Shine the Light

Posted March 21, 2008 at 5:50pm

Democratic Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) are retooling their effort to impose some rules on the booming but shadowy political intelligence industry. The pair have had little luck pushing a proposal aimed at banning what some call the last legal form of insider trading: buying and selling stocks based on nonpublic Congressional information that has the power to move the markets.

[IMGCAP(1)]That bill — called the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK, Act — would forbid lawmakers and staff from making investment decisions based on their insider info or disclosing it to lobbyists who have been making a mint selling it to Wall Street.

First introduced in 2006 and dropped again last year, the measure has been mired in five committees. So now, Baird and Slaughter are focusing on an easier lift — simply requiring political professionals who trade in the tips to register with the House and Senate the way lobbyists do. That means they would have to disclose whom they are working for and report, on a quarterly basis, what they are earning.

“Although the potential for abuse is great, we don’t know who these people are, who they represent, or how much money they are being paid,” Baird said in a statement. “This bill will shine some much-needed light on this mysterious industry by requiring political intelligence firms to disclose the same information as lobbyists.”

The Political Intelligence Disclosure Act, as the narrower measure is called, has been referred to only one panel: the House Judiciary Committee.

Not a Blue Berry. When investment giant Merrill Lynch last week announced that it had tapped Republican Steve Berry as its new head of government relations, several Democrats in the banking sector reacted with a collective cringe.

“As an objective measure of the optics of this hire, it appears there is a level of tone deafness politically that is staggering,” said Paul Equale, a veteran Democratic fundraiser and former chief executive of the Independent Insurance Agents of America until he was ousted after the 2000 elections — and replaced with a Republican.

Other Democratic lobbyists said that Berry, who takes over from Republican

Bruce Thompson at Merrill Lynch, is more than just another GOP hire. According to press accounts in the 1990s, Berry was demoted at the State Department for his role in the search of former President Bill Clinton’s passport files, similar to last week’s dust-up at State with the files of all three White House contenders: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

“They go and get somebody who’s got a history of being a political dirty trickster,” said a Democratic financial industry lobbyist who works for a rival company. “It is astonishing. This is like putting somebody with a background in the PLO in charge of Arab-Israeli relations.”

A Merrill Lynch spokeswoman said the company has employees from both parties in Washington, D.C., and other locations.

“It shouldn’t matter what your personal party affiliation is,” said Jessica Oppenheim. “Merrill Lynch has Democrats and Republicans working for it,” she said, noting that former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee is vice chairman.

Gayle Smith, a Democrat who recently served on a Congressional foreign aid commission with Berry, said: “While Steve played partisan as well as anybody in my experience with him in the 1990s, I served with him recently on a Congressional commission and found that he went out of his way to take into account my views.”

Smith, an Obama supporter, works at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Managing the Staff. Lisa McGreevy, the executive vice president and chief operating officer with the Managed Funds Association, which recently tapped former Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) as its head, is leaving the association in April. In an e-mail to business contacts, she said: “Frankly, my job here is done. I was hired to change the association, to build out the infrastructure, to engage our members and to put MFA on the map.”

Several lobbyists, including Democrats and Republicans, said the association is now looking for a senior-level Democrat, “because [Baker’s] a Republican and there’s a Democratic Congress,” said one Republican knowledgeable of the situation.

In a statement, MFA President and CEO Baker said: “MFA is reorganizing and will build out its infrastructure over the next several months, under my leadership and direction. When we add new executives to our team, our choices will not be predicated on an individual’s politics, but rather their experience with regulation and policy.”

K Street Moves. Cicely Simpson, legislative director for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), has landed a sweet gig downtown: the first-ever lobbyist for Dunkin’ Brands, parent company of both Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Officially the company’s director of federal and state affairs, Simpson will manage relations with Congress, regulatory agencies, trade associations and Capitol Hill media, in addition to the political action committee for the donuts and ice cream empire.

• Rob Liberatore, group senior vice president and head of global external affairs at Daimler AG, announced last week that this summer he will leave the company to join the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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