Family Plan

Posted June 8, 2007 at 6:32pm

House Democratic leaders want to make sure lawmakers don’t put political cash in their own pockets by placing their husbands and wives on their campaign payrolls. [IMGCAP(1)]

The practice, relatively widespread in the chamber, could soon be outlawed by a bill Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) dropped late last week. Co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), it already has gathered signatures from nearly all the top Democrats in the House.

“We have to put an end to it, and we have to put an end to a structure that can lead to abuse,” Schiff said.

The measure also addresses lawmakers’ close relatives. Lawmakers would have to disclose on their federal campaign reports any immediate family members working for their political operations.

Schiff and Castle both tried to offer versions of their plan as add-ons to the lobbying reform package the House approved last month. But Democratic leaders decided the proposal would work better as a stand-alone measure addressing campaign finance laws.

Earlier this year, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) got shot down when he tried to tack a similar proposal onto the Senate lobbying overhaul.

In the previous election cycle, at least 19 spouses of House lawmakers collected more than $635,000 working for their partner’s campaign accounts, according to a review conducted by the Sunlight Foundation. Those figures, though, do not include payments made from leadership PACs, and it does not include immediate family members.

In perhaps the best known example, Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) paid Sierra Dominion Financial Services — his wife Julie’s firm — hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions to help raise money for his reelection campaign and leadership PAC. Federal investigators recently raided Sierra Dominion’s offices in their ongoing probe of Doolittle’s ties to convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer called the bill an important piece of Congressional reform efforts.

“It’s not that everyone who’s doing it is necessarily abusing it,” he said. “But it’s just too dangerous and too subject to abuse for Members to in effect supplement their salaries by putting their relatives on the payroll.”

Sleuthing for PACS. Speaking of leadership PACs, the folks at the Center for Responsive Politics are looking for a few good men and women to help them match new funds with the lawmakers behind them.

Current campaign finance laws don’t require Members of Congress setting up the political accounts to identify themselves. And since lawmakers rarely publicly announce their funds, leadership PACs operate in the shadows until self-appointed sleuths at watchdog groups can pin them down.

The center is asking citizen detectives to investigate 31 accounts stumping their researchers. Among them: Lone Star Leadership PAC, Opportunity PAC, Right Track PAC and Woodlands PAC.

Bill Allison at the Sunlight Foundation, already has figured out two. He linked the Penguin PAC to Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and the Arch Leadership PAC to Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.).

Science Coalition Gets Smart. One of the Podesta Group’s longtime and most lucrative clients, the Science Coalition, is experimenting with the idea of hiring a new lobbying firm. The coalition put out a request for proposals this year and hopes to wrap up its search by fall.

That puts Podesta in the awkward position of running the coalition’s Washington, D.C., operations, fielding press calls about the bid for a new firm and all the while competing to keep the client, which has been with Podesta at least since 1999, according to lobbying disclosure reports.

Those same reports show that in 2006 the Science Coalition, which lobbies for more funding for university research programs, paid Podesta Group $640,000. The client has been a steady stream of income — paying Podesta as much as $860,000 in 2004 and never less than $440,000 — over the years.

Podesta spokeswoman Missi Tessier said that the firm is in the mix with several others seeking to represent the coalition. “Since we’re the current representatives, we’re not at all involved in the process, except as a competitor,” Tessier said.

Matt Hammons, federal relations coordinator for the University of Nebraska and a coalition member, said the coalition’s membership “felt it would be a good business practice” to solicit new firms more regularly. He would not say whether there were any specific concerns with Podesta.

Hammons added that the Science Coalition was striving for “as open and transparent” a search process as possible, yet he declined even to say how many lobbying firms have applied to represent the group.

“I think it’s a sensitive issue with the membership,” he said. “This is the first time in a number of years that we’ve done this.”

Hammons said Science Coalition solicited the bids from other firms after much internal discussion over the years.

“We want to see what’s available, what the current thinking is,” he said. “We think it’s a good business practice to look at different perspectives and to look at how the Science Coalition is seen, what new ideas are out there and what’s the best way to accomplish our mission.”

He said the search was a laborious process, something that is obvious to some of the firms who have entered the beauty contest. Said one lobbyist at a Podesta rival: “This has been an incredibly intricate RFP and competition. There’s all sorts of rounds, and four cuts, I believe.”

K Street Moves. Just in time for one of this week’s hottest issues — energy — Shell Oil Co. has added to its lobbying outpost. Henry Dixon, formerly a director of global public policy for Time Warner and a one-time aide to former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), has joined as senior counsel responsible for corporate issues. The company also hired Marnie Funk, a former GOP communications director on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as vice president of communications.

• Elaine Ryan, formerly chief of staff to Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), has joined AARP as director of state and intergovernmental affairs.