Lobbying battle over START treaty heats up over weeklong congressional recess

The July Fourth congressional recess saw a lobbying battle heat up over a new nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia.

Last week, a new nonprofit group affiliated with the Heritage Foundation launched an online petition asking senators to reject ratifying the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). In its first 24 hours, more than 11,000 people signed onto the petition being run by Heritage Action for America.

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“Given the potential impact of New START, Heritage Action believes it is necessary to give Americans a conservative voice inside the beltway. The aim of our petition drive is to empower Americans who oppose the treaty. As grassroots opposition grows, senators will take notice,” Michael Needham, the group’s CEO, said.

Started in mid-June, the group — with a 501(c)4 nonprofit status — is considering running television issue ads on the treaty.

It also has registered a team of lobbyists to lobby against ratifying the treaty. According to Heritage Action’s lobbying registration, Frederick Baird III, a former legislative director for ex-Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), and Maggie Piggott, once a scheduler for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), are among the group’s lobbyists working on this issue among others, including the new healthcare law and the financial services reform bill.

Others are lobbying in support of the treaty, though. Peace activists and anti-nuclear arms advocates are looking for votes for the agreement among senators.

“It is going to greatly increase U.S. national security,” said Kingston Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation for the Council for a Livable World. “If we don’t get the treaty, we will not have the means to monitor and limit the size and location of Russia’s massive nuclear arsenal.”

The Council is a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing nuclear weapons and believes the treaty is a step in the right direction. Reif noted prominent Republicans, such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, are backing the treaty.

The Council, another 501(c)4 nonprofit group, also has a political action committee that has given more than $112,000 in campaign contributions to candidates over the past year, according to Federal Election Commission records. It has already endorsed a number of Senate Democratic candidates in the 2010 midterm elections, such as Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway.

“We support candidates who have supported long-standing, bipartisan arms control efforts such as the new START treaty,” Reif said.

But while advocates for the treaty have Kissinger and Scowcroft in their corner, some GOP heavyweights are against the treaty. Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) have criticized the treaty, saying it forces the United States to back off from expanding its missile defense capabilities.

That view was echoed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), a 2008 presidential candidate who might run again in 2012. In a July 6 op-ed, Romney blasted the treaty and said it should not be ratified by the Senate.

That was met with a fierce response by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In addition, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the panel’s ranking member, rebuked Romney in a statement Friday.

Nevertheless, the treaty is facing some concerted opposition. A June 30 letter to Kerry from all the panel’s Republicans except for Lugar says more time is needed to examine the treaty.

Nevertheless, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman believes the treaty will be ratified by the Senate. Kerry has already held 10 Senate hearings on the agreement, with another two planned for next week.

In a statement to The Hill, Kerry said he intended to prepare a draft resolution of advice and consent to ratification in “the coming days.”

“Rather than pander to politics, I am confident we will renew that spirit of cooperation and bipartisan tradition on arms control and national security to approve ratification of this vital treaty. Every day without the treaty’s verification regime is a day without a clear view of Russia’s nuclear arsenal,” Kerry said. 


—J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report