K Street Files: On the Street Where You Live

Posted September 29, 2009 at 6:30pm

J Street, the year-old pro-Israel lobby that advocates for Palestinian statehood, will announce today that more than 160 Members of Congress, including 29 Senators, are serving on the honorary host committee for the group’s first conference and gala dinner next month.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will be the keynote speaker at the dinner.

The conference, which runs from Oct. 25-28 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., will include two days of lobbying on Capitol Hill — one by more than 250 students.

“It should be the largest gathering of pro-Israel, pro-peace forces ever,— said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director.

The Congressional host committee includes Members from 43 states and the District of Columbia. Eighteen of the Members are Jewish, 25 are members of the Congressional Black Caucus and nine belong to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Twenty-four are freshmen.

Additionally, the list includes 16 of the 47 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and seven of 19 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There are also 19 House appropriators and nine Senate appropriators.

J Street’s entry into the insular world of pro-Israel lobbying has caused something of a sensation, as it tries to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel. J Street is, for example, the only lobbying group of its kind to advocate a two-state solution and peaceful relations with Arabs and Palestinians.

J Street has grown tremendously in its short life. Its budget has doubled from $1.5 million last year to $3 million this year, and it now has 22 full- or part-time staffers compared with just four when it started. The group also has an active and growing political action committee.

Similarly, the group’s lobbying operation is also expanding. Hadar Susskind, who until recently was vice president and Washington director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, is about to take over as J Street’s chief lobbyist. And Dylan Williams, foreign policy staffer to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), is set to join the group’s lobbying shop.

Ben-Ami said he expects J Street to have six registered lobbyists by early next year.

It’s a Living. The Livingston Group, the firm of former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), is launching a new cybersecurity lobbying practice today. The group will focus on luring potential new clients in the financial services sector and among universities.

“There are going to be serious policy changes in this entire arena,— said the new practice’s director, Geoff Gleason. “There is some conflict between government and the private sector in this field, and the Livingston Group is positioning itself to work with key players both on the Hill and in the administration.—

Gleason called the new practice a “tremendous area of growth— for the firm.

In a statement, Livingston said cybersecurity policy changes are urgent.

“We should not wait for a cyber attack to take down Wall Street trading or to destroy the country’s electrical grid before government wakes up to the seriousness of this problem,— he said. “Cyberspace that is not secure degrades our economy, contributes to crime, strengthens the forces of terrorism and adds uncertainty to the battlefield.—

In addition to Gleason, who previously worked as an appropriations staffer for Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), other lobbyists on the team include: former Rep. Dennis Hertel (D-Mich.); James Hensler, a one-time staff director on the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Adam Eisgrau, a former counsel to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) who focused on such issues as intellectual property protection, privacy and data security. Anthony Tether, a former director at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Arthur Bruckheim, a DARPA consultant, will serve as strategic advisers.

Cockroach Humor? National Association of Convenience Stores lobbyist Lyle Beckwith may have taken creative license when he compared Members of Congress to cockroaches in the September issue of NACS Magazine, but not everybody thought the insect humor was in good taste.

“Like their six-legged cousins carrying roach powder back to the nest, members of Congress brought home the debate over health-care reform — and neither was warmly received,— Beckwith wrote. “And in the end, all that will be left are the cockroaches, dancing on our fleshless bones and leading a carefree life in our lightless kitchens.—

Beckwith said he was likening lawmakers to cockroaches in a “tongue in cheek— way, trying to show how Members going back to their districts without a single plan for health care caused confusion.

“I was taking a swipe at the process rather than any particular point of view,— Beckwith said. “The point is that things that seem to make sense to me, like association health plans, aren’t even being discussed while extreme positions on all sides are being entrenched.—

Not everybody thought Beckwith’s take was a laughing matter.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for NACS lobbyists to compare Members of Congress to cockroaches for trying to pass a universal health care bill,— one health care industry lobbyist said.

Not Just Coke and Candy Bars. The long-standing debate between merchants and banks about who should pay the fees associated with credit cards is coming to Capitol Hill this afternoon in the way of 130 boxes, which contain 14,000 petition pads signed by 1.66 million 7-Eleven customers.

The petition, started by 7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto and 7-Eleven store franchisees, is being delivered to Members of Congress at a press conference at 1:30 p.m. at the Taft Memorial on Capitol Hill.

Not to be outdone, the banks have already hit a pre-emptive strike with MasterCard putting out a survey that says the convenience store costumers didn’t really understand the petition or what interchange legislation would do.

MasterCard found that the results of the 7-Eleven survey are “misleading—, according to the company’s vice president and senior business leader, Sharon Gamsin.

7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris discounted MasterCard’s efforts, saying, “Our argument is simply interchange fees are onerous, too high, and two credit card companies have 80 percent of the market.—

The tit-for-tat public relations and lobbying battle comes after Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told the Hartford Courant last week that he was putting together his own legislation to address interchange fees.

So far, there is no clear timing on Dodd’s proposal, according to financial services lobbyists.

But merchants remain confident of their chances, according to Doug Kantor, a lobbyist working for the Merchants Payment Coalition.

“Clearly there is a growing realization on both the committee and throughout Congress that these fees are a problem,— Kantor said.

FedEx Expands Campaign. FedEx Corp. is launching another facet to its multimillion-dollar effort to thwart legislation that would put its employees under the same labor laws as its main competitor, United Parcel Service Inc. As part of its “Brown Bailout— campaign, FedEx is starting a contest today that solicits videos from the public describing why they deserve a bailout.

“We’ve had great support around the country with the Web site, and many people have asked how they can get their own bailout, so we decided to have a contest so those with the best ideas can enjoy that contest and the associated prizes,— FedEx’s Maury Lane said.

Finalists’ videos will be posted to the Web site and the public will vote on their favorites. The top five winners will receive $1,000 prizes.

UPS says FedEx is just continuing to “spend millions of dollars to try to convince people that their drivers are different than any other driver in the country,— according to UPS spokesman Malcolm Berkley.

“The law should apply equally to all drivers, and FedEx should stop trying to confuse people to maintain special treatment under the law,— he added.

Way to Go. Progressive think tank Third Way announced Tuesday that Andy Johnson, former staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will become the group’s national security program director.

Johnson spent 19 years in the Senate, serving the Intelligence Committee as majority and minority staff director, and working as a national security adviser to Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and former Sen. Jim Exon (D-Neb.). He also worked for the Department of the Navy from 1983 to 1989 and served as a presidential management intern, where he was posted to the Pentagon on the staff of the assistant undersecretary of Defense for policy and resources.

K Street Moves. Ian Reid LLC has added Alicia Marshall, a former branch chief for the Securities and Exchange Commission, as managing director. She will head the firm’s capital markets and asset management compliance practice. Marshall most recently was chief compliance officer for hedge fund RLJ Select Investments.

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