Democrats R Us?

Posted April 13, 2007 at 6:19pm

The beleaguered post-merger Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, whose lobbying unit found itself nearly devoid of Democrats at a most inconvenient time, seems to have made a breakthrough with the party in power. SIFMA has tapped Scott DeFife, a senior policy adviser to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), to serve as its senior managing director of government affairs. [IMGCAP(1)]

That title will put DeFife on par with SIFMA’s Richard Hunt, a former aide to Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), and K Street sources said SIFMA has agreed to pay DeFife handsomely — in the eye-popping $500,000 to $800,000 range. DeFife did not return a call seeking comment, and a spokeswoman for Hoyer referred calls to SIFMA.

A SIFMA spokesman declined comment, but sources at the group said an announcement was expected today. DeFife plans to start the new post in early May, and SIFMA sources said the move likely would get the ball rolling for adding some more Democrats to the group’s lobbying roster.

In recent weeks, SIFMA, which is a combination of the Bond Market Association and the Securities Industry Association, has lost several Democrats including Roger Hollingsworth, who went to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; Michael Williams, who took a job with Credit Suisse; and Peter Roberson, who has gone to the House Financial Services Committee.

K Street sources have said that Citigroup lobbyist Jimmy Ryan, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), turned down the job and that other Democrats were reluctant to join SIFMA, despite the high salary, because the group has had difficulties easing into the merger and because they viewed Hunt as overly partisan. SIFMA originally appointed two co-chief executives, but one of those, Micah Green, recently announced he was leaving.

Climbing Down. The Congressional Institute, which organizes regular retreats and conferences for House and Senate Republicans, is getting a new top dog. Mark Strand, who most recently served as chief of staff to former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), will become president of the group as soon as its founder and 20-year president, Jerome Climer, steps down in the coming weeks.

“I am old and worn out,” Climer quipped. “I’ve lost all my hair and my good looks.”

Climer, who spent another 20 years on Capitol Hill — including as chief of staff to former Rep. Ed Bethune (R-Ark.) — before taking the lead at the institute, said he will continue to serve as president of the Public Governance Institute.

In other news at the group, Vice President Mary Tavenner Walker, a longtime lobbyist, plans to return to government relations consulting as well as start a real estate business. Walker, who has worked for retail and auto industry clients, said: “I’m real excited about it.”

Outsourcing. A group of House Democratic freshmen pushing a plan to restructure the ethics enforcement process is trying to build support for the approach among colleagues before an open hearing on the subject this week.

Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), the lead sponsor of a measure to outsource ethics investigations to an independent commission, is hunting for signatures to a “Dear Colleague” in the hopes more members of the freshman class and others will sign onto the plan, Democratic aides said.

A task force examining whether the House ethics committee adequately can police lawmaker conduct will hold its only public hearing on Thursday.

Bon Appetit. Fresh evidence that the ethics reforms haven’t ended the long love affair between lobbyists and restaurants: Hook, a seafood restaurant set to open this week in Georgetown, is backed by some of K Street’s finest.

Bill Miller, vice president and political director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Matt Keelen, partner in the firm Valis & Keelen, are both investors in the venture. So is Rhonda Bentz, a lobbyist for Visa, and B.R. McConnon, head of Democracy Data & Communications, which provides lobbying firms with Internet technology.

“It’s a great opportunity to practice what we preach, and support the entrepreneurial spirit we represent,” Miller said.

While lobbyists have a long history of investing in restaurants, Miller said the eatery is a break from typical downtown fare: The menu focuses on sustainable seafood, with local, organic ingredients.

The restaurant lured Barton Seaver away from Café Saint-Ex to serve as executive chef and picked up the pastry chef from Citronelle to concoct deserts.

Safe at Citi. It looks as if Citigroup’s lobbyists most likely are safe from the company’s recent chopping-block effort. In fact, most of the company’s Washington, D.C., employees will not be touched when the company slices an estimated 17,000 jobs. “We’re not breaking it down by specific functions or businesses, but less than 1 percent of our work force in D.C. are going to be affected,” said Citigroup spokesman Mike Hanretta.

Citigroup has 670 employees in D.C., and sources said it was highly unlikely that any federal government relations jobs would be hit.

Tax-Day Eve. Your taxes are due Tuesday. And as if that’s not depressing enough, how about spending this morning commiserating with the likes of Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and other anti-tax and small-business groups?

Billed as “tax-day eve” at the National Press Club, Norquist and company plan to advocate for tax cuts and greater transparency for government spending at the 10 a.m. confab.

“We’re going to have all sorts of excitement,” Norquist said late last week. “We’re obviously focused on the Democrats’ plans to not continue the presidents’ tax cuts. They’re budgeting to spend the money, so unless they’re planning to rob France, they’ll be raising taxes.”

Other groups that will participate in the annual event, which in other years has taken place on Capitol Hill and in front of the White House, include the American Shareholders Association, Heritage Foundation, National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste, among others.

When it comes to the movement for more transparency in government spending — from earmarks to government contracts — Norquist said he plays different branches of government off of each other. “Everybody wants transparency on other people’s stuff, so we work with the White House to get transparency on earmarks and with Congress to get transparency for the White House,” he explained. And so it goes.

K Street Moves. The American Cancer Society has added Dick Woodruff, formerly with the Alliance for Justice, as senior director of federal relations and former Treasury Department official Stephen Finan, as health economist.