K Street Files: Sticker Shock

Posted February 27, 2009 at 6:18pm

Recent lobbying disclosure statements show that the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors gave more than $150,000 last year to honor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). But not really.

[IMGCAP(1)]Although not entirely out of character for the GOP-leaning group, it turns out that the payments actually highlight a wrinkle in 2007’s Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which requires lobbyists and trade associations to disclose charitable contributions made to honor lawmakers.

The group’s president, Dirk Van Dongen, joked, “I wish I had that kind of money,” but explained that the group’s legal team interpreted the 2-year-old law to mean that all expenses related to the group’s 2008 conference, which the GOP leader attended, must be disclosed — even if McConnell just stopped by briefly to greet his supporters.

“He was at the convention for 20 minutes,” Van Dongen said.

As the business community’s virtually only bearish voice on the stimulus, Van Dongen — a one-time confidant of former President George W. Bush — also kept up his criticism last week of President Barack Obama’s fiscal policies, bashing the White House’s budget proposal that came out Thursday.

“Our economy cannot possibly recover without a vibrant and healthy small business community — the entrepreneurs who create more than 75 percent of the new jobs in the U.S. each year,” Van Dongen said in a statement. “With the confiscatory tax policies in his budget, the President is instead threatening the survival of many thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs.”

Viva Las Vegas. When the National Association of Broadcasters signed up as a sponsor to the second annual Horton’s Kids poker tournament, the trade group probably wasn’t counting on one of its own lobbyists winning the grand prize — a complimentary seat at the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas.

But that’s exactly what NAB lobbyist Mike Mullen did.

Mullen, along with 139 other poker aficionados, helped the charity raise more than $170,000 Wednesday night as he worked his way up to winning the final round.

Playing Texas Hold ’em, Mullen — who earned the nickname “The Admiral” from poker pro Greg “Fossilman” Raymer — had quite a cheering crew, according to Bret “The Seaman” Wincup, a lobbyist with the Information Technology Industry Council.

“We’re still all processing what happened,” Wincup said. “He was down and out early … but he found a way to double up and keep winning.”

The NAB may lose Mullen for more than a weekend if he’s successful in winning the poker tournament. The winner of the event takes home $10 million.

Records Redux. For the fourth Congress in a row, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and other lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would require Senators to file their campaign finance records electronically. Senators are now required only to file paper copies with the Secretary of the Senate, whose office scans the reports and sends them to the Federal Election Commission.

The agency then pays a data entry contractor $250,000 per year to convert the documents into electronic form.

“This common sense bill to make our electoral system more transparent is long overdue,” Feingold said in a statement.“The Senate should catch up with the House, the President, and the many Senators who already voluntarily file electronically by passing this reform which has broad bipartisan support.”

In the previous Congress, the bill was blocked by then-National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.).

Not Too Well, Thank You. As goes the economy, so goes the trade association. The Biotechnology Industry Organization painted a dire picture of the state of its membership in a press briefing Thursday, reporting that 30 percent of its 900 for-profit member companies are now operating with less than six months’ cash on hand.

As a result, biotech companies across the country are being forced to lay off workers and shelve research projects that could deliver long-term benefits for patients.

“Clearly many of our member companies will face fundamental decisions if markets don’t open in 2009,” said Alan Eisenberg, the organization’s executive vice president for emerging companies and business development. “It will be hard to calculate the potential loss to BIO membership.”

Responding to pressure from its membership, BIO lobbied Congress to insert a tax provision into the federal stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama last month that would have allowed biotech companies to accelerate the use of a deferred tax benefit at a discounted rate. The provision was not included in the final bill amid concerns that, among other things, it was too narrow in focus, according to Eisenberg.

“This was something that was unfortunately left on the table,” Eisenberg said. “Despite the stimulus passing, our companies’ financial situations have not changed.”

BIO is prepared to accelerate its lobbying efforts, bringing in representatives from member companies this spring to meet with legislators and working closely with members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.

The organization is also collaborating with industries such as nanotechnology research and medical device manufacturers that joined them in supporting the initial tax proposal to discuss opportunities for a broader lobbying campaign.

A Tasty Campaign. Here’s a campaign that lobbyists can sink their teeth into. Chefs Collaborative, a national nonprofit organization representing chefs and food professionals pushing the use of local and sustainable ingredients, is lobbying the White House to expand its commitment to sustainable food.

The group has written a letter of support to the president and first lady that applauds the Obamas for their efforts to use local, seasonal foods and encourages the use of the White House kitchen as an example for the rest of the nation.

The letter, which the organization plans to deliver to the White House on Earth Day, April 22, has already garnered the signatures of 300 of the nation’s top chefs and advocates for local food.

Hungry K Street lobbyists may want to start a local, grass-roots campaign of their own. Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora is the only Washington, D.C.-based chef to sign the letter so far. The first family’s hometown of Chicago has nine signatories on board.

Hanging Up a Shingle. Add three more names to the list of Bush administration and Capitol Hill veterans eschewing an established firm to instead start their own business.

Today, former GOP staffers Sean Spicer, Gretchen Hamel and Nathan Imperiale will open Endeavour Global Strategies in Old Town Alexandria.

“We realized we could offer a better product at a better price and have more fun doing it,” Spicer said.

Hamel and Spicer worked for the House Republican Conference before spending the past two and a half years as top staffers at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Imperiale served as director of new media for the House Republican Conference before starting his own media strategies firm, NJI Media Group, last year. He will split his time between the two firms and also continue as a consultant to GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.).

The new firm has not yet released a client list, but Spicer said much of its work will come from associations and companies with a global focus.

“We’ll pair my and Gretchen’s expertise on trade issues such as intellectual property and tariffs with Nathan’s background using new media tools like Facebook and Twitter,” he said.

K Street Moves. Jimmy Williams, senior vice president at Ogilvy Government Relations, is leaving to go in-house for a former client, American billionaire financier Carl Icahn. Williams, who will be traveling between New York and Washington, will be Icahn Associates’ first registered lobbyist.

• Manny Rossman, the top staffer to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), is headed downtown. Rossman is joining his former boss, former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), at the Breaux Lott Leadership Group.

Rossman first served as legislative aide and later legislative director to then-Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.).

In 2005, he became a senior policy adviser for Lott on tax, finance and budget issues. In 2007, he moved into the Senate leadership ranks when Lott became the Minority Whip.

• Lori Prater, general counsel to former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), is joining the Information Technology Industry Counsel. Prater, who will focus on Senate Republicans, replaces Kara Calvert, who left to join the Franklin Square Group.

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