K Street Files: Appropriating a Business

Posted October 2, 2009 at 5:44pm

The appropriations lobbying sector, once a stalwart of the K Street industry, has taken its lumps in the form of scandals and intrigue in recent years. But now Chris Pedigo has a business model that could one day render obsolete the well-paid earmark lobbyist.

[IMGCAP(1)]Pedigo, founder of Citizen Lobbyist, is helping local governments request earmarks for themselves, and he’s doing it at bargain-basement prices.

Most appropriations clients pay lobbying firms $5,000 a month or more, but Pedigo, a former lobbyist with Reed Smith, is lucky to get that amount each year from his subscribers. (He has subscribers, not clients.)

“My target audience is small- to medium-sized cities that can’t afford a lobbyist,— said Pedigo, a former aide to now-Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) when Wicker was on the House Appropriations Committee.

Pedigo is also marketing to counties and nonprofit organizations.

Lobbyists, he said, “come with all that baggage— from using campaign donations to secure earmarks. “What I’m providing is information about the process. … The idea that a mayor needs to hire a lobbyist to get into his Member of Congress’ office is ridiculous.—

Citizen Lobbyist subscribers can search Pedigo’s earmark database to help them figure out what projects are most likely to get funded and by which Members.

He has four subscribers, so Citizen Lobbyist isn’t making much revenue — around $20,000 annually. But after working on the venture for the past year, Pedigo said he expects to pick up about three more clients — make that subscribers — this fall.

Prospective subscribers “want to see a track record of success— before signing on, he said. Since he’s not actually lobbying for the cities, he declined to disclose their names.

“It’s not anywhere near profitable,— Pedigo conceded. “I knew it would take me two to three years to build up to where I’m profitable. For me, the magic number is 20— subscribers.

He said he’s getting positive feedback, of sorts, from rivals. “One guy, a partner in an appropriations lobbying firm, said, ‘I want to buy your firm and then burn it down,’— Pedigo said. “I think it’s going to get big here in the near future.—

Coming to America. Comprehensive immigration reform is not exactly at the top of Congress’ agenda right now, but that didn’t stop Som Mittal from traveling more than 7,000 miles to lobby on the issue.

Mittal, who heads the New Delhi-based National Association of Software and Service Companies, flew into town to urge Members to tackle the dicey issue and to create a new “service visa— category for temporary workers. The association’s members include Indian tech companies as well as U.S. firms operating there such as IBM.

“There are many misperceptions — that people are outsourcing, that they are replacing U.S. jobs,— Mittal said.

Mittal added that workers should be able to temporarily travel across borders. “It has become a service economy,— he said between Hill meetings late last week. “There is a need for people to move.—

Mittal, with help from the firm BGR Group, had meetings with the staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and with staff on the Judiciary committees. He also met with U.S. business interests and think tank representatives, he said.

Wise Guy. Robert Weissman, the new head of Public Citizen, doesn’t plan to turn the liberal advocacy group upside down, but he does want to make it more popular when it comes to social networking Web sites and blogs.

“We need to make sure we have a big footprint there,— he said. “We are underrepresented in the blogosphere.—

While that doesn’t sound so different from most advocacy organizations, Public Citizen will also step up its outreach to the “comic book community,— Weissman said in all seriousness.

Apparently, comic book junkies have a lot in common with Public Citizen’s policy goals, which include pressing for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all-style public health care system. Some might say that type of health care reform would take some comic book “super human— lobbying.

K Street Moves. Former Clinton White House lawyer Lanny Davis has left Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for McDermott Will & Emery. Davis in recent months has been deep in the froth of contentious “card check— legislation, representing Starbucks, Costco and other retailers that are pushing a compromise bill. Crisis management expert Eileen O’Connor, a former reporter, is also making the move with Davis.

• Alison Omens is leaving the AFL-CIO for Working America, where she will work in the communications shop.

• The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has named Josh Protas as its vice president and director of the Washington, D.C., office. Previously, Protas was senior VP for planning and community affairs with the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

• The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association has hired Carter McDowell, most recently with the American Bankers Association, as managing director and associate general counsel. McDowell, a one-time counsel on the House Financial Services Committee, starts Oct. 12.

Matthew Murray contributed to this story.

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