No Recess for K Street

Lobbyists Plan Outreach Efforts in Districts, on Campaign Trail

Posted July 27, 2007 at 5:39pm

The countdown to the August recess has entered its final stretch with just one week to go. But for Washington, D.C., lobbying organizations, the steamy month of Congressional downtime means a lot more than slipping out of town to sip piña coladas on the beach.

It’s an opportunity to contact Members back home in their districts and to mobilize constituents with issue ads and special events. The break also gives lobbyists a chance to set up along the campaign trail to push their agendas with presidential candidates in ocean-free zones such as Des Moines, Iowa.

Usual suspects AARP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America plan to hit the road in August along with some grass-roots newcomers, including ONE, the organization founded by rock star Bono.

“August is a critical month,” said James Fuller, a managing director at Public Strategies Inc., which is working to shape patent legislation for the Coalition for 21st Century Patent Reform. “When Members go home they hear about all these types of issues. Now’s the time when they take notice.”

Fuller’s coalition plans to organize in-district meetings, letter and e-mail writing campaigns, and efforts to get its allies to be vocal participants at Members’ town hall meetings. Fuller said all of this is intended to help lay the groundwork for upcoming action in September on patent reform bills in the House and Senate. Targets of the coalition’s August lobbying efforts, he said, include Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Edward Kennedy (Mass.), among others. “We’re going to be very aggressive in August, reaching out to companies in states we know we need,” he added.

Bono’s ONE campaign also is planning a major effort in August, said the group’s Kimberly Cadena, asking its 2.5 million supporters to speak with their Members when it comes to the farm bill and other items.

“ONE will kick off the August recess with a grass-roots legislative briefing on the evening of August 2,” Cadena said. Over the recess, ONE members, sans Bono, will be lobbying for the Education for All and U.S. Commitment to Global Child Survival bills, she added.

Divided We Fail — a health care-focused effort sponsored by the AARP, Service Employees International Union and Business Roundtable — plans to hit the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 10 to make sure presidential contenders hear their views.

And Bill Miller, vice president and political director with the Chamber of Commerce, said his group dispatches lobbyists on the road during every Congressional recess.

“We decided this year to put an increased focus on doing those visits to Congressional districts and states where lots of our issues are in play and Congressional districts that are also politically in play,” Miller said, adding that fundraisers also are a component of the chamber’s August outreach to Members.

Miller’s team will focus on restarting the free-trade agenda, the stalled efforts on immigration reform and stymying union efforts in Congress including the card-check bill. “Whether you’re a union company or mid-sized, little guy or not, the passage and enactment of something like this would have severe consequences for the United States economy,” he said.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future is planning a barrage of targeted ads, direct mail and local press events.

“The Campaign for America’s Future plans to take the gloves off this recess to ensure that Americans are clear on who is pushing for change and who is standing in the way,” said Toby Chaudhuri, the group’s communications director. “The conservative minority has chosen a strategy of blocking legislation at a record pace in the Senate. We’re going to expose the obstruction.”

The private equity crowd, which is working to fend off proposals to increase taxes on the industry, is planning to continue making its case during the recess, said Robert Stewart, the Private Equity Council’s vice president of public affairs. “It makes much more sense for the country, for the economic growth of the country, not to single out private equity for punitive tax treatment,” he said.

America’s Health Insurance Plans — which went on the air last week with ads defending the Medicare Advantage program that is on the chopping block to help pay for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program — is planning to run more ads in targeted districts, depending on how this week’s SCHIP debate turns out. AHIP will be working closely with seniors who use Medicare Advantage through the Coalition for Medicare Choices, said AHIP spokesman Mohit Ghose.

“We are going to ensure that every Member of Congress understands what the impending cuts being proposed in the House mean for their constituents,” Ghose said. The 400,000 volunteer members of the coalition, he added, “will go to town hall meetings and interact at the district office.”

Also on the health care front, PhRMA plans to fuel up its Partnership for Prescription Assistance bus, which will roll into several Members’ districts over August, including those of Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Gene Green (D-Texas) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). The PPA is a pharmaceutical company program that helps pay for medicine for low-income people. PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson said the bus already has done 13 events but plans to ramp up the tour in August.

“August is important for us because it’s the one time a year when most Members are back home in their districts,” he said. “During August, we have the opportunity to hold a significant number of events.”