K Street Files: Panic Mode

Posted June 20, 2008 at 5:41pm

The new, dreaded lobbyist disclosure 203 forms have not yet been unveiled by the House or Senate, but that isn’t stopping the cottage industry of ethics experts from holding pricey seminars on how to fill out those soon-to-come forms.

[IMGCAP(1)]The next such session is today. An e-mail solicitation for the audio conference with ethics lawyer Cleta Mitchell advises, “Before You Sign On the Dotted Line … sign up for the LD-203 Ethics Certification audioconference.”

The forms will be due July 30 and are set to be unveiled a week from today.

“Boy, this is America where people are charging you to learn how to comply with a form that’s not even in existence,” quipped one lobbyist who received an invite for today’s conference.

But Mitchell said that since the House and Senate issued guidance on the would-be forms over Memorial Day weekend, it’s never too early to learn how to do it right.

“People should not be waiting until the forms are ready,” said Mitchell, a partner at Foley & Lardner.

The 203 reports represent the brave new K Street world under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, Mitchell said, a reaction in large part to the wide- ranging scandal involving lobbyist turned inmate Jack Abramoff.

“This is really the crux in the change in the law,” Mitchell added. The LD-203 “truly will be the Jack Abramoff report.”

The new reports will require all individual lobbyists and all lobbying organizations to file forms that list ties to any political action committees, federal campaign contributions over $200 and expenditures for events that honor covered officials. The report also will require each lobbyist to certify — under penalty of perjury, ethics gurus like to point out — that they have not broken any gift rules.

Some lobbyists say the ethics experts’ tales of caution are working.

“When you get notes about if you don’t do this right, you could be put in jail, those do cause you to be somewhat concerned,” said one lobbyist. “There’s always anxiety about some new form or regulation.”

Monumental Hire. The Monument Policy Group, a lobbying firm founded by former Homeland Security Department Assistant Secretary Stewart Verdery, has secured a new Democratic hire.

Rich Thomas, legislative director for Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), will join the firm on June 30 as a vice president of government relations.

Thomas has worked in Pascrell’s office since February 2000, starting as a staff assistant and working his way up to LD in 2005.

“As LD, I’ve done the whole portfolio of issues,” Thomas said. “Specifically, I’ve done a lot of homeland security work and international trade.”

Thomas said that he was ready to leave the Hill and reached out to lobbyists he knew around town. “Some friends put me in contact with a number of firms, but Monument Policy had a vibrancy there that was particularly appealing to me,” he said. “There’s a good parallel between my Hill career and what the firm is doing.”

Monument clients include Microsoft, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Travel Industry Association of America.

The firm also recently announced it was bringing on board Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, the staff director and general counsel for the House Homeland Security Committee.

“We’re committed to remaining a small firm, but we had the opportunity to get two excellent people in terms of their résumés and reputation,” said Verdery of the now-eight-person firm.

Legal Drama. A D.C. Superior Court jury last week decided that longtime lobbyist Jeanne Campbell must pay a former male employee, 31-year-old Sasha Stamenkovic, $812,000 in compensatory damages stemming from a sexual harassment civil lawsuit.

Stamenkovic’s attorney, Michael J. Hoare, said almost all of the money was awarded for emotional distress, since his client’s annual salary at the time, in 2005, was about $45,000. He called the judgement a “significant success.”

The jury, which reached its decision on June 16, did not grant Stamenkovic’s request for punitive damages.

“Mr. Stamenkovic feels as though the jury validated his concerns with Ms. Campbell’s conduct,” Hoare said.

Stamenkovic alleged that Campbell, 68, of what was then called Campbell-Crane & Associates, had sexually harassed him and said that when he complained, he was terminated.

An attorney for Campbell, Theodore Allison of the firm Karr & Allison PC, said he was “not in a position where I can comment on the case.” But, he added, “It’s being actively litigated.”

The Other Pork. As political scrutiny has intensified on the controversial appropriations process, many lobbyists have ducked away from the business of pork-barrel spending. But one K Streeter is vying to become something of a pork king.

Not that kind of pork, though.

John McManus, a one-time top GOP aide on the Ways and Means Committee and president of his own lobbying shop, has decided to put his secret-recipe, slowly smoked baby-back ribs, to the ultimate test. He has assembled a team he calls Government Pork to compete in Safeway’s 16th Annual National Capital Barbecue Battle.

He bought a smoker a year ago and, in that time, has perfected a secret dry-rub recipe that he absolutely will not divulge.

“It’s quite spicy but still succulent,” the Connecticut native and owner of the McManus Group said. Still, he acknowledged uphill prospects. “I’m a Yankee battling a bunch of Southerners.”

McManus’ Government Pork team includes Barrett Thornhill, a health policy lobbyist at Foley Hoag and one-time aide to Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho); McManus Group senior associate Michael Lee; and Geoffrey Davis, who is McManus’ neighbor and a legal partner at Patton Boggs.

As for the moniker of his team, McManus notes, “It has no bearing on any of my esteemed clients’ meritorious and worthy causes.” It is instead, he says, a reference to U.S. Department of Agriculture government pork.

His lobbying background has come in handy in preparation for the barbecue challenge. “The rule book is about 100 pages long, so we’re trying to bone up on those things,” he said. “I’m using my lobbying skills on that.” Plus, he quipped, “We intend to lobby the judges heavily.”

The competition was held over the weekend and results were not available in time for Roll Call’s deadline.

K Street Moves. Craig Sharman, formerly the staff director of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, has joined the Washington, D.C., office of Tyco International as director of federal government relations. Before joining the committee, Sharman had been director of government relations at the National Volunteer Fire Council.

Submit K Street Files tips here
.