K Street Files: Behind the Earmarks

Posted March 13, 2009 at 6:08pm

As K Street veterans know, behind almost every good earmark is an even better lobbyist.

[IMGCAP(1)]So, from the shadows of the $900,000 earmark in this year’s omnibus bill for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago emerges the lobbyist who made it happen, Matthew Trant, a partner with the National Group in Washington, D.C.

The request for federal support to upgrade the planetarium’s sky theater was part of a multiyear, $3 million request backed by the state’s Congressional delegation, including a certain Senator-turned-president and a certain former Member-turned-White House chief of staff.

While the $900,000 finally included in the spending bill was not the largest earmark, it received the most attention and caught flak on the campaign trail from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who derided it as a “$3 million request for an overhead projector.—

Trant joined the National Group in 2004 after five years at Cassidy & Associates, and he brought on the planetarium as a client in 2005. The funding request has been his top priority and will be an issue he continues to work on as the planetarium completes the $10 million refurbishment of its theater.

Said Trant: “The Adler Planetarium is a tremendous educational resource for Chicago, Ill. and the country. The Chicago-area Congressional delegation has rightly recognized that and has considered it to be a priority among the many funding requests it received.—

Gearing Up. An informal group of Hispanic lobbyists is reigniting its fundraising efforts this cycle, building on recent attempts to raise money for members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Cindy Jimenez, former aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and now a lobbyist with the Information Technology Association of America, confirmed that the group met in February for the first time this year and will meet this week to finalize fundraising dates for the 111th Congress.

An early beneficiary of the loosely affiliated group’s largess will be Julián Castro (D), a young mayoral candidate running for election in San Antonio. According to an e-mail invitation, Jimenez and other lobbyists will raise money for Castro on March 24 at the Townhouse on 324 Independence Ave. SE from 6 to 8 p.m.

Lobbyists co-hosting the event include Jimenez, Moses Mercado of Ogilvy Government Relations and John Michael Gonzalez, who recently left Rep. Melissa Bean’s (D-Ill.) office for Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart.

Cash Crunch. Political consultant Joe Trippi and Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig have teamed up on a Web-based grass-roots campaign to put pressure on lawmakers to support publicly financed Congressional campaigns.

In January, the duo unveiled a “donor strike— against Members who have not signed on to a public financing bill sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Arlen Spector (R-Pa.).

On the group’s Web site, change-congress.com, participants pledge “not to donate to any federal candidate unless they support legislation making Congressional elections citizen-funded, not special-interest funded.—

Roughly a week ago, participants pledged not to donate a combined $1 million to lawmakers.

Big potential losers include Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.). They stand to lose about $500,000 combined.

Teaming Up With George Allen. Former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) has hired one of his former top aides at his consulting and lobbying firm.

George Allen Strategies has tapped Allen’s former counsel and Legislative Director Paul Ungar to advise and lobby on energy, technology and business issues.

Unger most recently served as a vice president at McGuireWoods. In addition to working for Allen in the Senate, Ungar was also the majority staff director for the House Agricultural Committee and served as counsel to then-Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).

K Street and Abroad. Even in the midst of one of the busiest legislative sessions in recent history, lobbying firms are looking outside U.S. borders for new clients.

Dutko Worldwide last month registered to represent the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) in Albania in its attempt to secure a come-from-behind victory in the country’s June 28 elections. The contract, according to Dutko’s Foreign Agents Registration Report, is worth $30,000 a month.

Sally Painter, a managing director at Dutko and former Clinton administration official, is using her background in international affairs to help LSI ensure that the election is a transparent process.

Painter said she plans to bring the leader of LSI, former Prime Minister Ilir Meta, to Washington the week of April 13 for meetings and media opportunities.

Closer to home but still a world away, Eric Stewart, a principal at Williams & Jensen, has signed the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce as a client and will serve as its executive director. The chamber is a membership organization for U.S. and Uzbek companies. The registration does not list a fee because it was filed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The chamber is U.S.-based.

Stewart may have his work cut out for him. A report issued last week by Freedom House listed Uzbekistan as one of the eight “worst of the worst— societies in the world for human rights.

Stewart and others at his firm will handle media outreach and meetings and roundtables with U.S. and Uzbek officials to raise awareness on policy and business issues and foster relations between the two countries.

“The chamber’s role is to work with U.S. government and Congress to ensure they are aware of issues in Uzbekistan, good and bad,— Stewart said.

K Street Moves. Keith Ashdown, who spent some 10 years as the chief investigator at Taxpayers for Common Sense, has joined the minority staff of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is the ranking member on the subcommittee.

“Dr. Coburn’s thrilled to have someone of Keith’s caliber on our staff,— Coburn spokesman John Hart said. “He’s known as one of the best investigators in the city—

Shira Toeplitz and Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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