Lobbyists shift gears to help Haiti

Lobbyists shift gears to help Haiti

A number of K Street interests have begun to switch gears to help Haiti recover from its catastrophic earthquake Tuesday.

Unions, religious groups and even lobbyists working on trade agreements are now scrambling to find more foreign aid for Haiti. It is still unclear how large the death toll will be for the impoverished nation after being struck by the magnitude 7.0 quake, but many expect it will be massive.

“It’s devastating. We still don’t know the extent of the damage,” said Ron Sorini, co-founder of Sorini, Samet & Associates. Sorini’s firm is the only one in Washington at the moment under contract with the Haitian government, according to Justice Department records.

Since 2007, Sorini and other lobbyists at his firm have been working for a Haitian government-funded commission, known as CTMO-HOPE, which was established to oversee a trade agreement that the country signed with the United States. A former chief textile negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Sorini is one of the few specialist lobbyists on trade deals in the nation’s capital.

But now he and others at his firm will help the Haitian government coordinate its requests for foreign assistance from the U.S. government as well as the private sector.

“The scope of our agreement is trade but obviously we are going to help. We are going to do everything we can,” Sorini said. The lobbyist first heard news of the earthquake Tuesday when he was accompanying a Haitian delegation on visits to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to administration officials.

Other interests in Washington that have been consumed by the healthcare reform debate are stepping up too. For example, Haiti has long been a concern for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They plan to start asking local parishes to start collecting donations for Haiti this weekend. In addition, the Bishops plan to lobby congressional lawmakers for support of a long-term recovery package beyond just emergency aid for Haiti as well as pushing for temporary protected status for Haitians currently in America, according to Kevin Appleby, a spokesman for the group.

“Haiti has long been neglected by her neighbors and the world community. This is a real opportunity for the United States to help the Haitian people in the short- and long-term,” Appleby said.

Unions are also planning to help Haiti by sending their own members in to assist recovery efforts.

Since Wednesday morning, National Nurses United — a newly created nurse union — has had more than 700 registered nurses volunteer to go to Haiti. They are hoping to repeat a similar effort when hundreds of volunteer nurses went to the Gulf Region after Hurricane Katrina.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is also working to get more assistance to Haiti as soon as possible.

“SEIU is developing a relief initiative, Help Haiti, to direct donations from our members, our locals and the general public to effective respite and aid organizations once a needs assessment has been completed,” said SEIU President Andy Stern in a statement. “At the same time, SEIU Healthcare members — nurses, personal care assistants, doctors and others — are mobilizing to determine the types of direct support needed by the people of Haiti.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also helping out. They have activated their Business Civic Leadership Center to help share information on recovery and relief efforts in Haiti as well as record corporate contributions.