Common Ground

Posted September 28, 2007 at 6:03pm

Democratic aides on the Senate Finance Committee, who have been busy working on a measure that would allow people to file their taxes directly at the Internal Revenue Service’s Web site, have found an ally in one business.

Lobbyists for Electronic Data Systems Corp., which easily would be in line to get a contract for the IRS site should the measure become law, have been encouraging the committee to move forward with the idea. [IMGCAP(1)]

“Like many companies who serve as information technology partners with governments, EDS has experience in implementing this type of solution at different levels of government,” Booth Jameson, EDS’s director for global government affairs, wrote in an e-mailed statement to Roll Call. “To the extent that we, or other companies, can make ourselves available as a resource to help Congress learn more about implementing this type of solution, we are happy to help.”

The measure, though, is not without controversy. Tax preparation companies such as H&R Block and Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, along with dozens of others have said they have concerns with the idea. The IRS itself has given the concept a chilly reception. “It would be expensive, and there are security issues,” offered one lobbyist whose client opposes the idea.

The online filing proposal could be included in a larger tax bill set for markup in the coming weeks, said lobbyists familiar with the issue, but at this point nothing has been introduced. “Chairman Baucus has always said he believes there should be a way for folks to file their tax returns on the IRS Web site truly for free,” said Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for Baucus on the Finance Committee. “The committee is clearly looking at that issue.”

A committee aide said several organizations have reached out to the committee regarding their interest in the IRS.gov site. One lobbyist supportive of the effort said, “We’re trying to see if there are like-minded companies” to get on the bandwagon.

You can bet that just as certain as the tax man cometh, the lobbyists for and against the proposal will be making the rounds.

Where’s the Love? The long-gestating presidential campaign of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), by all accounts, has had a rocky rollout in recent weeks. But at least he can count on stalwart support from his former colleagues on K Street, right? Well, maybe not.

The professionals at Arent Fox, the law and lobbying shop where Thompson hung his hat for the three years prior to his successful 1994 Senate bid, have given more donations to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) than any other White House hopeful, including Thompson, according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The report only covers the first six months of this year. So Thompson’s fundraising from his old stomping grounds could improve in third-quarter reports, due in two weeks. But if giving patterns to date are any indication, the firm has a definite blue tint: The report found Arent Fox employees have given $24,600 to Democrats — $11,700 more than GOPers picked up. And the firm’s political action committee has doled out 71 percent of its boodle to Democrats this year, according to CQ MoneyLine. A firm official did not respond to a request for comment.

Look, Up in the Sky! The Podesta Group already is a pretty tony outfit, pun intended. So it makes sense they’d pick up a swank client like NetJets, the time-share private jet company that caters to up-and-coming corporate raiders. The Podesta team recently registered to help NetJets negotiate “fractional jet ownership tax provisions,” according to a Senate filing. The company appears to be on a K Street hiring spree of late, also inking deals with O’Neill & Associates and, more recently, Miller & Chevalier. A NetJets spokeswoman did not return a call for comment.

Talking Money. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who hails from the nation’s financial capital and sits on the House Financial Services Committee, got one of his pet legislative efforts passed last week: a Congressional resolution to encourage more racial and gender diversity within the financial services sector.

The resolution — backed by such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Securities Professionals and the Rainbow Push Coalition — doesn’t require financial services companies to hire more women and minorities, but Meeks said it expresses Congress’ desire.

The executives and lobbyists of companies in the sector can expect to get an earful when they stop in to lobby Meeks and other Members. “As we are talking to the CEOs of the financial services industry, we will be reminding them that Congress is in fact looking at diversity,” Meeks said, adding that since Democrats took control of Congress he has seen more black lobbyists but “there’s definitely room for improvement.”

Some K Street observers said Congress itself needs to increase diversity among staffers.

Meeks said the idea for the sense-of-the-Congress resolution came to him after he toured big financial services offices in New York. “There were very few, if any, minorities that were around,” he said. Meeks said he suggests that banks and other financial services firms recruit for interns at historically black colleges as one way of improving their diversity. “This is absolutely the beginning,” he said. “We’re looking, and we’re going to call you on it.”

Mike Williams, a director in the Washington office of Credit Suisse, said he expects the resolution to have some impact, even though it doesn’t carry the weight of law. “It’s a conversation starter,” said Williams, who is black. Williams said he and other black lobbyists have been championing diversity on Capitol Hill.

K Street Moves. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is revving up. The group has tapped Shane Karr, previously with the Transportation Department, as vice president of federal government affairs. In addition, Richard Lopez, who formerly was executive director of legislative affairs for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, is parking at the auto alliance as director of federal government affairs. Lopez also previously worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). And Charles Robinson, formerly with the now-defunct Electronic Industries Alliance, will serve as a vice president.

• Powell Tate has brought on Peter Carson, formerly with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, as executive vice president. He will head Powell Tate’s health care practice. Carson, who spent a decade on Capitol Hill, once served as chief of staff to Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.).

• Terry Abramson, previously with APCO Worldwide, has joined Widmeyer Communications’ Washington, D.C., office as a vice president. He will focus on higher education issues.

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