K Street Files: Beware the Chamber

Posted March 20, 2009 at 6:07pm

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most powerful trade groups in the country, is ramping up its grass-roots efforts so it can go head-to-head against President Barack Obama’s vast campaign network.

[IMGCAP(1)]The chamber, which opposes Obama’s budget, started a massive grass-roots and grass-tops lobbying campaign Friday. The trade association reached out to its Friends of the U.S. chamber network, asking them to get involved.

In its first day, about 5,000 individuals contacted Capitol Hill noting their opposition to the budget, according to Bill Miller, senior vice president at the chamber.

The group’s action is in response to Obama’s decision to mobilize his extensive network of grass-roots support from the presidential campaign.

“It is clear that this budget is threatening to our members of all sizes,—

Miller said in a media conference call Friday. “The reaction we have gotten as we talk to chambers, company members, individuals, and small businesses is they want to engage on this issue.—

The group isn’t stopping there. The chamber intends to press lawmakers as they go back into their Congressional districts, according to Miller.

The issue has also breathed new life into the LIFO Coalition, a group of about 50 trade organizations that banded together to fight the repeal of the last-in, first-out method of accounting for inventory costs, according to Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the chamber.

The chamber is keeping a watchful eye on its competition. “It will be an interesting test whether you can transform what worked so very effectively in a campaign,— Josten said.

Carbon Counsels. Seeing green isn’t just about raking in cash from clients anymore.

American Continental Group is taking the motto to heart. The firm is going carbon-neutral, according to David Urban, a managing partner of the firm.

The former chief of staff to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) even found a way to give back to the Keystone State.

After tallying up its carbon footprint, the lobby shop doled out about $3,000 to offset its energy use, signing up with TerraPass, a company that buys and sells carbon credits.

Staying true to its roots, the firm picked the Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority Landfill Flaring and Gas-to-Energy Project in Pennsylvania as the site to buy the carbon credits.

“We do a lot of Pennsylvania work,— Urban said of the choice. “We wanted to give back to the state.—

Battery Powered. Steve McBee has just signed a client that’s going to change the world — for real.

Better Place traffics in mobility, which means moving people in cars at half the price they pay for it now.

The trick is switching from gasoline-powered internal-combustion engines to electric vehicles. And that’s a tall order.

Run by Shai Agassi, who was previously a senior executive at the German business software company SAP AG, the company plans to “redefine the economics and experience of driving,— according to its Web site.

“There’s movement around the world, especially in places where they want to kick-start the car industry, to drive a huge differential in favor of electric cars,— said Agassi, who was making a round of media tours in Washington, D.C., last week.

If you think of the cost of driving a car in cents per mile, says Agassi, it costs about 10 cents a mile to drive in the United States — since gas is only $2 a gallon and cars get roughly 20 miles to the gallon — compared with 20 to 25 cents a mile to drive in Europe.

Since the differential with the cost of electric cars is so much greater in Europe, it’s already economical to set up national networks of battery-charging stations, much like gasoline stations today, something that is already in the works in Israel and Denmark, says Agassi.

In the United States, he says, “you explain to people, Let’s go build the Bay area.’ You take them through the economics, and when you’re done, you say, Wow, it’s a fantastic idea. We can see how you can make a ton of money. Can I invest in Denmark?’—

McBee, whose McBee Strategic Consulting will be paid $15,000 a month to lobby for Better Place, says that while Agassi’s goal is ambitious, the current big-think environment makes it conceivable.

“In a normal environment, what Shai is seeking would be a very difficult sell. In this environment, the more far-reaching [the goal], the more currency they have.

“I don’t think people in the White House and Hill are looking for incremental change. They’re looking for a moon shot.—

K Street Moves. Alston & Bird has picked up Jeff Sural. Sural, who joins as counsel, comes on board after serving as deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security since 2007.

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