Men in Black

Posted June 5, 2007 at 6:30pm

Black-tie is back in on Capitol Hill.

House Democrats targeted the local charity gala circuit early this year by inadvertently banning lawmakers from accepting free tickets to the events when they overhauled House ethics rules. [IMGCAP(1)]

Charity groups and lawmakers squealed in protest, and Democratic leaders, who called the change a drafting error, pledged to fix it.

They made good on that promise last month in a little- noticed change as they pushed through their second round of reforms aimed at cleaning up the legislative process. A 23-word clause Democrats tacked to the end of the rule governing debate on their lobbying reform proposal simply clears Members of Congress to once again go gratis to the local balls.

“Members had been complaining that they couldn’t go to smaller charity events because of the rule change,” said John Santore, spokesman for House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

Event planners also experienced heartburn.

They rely on lawmaker attendance to goose corporate sponsors, and with concern about the rule change spreading on the Hill, they saw participation tumble. For example, organizers of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gala, held at the Kennedy Center in February, had to inform nearly 20 Members they already had invited about the rule change. Most lawmakers ended up skipping the event.

Carolyn Peachey, of the event coordination firm Campbell Peachey & Associates, said she has been vetting all of her invites with the ethics committees this year. No more, she said, though she predicted planners will still proceed cautiously.

“Nobody in the event business wants to issue an invitation that gets a client or a Member of Congress in trouble,” she said.

The foul-up wasn’t the only oops-a-daisy in the reform process.

Another Democratic rules change intended to ban lawmakers from hitching rides on corporate jets also accidentally prohibited about a half-dozen Members from flying on their own planes. Democrats fixed that earlier this year.

More recently, proving Democrats don’t have a monopoly on reform goofs, Republican Rep. Chris Cannon (Utah) authored an amendment to the reform bill meant to limit outsourcing of Congressional legal work. But it could have the unintended effect of forcing several of the largest law and lobbying shops in town to fire their lobbying clients. House and Senate negotiators are likely to clean it up in conference.

Going Google. The search is over. The rapidly growing Google has landed two new Democratic lobbyists for its in-house operation.

John Burchett, an aide to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), will lead Google’s state government relations, while Johanna Shelton, senior staff member for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is joining as policy counsel and legislative strategist.

Burchett, who had been Granholm’s chief of staff, will work out of Google’s Washington, D.C., office.

Shelton, who starts at Google on June 25, will serve as the company’s chief liaison with Congressional Democrats. Since January, she has been Energy and Commerce’s senior counsel for telecommunications and the Internet under Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).

Meanwhile, Google also tapped some extra help recently from outside firm Brownstein Hyatt & Farber to aid in its proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick Inc.

Give Peace a Pass. The International Peace Garden, located on the border of North Dakota and Canada, may not spend money on high-priced lobbyists, but the garden has one well-placed advocate in home-state Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

Conrad has drafted an amendment to the immigration bill — already a magnet for add-ons — that would exempt visitors to the Peace Garden from a new mandate that would require them to carry a passport.

Peace garden officials say they worry many of the U.S. residents who visit the garden and its 2,400 acres would skip it if it included the costly requirement of getting a passport. For his part, Conrad has drafted an amendment that would “allow citizens and nationals of the United States to travel to the International Peace Garden” with free “Peace Garden Passes.”

The passport requirement “would economically eliminate many many people from entering the garden,” said its director Doug Hevenor. “The amendment would allow people to stop at the border point, receive a peace garden pass from the custom’s station.” They would be required to show a photo ID.

Otherwise, Hevenor said, “60 percent of our attendance comes from the United States. I would envisions we would lose up to half or more of that immediately.”

Hevenor added that the 75-year-old Peace Garden’s mission is to celebrate the friendly relations between Canada and the United States. Each country donated land for the garden. Visitors can camp there or view several memorials, including one to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Hevenor said Conrad and the state’s other Members have been “extremely supportive” of the garden’s campaign.

Of course, not everyone sees the issue as a serious one that merits consideration on the comprehensive immigration bill. “It doesn’t pass the laugh test,” said Brian Darling, director of Senate relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation. Heritage has expressed concerns over the bigger immigration bill because, Darling said, it would grant amnesty to more than 12 million illegal immigrants.

K Street Moves. Ryan Spangler, who was deputy scheduler in the office of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), has joined Monument Policy Group as a lobbyist.

• The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers has added Kim Custer as its director of communications.