Barking Like a Blue Dog

Posted November 9, 2007 at 6:17pm

The ethics haze hanging over the 2008 conventions sure is making the otherwise-fun lobbyist pastime of party planning a major headache.

For example, how to finesse the new ban on events honoring Members of Congress? One option: Don’t quite declare who you’re honoring. [IMGCAP(1)]

That’s the tack Jeff Murray of the C2 Group and Andy Dodson of the Bockorny Group are taking as they hunt for sponsors for “A Blue Night in Denver,” a party they hope to stage at the Mile High Station in downtown Denver.

The two make note of the confusion surrounding the new standard in a fundraising solicitation they’re circulating. “In the absence of a guidance letter from the Ethics Committee, we intend to take a conservative approach to the interpretation of this law. As a result, we will not advertise or market this event as honoring a specific Member or group of Members,” they wrote.

One sentence later, they appear to do just that: “Similar to previous events we hosted at past conventions to honor the Blue Dog Coalition, this will be the premier kick-off event of the 2008 Convention.”

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 and an outspoken advocate of curbing corporate-sponsored entertainment at the national conventions, said the invite walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. “This appears to be a Blue Dog event duck. In that sense, it does not seem to comply with a prohibition honoring a Member or group of Members at the convention.”

But Jan Baran, an ethics expert with Wiley Rein, said the new law only proscribes Members from attending events in their honor.

Dodson said he only listed the past Blue Dog parties as a kind of reference. “We want people to know we were involved with these two big parties, we think they were big successes and people enjoyed them,” he said.

Besides, he says, the party he’s planning doesn’t honor anybody, “and if we find out we can’t do it, we may end up pulling the plug.”

Hollywood Meets K Street. Who says seniors can’t have a little celebrity glam with their lobbying campaign? The AARP-backed health care effort “Divided We Fail” — which includes such odd bedfellows as the Service Employees International Union, Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Business — today is launching a new star-studded advertising campaign.

Divided We Fail has teamed up with the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the Motion Picture & Television Fund to produce public service announcements featuring the likes of actors Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Dakota Fanning, Morgan Freeman, Eva Mendes, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as well as country singer Garth Brooks.

The group already has shot two of the spots directed by actor-director Tony Goldwyn.

“Left, right, red, blue,” says Freeman, according to a transcript of one of the ads set to begin airing today. Brooks adds, “Liberal, conservative. … We may not all share the same views.” Then Fanning chimes in: “But we all face the same problems.”

“Far too many Americans’ health care and financial security are at risk,” Piven adds.

The spots encourage viewers to visit the web site of Divided We Fail, which was launched in January.

Docs on the Beach. Memo to lobbyists: Don’t plan a beach-based policy retreat while asking Congress for money, if you don’t want any snide jabs.

The American Medical Association has been lobbying for a “doc fix,” to undo an upcoming, automatic decrease in doctors’ Medicare reimbursement rates. An AMA spokesperson says doctors could feel a 10.1 percent decrease in their reimbursements.

Meanwhile, starting late last week, the doctors convened in Hawaii for the AMA’s semi-annual policy meeting.

The action on the doc fix is in the Senate.

“It came up with the Senate Finance Committee,” said one lobbyist who wants to remain nameless but doesn’t have clients on either side of the debate. “People were like, ‘Isn’t it ironic that they have their hand out, while they’re sunning themselves in Hawaii?’”

A Senate Finance spokeswoman declined comment.

The spokesperson for the AMA made clear that the AMA is not footing the conference’s bill — doctors must pay their own way.

The doctors, of course, have taken on the powerful insurance lobby in suggesting that the doc fix could easily be paid for by trimming payments to private insurance companies through the Medicare Advantage program. “While Medicare plans to slash physician payments 15 percent over the next two years, the two largest insurance companies operating Medicare Advantage plans once again report booming profits,” said an AMA press release on the issue.

Hmm, another lobbyist said, perhaps it’s the health insurance side that’s mocking the doctors’ Hawaiian convention.

K Street Moves. Kristin Krause, most recently with the Washington, D.C., office of FedEx, is swapping the shipping industry for credit cards. This week, she is taking a job as vice president of government affairs for Visa.

• Nu Wexler, who has spent the past two-and-a-half years as spokesman for the anti-Wal-Mart group Wal-Mart Watch, is heading to the other side. No, he’s not going to work for Wal-Mart, but he is taking a job as account director with the Washington, D.C., office of Ogilvy Public Relations.

Wexler, who will be working with nonprofit and corporate clients, made it clear that Wal-Mart won’t be among them, and added that Ogilvy does not represent Wal-Mart.

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