K Street: Making Friends With the Frosh

Posted November 18, 2008 at 6:13pm

Freshman Members of Congress haven’t been spending all of their time trying to navigate the halls of Congress during orientation week; they’ve also had plenty of opportunities to press the flesh with lobbyists.

[IMGCAP(1)]“Introductions are being made to the business community of key moderates coming into Congress, so we can get an early start building relationships,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “Everyone knows the hardest election is that first re-election.”

The events kicked off Monday with a “Majority Under 40” happy hour celebrating the new Members of the 111th Congress. Instead of hosting the event at clichéd lobbying hangouts such as Capitol Grille or Morton’s, the organizers — who included David Thomas and Jon Hoganson of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc., Paul Thornell of Citigroup Inc., Bruce Andrews of Ford Motor Co. and Alix Burns of Bay Bridge Strategies Inc. — picked the decidedly less posh Billy Goat Tavern.

The spot was strategically chosen because it’s next door to the Hyatt Regency, where the freshmen are staying, according to Thomas.

“There hasn’t been a real opportunity to get together — not just Members, but staffers and people downtown, to catch up and celebrate,” Thomas said.

And get together they did. The event, with about 140 attendees and decidedly low-brow fare such as pitchers of beer and cheeseburgers, garnered several new Democratic Members, including Reps.-elect Bobby Bright (Ala.), Jim Himes (Conn.), Dan Maffei (N.Y.), John Adler (N.J.), Dina Titus (Nev.) and Jared Polis (Colo.).

Several sitting Democratic Members also attended, including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Jason Altmire (Pa.), Steve Kagen (Wis.) and Ed Perlmutter (Colo.).

The event kicked off a week of evening happenings, including a New Democrats event slated for Tuesday evening. That event also targeted freshmen, with a reception at Sonoma.

New Democrats Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) was expected to attend, along with several other Members.

The Third Way also will be feting the new Democratic majorities on Thursday at Lounge 201 with a networking happy hour from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Autos Showing Diversity. As the ailing auto industry continues to push for a federal bailout, a loose coalition of diverse industries, including railroads, rental car companies, the Center for American Progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and even the tech world, are putting in their two cents.

“There is a broad food chain here of industries affected,” said one auto lobbyist of the effort to pull in more voices than just the Big Three.

The groups are pushing to expand the Troubled Asset Relief Program to rescue car companies. They would also like an additional $50 billion in federal loans.

“In the auto industry, including suppliers, this [situation] really differs from retail and other manufacturers,” said Ann Wilson, a lobbyist for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. “Our sales have plummeted so dramatically, the inability to get capital has made a difficult situation a crisis.”

MEMA sent a letter to House Members on Monday pushing for TARP funds and asking that the $25 billion Department of Energy loan program not be capped.

“Suppliers need the credit markets to start moving as we require access to new capital in order to survive,” wrote MEMA, the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association, the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, the Original Equipment Suppliers Association and nearly 100 manufacturing chief executive officers. “Addressing these issues is not a bail-out but provides access to needed capital to reinvest in our communities.”

That doesn’t mean the Big Three are easing their pressure.

Several lobbyists, including Alan Reuther of the United Auto Workers, Kenneth Cole of General Motors Corp., David Regan of the National Automobile Dealers Association and Bruce Andrews of Ford Motor Co. have all been up on Capitol Hill pressing lawmakers to move forward to restore financial stability to the industry.

Let the Good Times Roll. A year ago, when firms, associations and corporations were still reeling from a buffet of new ethics restrictions and learning to eat food with toothpicks alone, K Street worried that the days of the lavish holiday party were dead and gone.

This year, however, it seems the parties are back, including a Dec. 3 fete at Quinn Gillespie & Associates, which canceled its party last year (although the reason was tied more to the complexities of buyout finances than any fastidiousness over ethics rules).

Ethics experts say the healthy party scene at the national conventions, as well as more time to become familiar with the new ethics rules, has given groups the confidence that they can party inside the law.

“It appears that the Democratic and Republican conventions were a real learning experience for law and lobbying firms, and they now know how to structure events so that they comply with the new gift requirements,” said ethics lawyer and lobbyist Brett Kappel of Vorys Sater Seymour & Pease.

Phew!

Now for the real conundrum. Several of the parties are planned for early December, and that means potential scheduling conflicts. American Defense International’s annual reception is on the same night as Quinn Gillespie’s.

That’s if you’re not already too hungover after the Dec. 2 holiday party hosted by the the Financial Services Roundtable.

And lobbyist Jim Courtovich is hosting a bash that weekend, “Gaucho Christmas II.”

Stay tuned.

K Street Moves. Alex Silbey, most recently senior policy adviser in the leadership office of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), has decamped for K Street just as corporations are scurrying to find Democratic consultants. Silbey has formed his own shop, ATS Communications.

“My dad was an entrepreneur, and I have an undergrad degree in accounting, so the idea of managing my own business was not very daunting,” Silbey said.

Silbey is also a former legislative director to Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).

• Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. has lured Allen Thompson of the Retail industry Leaders Association to the firm. Thompson, a former House Homeland Security Committee staffer for Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), joins as a principal.

• Andrew Barbour is joining the Smith-Free Group Inc. Barbour, a former aide to Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and the late Rep. Bill Ford (D-Mich.), was most recently vice president for government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable.

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