K Street in Brief
Jack Abramoff may have more influence as a criminal than he ever did as a lobbyist.
Abramoff’s illegal efforts to lobby Congress led to a new lobbying and ethics reform bill in the United States. Now it’s having an effect across the pond, too.
The European Commission has proposed new rules that could require European Union lobbyists to register for the first time, as part of a new transparency effort spawned after news reports of Abramoff’s activities broke.
Andreas Geiger, a founder and managing partner at Alber & Geiger, a public policy firm with offices in Berlin and Brussels, told The Hill that all lobbyists now need to lobby the EU is to have an access badge. To get one, lobbyists must state who they are working for and undergo a background check. But there are no records of what issues lobbyists are working on, or how much they are getting paid for their work.
“If no one knows who is going in, talking to whom and for what purpose, you can’t control anything,” Geiger said.
There has been some controversy surrounding the proposed registry. For example, law firms are prohibited from disclosing clients. That sets up a potential conflict as well as a double standard. Public policy-only firms could be required to register their activities, while law firms would be exempt from registering.
For that reason, Geiger said, the registry would likely be voluntary at first. That way, law firms could opt to disclose work that is principally advocacy rather than legal representation.
There are an estimated 15,000 people who lobby the EU, about half the number who lobby Washington. As in the United States, Geiger says, the lobbying industry is booming in Brussels.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is bringing a trusted senior aide back into the fold as he prepares for a big push next year on health reform.
Liz Fowler will walk back through the revolving door and return to the committee as senior counsel after more than two years in the private sector. Since 2006, Fowler has been vice president for public policy and external affairs for Wellpoint, the nation’s second-largest health-insurance and HMO company. In 2005, she left the Hill to become a consultant for the firm Health Policy Alternatives. She has never worked as a registered lobbyist.
“I’ve known Liz for a long time, and I’m thrilled to have her back on my team,” Baucus said in a written statement.
“Liz knows all the ins and outs of healthcare policy and how to move bold legislation. She’ll be an asset not only to the Finance Committee, but to the American people as we plan for real healthcare reform and a host of other vital initiatives.”
Baucus has been laying the groundwork since last year for a major contest on healthcare reform in 2009, particularly with the possibility of a Democratic president moving into the White House in January. Baucus has not endorsed any of the presidential candidates.
Fowler is an attorney who also has a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She worked for Baucus on the panel from 2000 to 2005, during which time she worked on several major pieces of legislation, most notably the bill that created the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. By the time she left the Finance Committee, she was the chief health and entitlements counsel for the Democratic staff.
Prior to serving under Baucus, Fowler worked for Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), the agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid and the legal and lobbying firm Hogan & Hartson.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) gained two unlikely allies this week in his push for legislation allowing bankruptcy judges to ease the terms of mortgages on primary residences: the largest credit union trade groups.
The National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) irked the rest of the lending community by agreeing to back the controversial bill, which is reviled by banks and mortgage lenders and supported by consumer groups as well as the AARP and the AFL-CIO.
The trade groups gave their blessing after Durbin agreed to limit his bill to sub-prime or exotic mortgages, risky loans that the credit unions generally avoid. Durbin can now tell wavering colleagues that some lenders support his bill and the credit unions can say they took a shot at their perennial foes: the banks. “We’re pleased to see that Sen. Durbin has focused the bill on sub-prime and those who created the sub-prime debacle,” a senior lobbyist for NAFCU, Brad Thaler, said.
Banking lobbyists take a different view, asserting that the credit unions stood to lose little from Durbin’s legislation in the first place. “They have little substance at stake, except they’re trying to score points by looking like they’re helpful,” one banking lobbyist complained.
Seeds of reform
Facing threats of a veto from the Bush administration, farm bill negotiators are also coming under pressure again from some of their more reform-minded peers.
Two Wisconsin lawmakers, Reps. Ron Kind (D) and Paul Ryan (R), have begun circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter calling for drastic changes to agricultural policy as the House and Senate continue to haggle over the details of the farm bill.
“Raising taxes during a time of record farm income and wealth to increase subsidies — including unlimited subsidies for wealthy landowners — during a time of increasing economic uncertainty and mounting deficits makes little sense,” reads the letter.
Kind and Ryan’s letter lays out a 10-point plan to bring down the cost of the legislation, such as rolling back subsidy increases and reducing direct payments, and possibly avoid the president’s veto pen.
Kind led a similar effort in the House this summer to reform the package, but ultimately failed.
With a U.S. court judgment now weighing against Libya for a terrorist attack several decades ago, Tripoli has turned to law firm Blank Rome for help.
The firm foresees heading to the Bush administration and Capitol Hill to help with Libya’s “legal issues and challenges,” according to a contract recently filed with the Justice Department. Even before its work has officially begun on the account, the firm took in a $250,000 retainer.
Libya’s main concern is a recent court decision that went against it. Sued by family members of victims who died in a 1989 bombing of a French airliner flying over Niger, six Libyan government officials have been ordered to pay $6 billion in damages.
“We have registered in connection with our having been retained to represent the government of Libya to handle the appeal of [the judge’s decision],” said T. Michael Howard, a Blank Rome partner.
Libya has since renounced terrorism and has begun to normalize relations with America, including with a recent visit by the country’s foreign minister to D.C.