A Feast of Famine

Posted September 4, 2007 at 6:29pm

Like most lobbyists, the Rev. David Duncombe plans to spend the next 40 or 50 days trolling the halls of Congress trying to convince Members to pass his bill. Unlike the rest of K Street, 79-year-old Duncombe plans to get his electrolytes checked on a weekly basis.

That’s because part of his lobbying effort in support of the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation of 2007 includes eating no food. His only sustenance, Duncombe said Tuesday, will be one gallon of water each day. The bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), would cancel much of the debt that poor countries owe to the United States and international financial institutions. [IMGCAP(1)]

“To me, it would save lives, thousands of lives by enabling very poor countries to use their own financial resources to help the poor without being burdened with very serious debt,” said Duncombe, a retired United Church of Christ minister from White Salmon, Wash. “Many of these countries pay up to a third or a half of their total resources in debt service and are unable to apply that to health care, education, digging wells, public sanitation, those kind of things that really save lives.”

Duncombe plans to meet with Members and staff from about 10 offices each day. He has visits scheduled today with the offices of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Kristin Sundell, director of advocacy and organizing for a group called Jubilee USA, said she will help Duncombe coordinate his Hill visits. She also is working with the group’s grass-roots members, some of whom plan to fast for one day to bring attention to the legislation. “We’ll have them call their Members,” Sundell said.

The group is looking for supporters in the Senate, where the bill has not been introduced.

“To me, it’s unacceptable. That’s why I’m doing this, risking my life at 79 years old,” said Duncombe, who said he is starting out at an already thin 145 pounds on his 6-foot-2-inch frame. According to his bio, Duncombe graduated from Dartmouth College in 1953 with a political science degree and went on to earn his Ph.D. in religion from Yale University.

Duncombe has done extended fasts for similar causes in the past. “It gets a little difficult when I get very weak,” he said. “I go in and I talk about the bill. What I do is present myself as somebody who is starving because this is about people starving, and a starving person in sub-Saharan African can’t do it.”

Duncombe said that if his fasting renders him too weak to make it through a Member of Congress’ door either by cane, walker or wheelchair, then the fast is over, since his lobbying visits are the main purpose.

Love and War. It’s one of the stranger lobbying filings K Street Files has seen, and for now, at least, a mystery. The online dating service eHarmony recently hired the lobbyists at Cardinal Point Partners to lobby a pair of Defense Department bills. And yes, you read that correctly: Defense Department bills.

The lobbyists elaborated, barely, in Senate filings, by stating they would be targeting “military personnel support programs.”

So are the compatibility gurus at eHarmony trying to help our men and women in uniform find love as they battle the insurgency in Iraq? Or perhaps the company wants the Pentagon to make use of its new marriage counseling service to ease tensions over long deployments?

An eHarmony spokesman was unavailable for comment, and lobbyists at the firm did not return phone calls.

Greening the Capitol. Consider it a sign of the times. Greenpeace, the sometimes- controversial environmental group, has had a Washington, D.C., office for more than a decade. And its clipboard-wielding volunteers are a frequent sight on busy corners downtown. But as debates over energy and climate-change legislation heat up on Capitol Hill, the group, for the first time, has registered to lobby.

In late July, the nonprofit signed up three of its Washington staffers — Rick Hind, Phil Kline and Kate Smelksi — to represent the group before Congress on a wide array of environmental issues.

Tom Wetterer, the group’s general counsel, said Greenpeace occasionally has sent its officials to the Hill, but they never spent more than 20 percent of their time lobbying — the legal threshold requiring advocates to register.

“We’ve always used lobbying as one of our tools. It just so happens that this year will be a busy one because of the Hill activity,” Wetterer said. “It says more about what’s going up there than any conscious shift in our strategy.”

On Her Own. Count Lisa Kountoupes as the latest Democrat to launch a solo career. The former aide to House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and legislative liaison in the Clinton White House has left her perch at Clark & Weinstock to open her own shop, Kountoupes Consulting. During her three years with the firm, and four prior at the all-Democratic Ricchetti Inc., Kountoupes represented a range of corporate energy, financial services, telecommunications and health care clients. She did not return calls for comment.

K Street Moves. The American Forest & Paper Association has named Jan Poling as its new vice president and general counsel. Most recently, Poling served as associate general counsel for natural resources in the Department of Agriculture.

The Hawthorn Group has added Jason Owens as client services director and Christina Worden as communications director.

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