Olympic lobbying a year-round sport

In Vancouver, athletes from around the world are competing in events like figure skating, downhill skiing and something called the Nordic Combined.

The pageantry of the Winter Olympics is a once-every-four-year event. But each year there is competition of a different sort being fought in Washington. On the line is money, not medals. And it isn’t athletes, but lobbyists, who must overcome obstacles to reach their goals.

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Nearly every interest has a lobbyist, and the Olympics are no different. Each year, lobbyists compete for funding for athletes’ training centers that provide a boost for athletes who train eight or more hours a day.

Some lobbyists have also helped organize members of Congress to provide a boost to the cities they represent that are trying to host the Olympic Games, as well as on sensitive issues like visas and entry requirements for visitors to international sporting events.

The United States Olympic Committee, which coordinates all Olympic-related athletic activity, was itself created by Congress in 1978 with the passage of the Amateur Sports Act. It now operates a Washington-based office and has spent nearly $1 million on lobbying since 2006, according to federal disclosure records.

K&L Gates has received about $400,000 since 2005 to lobby for Northern Michigan University, which houses one of the nation's four Olympic training centers, according to a review of lobbying disclosure records.

The firm is lobbying in support of the B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship Program, which helps funds academic scholarships for Olympic athletes while they train for the games.

“The bobsledders don’t get an NCAA scholarship,” said Mark Ruge, co-chairman of the firm’s public policy and law practice group.

Even as bobsledders prepare for a quadrennial return to the sporting-world spotlight, the Obama administration has put the $1 million federally funded grant program on the chopping block.

The initiative, created in 1998 and named after the late son of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), was cut by the Obama administration in its proposed 2011 federal budget. The administration said that a review of the program found it to be ineffective.

Ruge hopes the support of Stupak will be enough to win federal support for the program. Previous administrations likewise have not sought funding for the scholarships. Ruge said he “respectfully disagrees” with the administration and thinks this is an “outstanding program.”

“You can turn on the TV any of the nights this week and see the kids who have gone through these training centers,” Ruge said.

Ruge said 130 of the U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches who are now participating at the Vancouver Winter Olympics have trained or taught at Northern Michigan University's training center using the scholarship money.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Committee, which has spent more than $950,000 on lobbying since 2006, keeps the Crane Group and Monument Policy Group on retainer.

Included among the many topics the firm is tracking are funding in the defense spending bill for Paralympic athletes; U.S. bids for the 2016 Summer Olympics; and even customs and immigration issues, according to the forms.

Like at the games themselves, there are winners and losers in the lobbying competition.

Dutko Worldwide earned about $770,000 in lobbying fees in 2007 from Chicago 2016, the committee responsible for the Windy City’s bid for the Summer Games.

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The city’s bid also had high-level support from the White House. President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama attends UNC-Duke basketball game Obama, Steph Curry team up to tell young men of color: 'You matter' The Memo: Bernie Sanders’s WH launch sharpens ‘socialist’ question MORE traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, last year to appeal to the International Olympic Committee on behalf of his hometown.

Dutko’s lobbying team also had a Chicago connection. Pete Halpin, one of the firm’s lead lobbyists on the account and a former Clinton administration aide, was once the director of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s (D) Washington office.

Part of the firm’s lobbying job for the Chicago bid was to shore up support among members of Congress, according to lobbying disclosure forms.

Dutko advocated for Senate and House resolutions in support of the city’s Olympic bid, sponsored by Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin: Trump pressuring acting AG in Cohen probe is 'no surprise' Durbin after reading Green New Deal: 'What in the heck is this?' Sanders: 'Not crazy' about nixing the Senate filibuster MORE (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), which both passed Congress in the summer of 2009.

Despite the support, the International Olympic Committee chose Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

*This piece was corrected at 12:44 p.m. It originally reported that K&L Gates lobbied for Northern Michigan University's training center, rather than just the university, and that 130 U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches trained and taught at all four of the nation's training centers using scholarship money, instead of just at Northern Michigan University's training center.