloves, four bats, four batting helmets, 24 balls, a set of catcher’s gear and a set of temporary bases. Since the price tag of that package easily tops $50, Congressional teams may be well-advised to limit their wish list to uniforms.

Several teams in both House leagues stand to be affected by the new gift rules. The House Energy and Commerce Committee team, the E&C Athletics, is sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute. Hoosier Daddies, a team of staffers from Indiana offices, is covered by B&D Consulting, a subsidiary of Indianapolis-based law firm Baker & Daniels. The Western Caucus’ team, Raucus Caucus, is sponsored by the National Fisheries Institute. And, in perhaps the strangest line-up of backers, the Blue Pups get help from the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Distilled Spirits Council, the pharmaceutical company Amgen, and Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Teams are still clear to get help from local bars and pizza parlors, provided they don’t employ any lobbyists. Roll Call’s team, the EditOrioles, received team shirts from the Billy Goat Tavern.

And there’s always the craziest option: digging in your own pockets to pay for yourselves.

Heating Up. As the debate heats up over the Earth’s climate, energy lobbyist Robert Talley has set up the Climate Policy Group, a new coalition of public power and utilities companies.

Congress has set up special panels and started hearings on the issue, and on Friday, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is set to release its latest report.

Talley, who said the coalition plans a press rollout in the coming weeks, was mum on the impromptu group’s members. And under current lobbying law, a coalition does not have to disclose its members in reports to the House and Senate. But, Talley said, those (for now) nameless, faceless companies hail from seven states and are “interested in the discussion in climate and where Congress is going to go on greenhouse gases.”

Talley runs Talley & Associates and already represents several utilities including ElectriCities of North Carolina and the Colorado Springs Utility.

“They are interested in participating in the climate debate constructively,” said Talley, who worked on the Hill for then-Rep. Alex McMillan (R-N.C.). “It’s a very complex issue, and how Congress chooses to resolve the issue will have a profound effect on energy allocation and usage for all Americans.”

What’s in a Title? A story in Monday’s Vested Interests (“Congress’ Wary Outreach to K St.”) about House Republican and Democratic outreach to K Streeters reported that an aide to House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has taken over the operation’s coalitions portfolio.

That aide, Kyle Nevins, has been sending out e-mails and keeping business community insiders connected to the whip team. But Blunt spokeswoman Burson Snyder said that even though he is filling that role, no permanent decision has been made. Nevins has not been named coalitions director for the office, and he continues “to serve as chief floor assistant in the Whip’s office,” Snyder said.

At least for now, Nevins is the point-person for K Street.

K Street Moves. Democratic lobbyist Anita Estell, a longtime lobbyist with Van Scoyoc Associates, has joined Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus as a principal.

• After a stint with the lobbying firm C2 Group, Shahira Knight, formerly a GOP Ways and Means Committee aide, has joined the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s government relations department.