A Blitz Is Coming

Posted July 24, 2007 at 6:21pm

A group known for its splashy TV issue ads, including the “Harry and Louise” spots that helped kill HillaryCare in the 1990s, is planning a big buy to defend a program that Democrats have put on the chopping block. [IMGCAP(1)]

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the lobbying group for the health insurance industry headed by Karen Ignagni, will announce its upcoming campaign today. The ads target a Congressional plan that would cut funds for the Medicare Advantage program to help raise an estimated $50 billion-plus for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“AHIP and our member companies have been fully supportive of funding the SCHIP program to make sure we are providing coverage for as many uninsured children as possible, but we do not believe that should happen at the expense of 8.5 million seniors,” AHIP spokesman Mohit Ghose said. “We have always said that this is false choice being presented to Congress where Members are being asked to pit the needs of children against the needs of seniors.”

Ghose would not say the dollar figure associated with the advertising campaign, but it is likely to run well into the seven figures with ads running nationally and in targeted districts aimed at particular Members.

“It is a substantial effort so that Members of Congress will hear from their constituents,” Ghose said.

The SCHIP debate has grown increasingly volatile. Already tobacco companies have ramped up efforts to ward off a proposed tax increase whose revenue would go toward the SCHIP expansion. And AHIP, the successor group to the Health Insurance Association of America, wants to make sure Medicare Advantage isn’t gutted because AHIP members such as Cigna administer the coverage.

The AHIP announcement is planned for 9:15 a.m. today in the group’s offices at 601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Ghose said he could not discuss the contents of the ads until then but said he expects them to be on the air as early as this week. “All options are on the table,” he said.

The full House could vote on the SCHIP package by next week, but some Members have indicated that political squeamishness over the Medicare Advantage cuts and the new tobacco tax could postpone the vote until after the August recess.

AHIP isn’t the only group running ads on the topic. The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care this week launched a TV and print campaign to put the brakes on Medicare cuts to fund the children’s program.

And on the other side, the American Medical Association and the senior lobby AARP have teamed up for a joint advertising effort to push for SCHIP expansion, while an impromptu group led by the Catholic Health Association today is convening a press conference to announce its support for SCHIP. That group includes the AFL-CIO, Families USA, Islamic Society of North America, and United Jewish Communities, among others.

Thompson Watch. Although former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) still hasn’t made his presidential bid official, he’s continuing to build out his operation by tapping into the Washington, D.C., network of former Tennessee staffers. Most recently Thompson lured former Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R) staffer Mark Esper to the campaign.

Esper, who for the past year worked as executive vice president for defense and international affairs for the Aerospace Industries Association of America, will be working as an adviser on national security issues for the campaign. Thompson’s campaign team also added Richard Hertling, who recently left the Department of Justice as acting attorney general for legislative affairs. Hertling has a history with Thompson. During his tenure in the Senate, Hertling served as a press aide to Thompson.

What’s in a Name? When Susan Hirschmann left Capitol Hill in 2002 she commanded top dollar for a very obvious reason: She was chief of staff to then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who ruled the House — and sometimes K Street, too — with a firm hand.

Since then, DeLay has been indicted in a Lone Star State fundraising probe. He has been linked to the Jack Abramoff scandal and watched ex-aides plead guilty to such nasty crimes as bribery. And he has resigned from Congress altogether.

Although Hirschmann’s bio at Williams & Jensen lists her years of service to the “Majority Whip of the House of Representatives,” there’s no mention of DeLay by name. The bio does, however, name another one-time boss, former Rep. Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.).

Another former DeLay aide, Tom Pyle of the Rhoads Group, lists his work as a “Policy Analyst in the Office of the Majority Whip” but doesn’t reference that it was during DeLay’s reign. And Drew Maloney of Ogilvy Government Relations “served as Administrative Assistant and Legislative Director for the Republican House Majority Whip,” according to his bio.

So what happened to Tom DeLay? Gone must be the days of trading on the DeLay name.

Pyle said he is making no attempt to mask his work for the former Majority Leader. Hirschmann and Maloney did not return a call seeking comment.

Of course, many lobbyists gloss over their careers saying they worked for a Member or in the White House but not saying which years or for which administration.

And some former DeLay aides have kept their one-time boss’s name on their bios, including Bill Jarrell of Washington Strategies and Stuart Roy, a former DeLay spokesman who is now at Prism Public Affairs.

“A good bit of our business is crisis communications, so anything related to civil, criminal or Congressional investigations, one of us [at the firm] would be able to navigate it,” said Roy, who noted that one of his Prism colleagues, Dale Leibach, previously worked for another Member with ethics issues, former Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.).

Another former DeLay aide said it’s customary to list the leadership office for which a former staffer worked and not necessarily the name of the Member who held that office. “I’m not running away from the Tom DeLay name,” this aide said.

A DeLay spokeswoman said her boss thinks it’s all much ado about nothing.

“He’s always hated name droppers,” said Shannon Flaherty. “The ‘I know Tom DeLay’ line went out in 2001.”

K Street Moves. Andrew Shore, who served as chief of staff to former Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) until joining Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw as a partner, is planning to open his own shop in August called Black Swan LLC, a nod to a book by author Nassim Taleb.

T.R. Goldman and Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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