Trick or Treat, Campaign Style

Posted October 30, 2007 at 6:19pm

As if being hit up for donations wasn’t scary enough all by itself, a few Members of Congress decided to inject a little Halloween fright into their solicitations of K Streeters. [IMGCAP(1)]

Still, those Members are showing a decidedly spirit-lacking approach to today’s holiday.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) is collecting checks at an “eat, drink and get ghoulish” Halloween lunch at the “Haunted Strategic Health Care Townhouse.”

But don’t fear. The cost to attend ($1,000 for a political action committee or $500 for individuals) will no doubt be the scariest part. “This is not a costume party. We’re not going to be bobbing for apples or anything,” said Pitts Chief of Staff Gabe Neville, who plans to attend sans costume.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) celebrated a little early with a “Halloween party” fundraiser Tuesday night. No costumes and no kids, said an organizer with Morgan, Meredith & Associates, helpfully adding that there would be “Halloween decorations and a butler, ‘Marvin,’ a scary guy at the door to welcome people.”

And according to an invite, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is planning a Halloween breakfast this morning at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Most Members, however, who are trick-or-treating from lobbyists are skipping the Halloween theme and getting straight to the point. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has a fundraising luncheon today, but it will be “run of the mill” — hold the goblins and ghosts — according to an aide.

Putting the Boo in Lobbying. The liberal group Campaign for America’s Future is using the Halloween theme to put a little spook into its lobbying efforts. Highlighting the recent recalls of lead-tainted products, including kids’ Halloween accessories, it called on Congress to step up funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission and to tighten up protections in upcoming trade deal votes.

“The report details the reality of our children at risk in a new global economy,” said Robert Borosage of the group during a conference call that included Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

During the call, both Brown and DeLauro said CPSC’s acting chief, Nancy Nord, should resign. Her response to recent product recalls, said Brown, has been “underwhelming.”

“Trade should never trump public health or consumer safety,” added DeLauro, who is working to scare up support for a bill on product safety. “With the holidays around the corner and toys at the top of every child’s wish list, we cannot wait any longer.”

Campaign for America’s Future wasn’t the only group to draw on Halloween to highlight its efforts, either. The Service Employees International Union is planning a costume-themed protest outside of the private equity firm Carlyle Group’s D.C. digs with some dressed as “lobbyists” getting the spoils.

SEIU wants to highlight the more than $20 million the union says Carlyle has showered on lobbying firms in recent years “to protect tax breaks and loopholes,” according to a statement. Its Halloween protest will include a Georgetown student dressed as Carlyle founder David Rubenstein. She will be handing out Sugar Daddies.

Pocket Protector. In this ethics environment, with potential infractions lurking at the bottom of every free goody bag, who wouldn’t want a compliance expert they could call at a moment’s notice without running up huge legal tabs?

With that in mind, the lawyers at McKenna Long & Aldridge developed a wallet-sized “Gift Rule Checklist” to help lobbyists and staffers steer clearly through the muddle of the new regime.

The guide, which folds to the size of a business card for easy toting, starts simply enough. “Never solicit a gift of any kind under any circumstances,” it advises. “Never accept a gift tied to official action under any circumstances. Never accept cash or cash equivalent.”

Then, like the rules themselves, things get a bit trickier.

“Is the gift from a registered lobbyist or from a private entity that employs or retains a registered lobbyist?” it asks. And among other considerations: “Is the value of the gift [greater than] $49.99? If no, does the value of this gift, plus the value of all other non-nominal gifts from this donor in the calendar year exceed $99.00?”

If your head hurts, don’t blame the small print, because there’s more where that came from. Answering yes to any question prompts the user to flip the card over and see whether one of 13 gift rule exceptions makes the gift kosher.

The pocket ethics protectors have proved a hot item both on Capitol Hill and downtown, firm partner Randy Nuckolls said. McKenna lawyers have already distributed about 500 — at training seminars and through special requests from people who got word of them — and recently ordered a new batch.

“It’s just a good, easy checklist,” Nuckolls said.

The card, of course, warns against using its advice as gospel in a tricky situation. “If you have any question about the applicability of an exception, seek guidance before accepting,” it reads.

Border Guards. The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, weathering the destabilizing effects of a border fight between Turks and Kurdish rebel soldiers, is looking to K Street for help shoring up American support. The government on Sept. 14 signed a one-year, $480,000 contract with Greenberg Traurig for help “with the shaping of U.S. perceptions of Kurdish interests,” according to a recent filing with the Justice Department. That work will include lobbying the administration and Capitol Hill in addition to media outreach.

Greenberg Traurig joins a team that includes Barbour Griffith & Rogers, according to Senate filings. A firm official and a government spokesman were not available for comment.

K Street Moves. The American Insurance Association has beefed up its Democratic credentials by hiring Thomas Santos, a former legislative director for former Rep. James Maloney (D-Conn.) and one-time legislative assistant for former Rep. Robert Weygand (D-R.I.). Santos most recently has been director of government relations at the Association for Financial Professionals in Bethesda, Md. There, he lobbied such committees as the Senate Banking panel and House Financial Services.

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