K Street Files: The Anti-Chamber

Posted December 4, 2009 at 6:27pm

A group of activists has taken out an ad offering a $200,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue.

[IMGCAP(1)]The full-page ad, which ran in the Dec. 4 Washington City Paper, asks would-be tipsters to call a 1-800 number hot line or to e-mail any dirt on Donohue. “We now seek hard evidence that will stand up in the court of law,— the ad states. It wants “documents, affidavits and testimony implicating Donohue in crimes; including fraud, tax violations, campaign finance violations, money laundering, insider trading, election tampering, pension fund and stockholder manipulations.—

Chamber spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel responded Friday, “The media should be following the money trail behind this scurrilous group instead of giving credence to its outrageous tactics, and we are considering our legal options with the ad.—

According to the Web site of the group behind the ad, stopthechamber.com, one of the organizations behind the request is the Yes Men, which pulled a hoax on reporters in October by issuing a phony press release saying the chamber had switched its position on climate change. The chamber has come under fire for its opposition to climate change bills, and even some big companies such as Exelon Energy and Nike have left the big-business lobby as a result.

Despite the earlier hoax, Kevin Zeese, member of the board of directors of Velvet Revolution, which is behind the ad, said the $200,000 reward is no joke.

“This is definitely legitimate,— he said. “Velvet Revolution has done this kind of thing with other issues, including election fraud.—

Zeese says he’s confident he’ll get the goods on Donohue.

“There are enough people that are angry at [Tom Donohue], they’ll tell us what’s going on,— Zeese said, noting that more ads are in the works. “We’ve begun to get tips, and we’re investigating them.—

Zeese said he’s not coordinating with unions or the White House, but he said the chamber has definitely upset both. “They’ve been making a lot of mistakes lately and been pretty outlandishly partisan,— he said. “They’re losing support in the business community.—

Under the Line. When Congress toughened its ethics rules, it sought to slow down the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street. However, the rules that prevent House aides from lobbying their former bosses for a year after they leave their jobs applies to only a tiny fraction of former staffers, according to an analysis of Members’ disbursement reports, which went online for the first time last week.

The reports of third-quarter 2009 expenses show that only about 3 percent of current House staffers would meet the salary threshold to come under the lobbying restrictions.

Staffers must make three-quarters of the salary of House members, which is $174,000 annually, to fall under the restriction. Only 255 top aides of the 8,500 people who currently are on House Members’ payroll are at or above that threshold, which would be $32,625 quarterly or $130,500 annually. The 8,500 employees include all people who are on House Members’ payrolls, including interns and office assistants.

Craig Holman, legislative representative for the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen, said the rules, which went into effect in 2008, were intended to prevent staffers who are in decision-making positions from immediately lobbying. In the House, these staffers are prohibited for a year from lobbying the Member or committee they worked with.

But Holman said he was surprised at how few staffers would be affected.

“Given the fact that it captures so few staffers, I would support lowering the threshold,— Holman said.

Holman said he had heard anecdotally that some staffers take slightly lower salaries so that the revolving-door rules won’t apply to them. Sixty-five staffers had quarterly salaries of $31,350 to $32,513 — just below the threshold. The analysis of the salaries came from a database of the disbursement reports posted online by the Sunlight Foundation.

Nurses Unite. As the health care debate intensifies on Capitol Hill, a new union of registered nurses is launching today. The 150,000-member National Nurses United, which will affiliate with the AFL-CIO, plans to have a big presence on Capitol Hill.

“Nurses are patient advocates, and we plan a high-profile Capitol advocacy agenda,— said registered nurse Deborah Burger of the union. “Our hope is to wed the public’s strong support of RNs with our unions’ history of creative and effective campaigns.—

The union will focus on patient safety, health care and labor issues before Congress. The nurses union is especially keen on a Senate bill that would establish minimum RN-to-patient ratios.

The group is convening today in Phoenix and will hear from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Off the Market. Dutko Worldwide was sold last week to Huntsworth, a British public affairs conglomerate, for more than $33 million. Dutko CEO Mark Irion says the move was motivated by “our ambitions to build out a global public affairs company.— Huntsworth also assumed nearly $10 million in Dutko debt.

While Dutko already had outposts in various states and in Prague, the marriage with Huntsworth will give the shop access to 64 offices in 37 countries, Irion said.

“If you want the biggest, most compelling kind of assignments, those really involve doing all the aspects of public affairs,— Irion said. “That includes PR, digital communications, strategic communications.—

Dutko previously had an arrangement with Lake Capital, an investment firm that had infused the lobby shop with cash beginning in 2003. Irion said that deal helped Dutko diversify its services into grass-roots and polling work. “So the next step really was: What do we do from here?— Irion said. “We decided the best thing would be to take advantage of a partner instead of one providing financing capital, which is what Lake Capital did.—

Irion said that Dutko’s name as well as its management team will stay. “Our decisions on growing the staff remain identical to what we would have done with or without this deal,— he said.

K Street Moves. Tucker Foote, a one-time GOP aide on the House Financial Services Committee, has been named vice president and head of U.S. government affairs for MasterCard Worldwide. Foote runs the company’s federal and state lobby operations.

Alex Knott contributed to this report.

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