A See-Through Revolving Door

Posted October 23, 2007 at 6:40pm

Lawmakers and senior staffers playing employment footsie with K Street, be warned. Thanks to the new ethics law, if you’ve entered into job talks with a private group, you now need to notify your chamber’s ethics committee within three days.

Late last month, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct issued some little-noticed guidelines on the rule. [IMGCAP(1)]

While the new law does not define what constitutes a negotiation, the panel sets the threshold at “a communication between two parties with a view toward reaching an agreement” and in which there is “active interest on both sides.” That means simply sending a résumé downtown would not trigger the notification requirement, the panel said.

Job seekers, in addition to disclosing the talks, have to file a form with the ethics committee recusing themselves from any matters that present even the appearance of a conflict of interest. For public disclosure, Members of Congress must also file that form with the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate.

Make Music, Will Travel. For a musician, Canadian ragtime pianist Mimi Blais was surprisingly on the ball back in June when she applied for a work visa to cross the American border and perform at a Sept. 27 concert.

She decided to forgo a premium processing service that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has offered foreign artists for several years — though it would have ensured a speedy turnaround on her application — because it would have cost her exactly what the gig paid: $1,000.

Instead, her visa request languished in the slow lane. It was finally approved Sept. 29, two days after the close of the Duluth, Minn., Lake Superior Ragtime Society’s Ragtime Festival.

Now, a coalition of artists’ groups is leaning on Congress to reform the visa process and make it easier for performers like Blais to travel to the United States.

They backed a provision to guarantee a 45-day turnaround on foreign artists’ visas that was included in the manager’s package in this year’s immigration bill. And while comprehensive reform stalled in the spring, the artists’ lobbies have sustained momentum on their pet cause by framing it as anything but an immigration issue.

“No one who comes here stays, so this is not the kind of immigration issue that upsets people,” said Hal Ponder, a lobbyist for the American Federation of Musicians. His group is pushing the bill through a loose coalition that includes the American Arts Alliance, Dance/USA, OPERA American, and the American Symphony Orchestra League. “We’re making the point that this is really an arts bill.”

To that end, back in March, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduced the Arts Require Timely Service — or ARTS — Act to accomplish the visa streamlining in a stand-alone measure. The proposal passed out of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law last month and will get marked up by the full panel today.

Last week, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a companion measure. “We shouldn’t let the politics of immigration interfere with helping more Americans enjoy the arts,” Kerry spokesman David Wade said.

Rock On. Earlier this month, K Street Files tipped you off to a slew of rock concert fundraisers in the coming weeks. Among others, there were Rep. Mary Bono’s (R-Calif.) event at a Maroon 5 concert, Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) events at a Police show, and the Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) fundraiser at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Professional fundraisers must have realized they struck a nerve with fun-starved lobbyists, because here comes another: Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) is hosting supporters at the Van Halen concert Nov. 1. The concert is already sold out, so perhaps die-hard fans who want to see the band perform with original front man David Lee Roth for the first time in 20 years won’t mind ponying up $2,000 to Tiberi’s Buckeye Liberty Political Action Committee for tickets.

Talking Cuba. Lobbyists who follow U.S. relations with Cuba are gearing up for a speech by President Bush today on his policy toward the island nation.

Some advocates who have called for Bush to reverse a policy he put in place in 2004 that permits Cuban-Americans to visit family members in Cuba only once every three years said they were cautiously optimistic the president could announce changes to that strict policy. Previously, Cuban-Americans were allowed to travel once per year.

“Basically you can travel only once every three years, no exceptions. Your mother could be dying,” said Alvaro Fernandez, who leads the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, which wants to see fewer restrictions for family travel. “There is some speculation that [Bush] will ease up on the travel restrictions because there has been a backlash against Republicans in Miami.”

But Fernandez said he had received no indication that Bush will announce such changes and could very well reiterate current policy. That’s what Mauricio Claver-Carone expects. He’s a director with the anti-Fidel Castro U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports the current policy toward Cuba.

“We do not expect any changes,” he said. Instead, Bush “is going to bring a very human face to the policy” and put an end to rumors that the administration will ease its policy toward Cuba until the country releases political prisoners, legalizes opposition and steps up its human rights record.

Kirby Jones, president of the U.S. Cuba Trade Association, which supports normal commercial relations, doesn’t agree with Claver-Carone on much but did agree that he would be shocked if Bush did anything but tighten or reiterate the current embargo.

“There is the rumor that he will say, ‘If Cuba does the following things, then the U.S. would be prepared to do X, Y and Z,” Jones said. “That is a non-starter. Cuban officials won’t accept that.”

A State Department press official said she could not comment on the president’s intended remarks.

Bipartisan Competition. The COMPETE Coalition, a group that lobbies for deregulation in electricity markets, has created a slot for a second chairman to give the group a Democratic jolt.

COMPETE has brought on lobbyist Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor who is with the firm Vinson & Elkins, as co-chairman to serve along with former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), founder of the Nickles Group, who has been chairman.

COMPETE is also planning a major advertising campaign in publications including Roll Call.

“What we’re telling the policy makers in Washington and the states is that the supporters of electricity competition, from renewable energy groups to leading American businesses to energy suppliers, are serious about protecting restructured markets,” Nickles said in a press statement. “Mayor Kirk and I will be spreading the word together, because this is not a partisan issue.”

K Street Moves. Andrew Cantor, who has spent the past four-plus years at the American Insurance Association, has insured his future in 2008: Starting in January, he will be a lobbyist at Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland, & Stewart.

And no, he’s not taking a big vacation until then — he’s planning a really long goodbye at AIA. “I feel really lucky to have worked with such talented people,” he said, mentioning the group’s chief, Marc Racicot, and top lobbyist, Leigh Ann Pusey.

Cantor, who previously worked as senior communications adviser for the Senate Republican Conference, will focus on financial services and other issues. Cantor “will add significant heft across the board,”said the firm’s Jeff Peck.

• Health care lobbyist Steven Irizarry has left ML Strategies for a job at Capitol Hill Consulting Group. He will focus on legislation and executive branch policies that deal with pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Irizarry previously worked on the Hill as counsel on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under then-Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

• The American Civil Liberties Union has added three new staffers. Georgia Noone, formerly with the NAACP, has joined as the ACLU’s deputy director. Michael Macleod-Ball will serve as chief legislative and policy counsel, while Joanne Lin will be legislative counsel covering civil rights issues.

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