1/21/08

Advance Auction Sale of Stolen Goods

A co-chairman of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is a top Washington lobbyist. So are Mitt Romney's national counsel and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's top advisers.

To an electorate weary of political scandals – lobbyists played starring roles in recent ones – the deep involvement of lobbyists in campaigns may look dubious. After all, Congress passed a law last year that purged gift-giving from a lobbyist's arsenal and required fundraisers to disclose "bundled" contributions from lobbyists.

But the law can't deter lobbyists from playing major roles during campaigns – even as some of the candidates zing one another for ties to special interests.

For lobbyists, the stakes are high – their clients collectively spend millions to shape legislation, influence regulation and compete for valuable government contracts.

Whether recruiting donors or dispensing political advice, campaign trench-work can mean better access for clients if the candidate is elected.

"That doesn't guarantee a result," said David McIntosh, a lobbyist and domestic policy adviser to Republican candidate Fred Thompson, himself a former lobbyist. "But if you know somebody, they will at least look at what you have to say."

While campaigns sometimes announce advisers who are lobbyists, disclosure isn't systematic. Many lobbyists aren't paid for political work, so their names don't appear on campaign-finance reports.

No one truly knows how many lobbyists are advising candidates.

"They want to be involved in the campaign because they want their issues on the agenda," said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "There is this whole crush of people trying to give advice. It's huge."

The revolving door between lobbying and campaigns has become so common that journalists even quote lobbyists as political "strategists" – without mentioning they are primarily paid to influence policy.

On Jan. 4, MSNBC interviewed Todd A. Boulanger, a former Republican aide whose lobbying clients have included Freddie Mac and the state of Texas, and called him a "Republican strategist."

Mr. Boulanger said the two terms – lobbyist and strategist – are "interchangeable."

"A strategist is someone who has inside knowledge of how a campaign works and how the Beltway works," Mr. Boulanger said.

Charlie Black, a lobbyist who is a senior strategist for the McCain campaign, said he's so often involved in presidential campaigns that he considers lobbying his "second career."

"Most lobbyists who devote a lot of time to it are politicos who did that before they got into lobbying," said Mr. Black, who worked for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush and now lobbies for AT&T, lottery contractor Gtech and General Motors.

In some cases, the lobbyists and candidates say their relationships predate the current campaign.

Tom Loeffler, a former Texas congressman and now a prominent lobbyist, said he's known Mr. McCain since the 1970s and raised the "original seed money" for the senator's first congressional campaign in the early 1980s.

Now Mr. Loeffler is one of Mr. McCain's national co-chairmen, a position that demands raising huge sums of money.

Mr. Loeffler also served as a co-chairman of President Bush's 2000 campaign.

Saudi Arabia is among Mr. Loeffler's top clients.

In the first half of 2006, the kingdom's ministry of commerce and industry paid Mr. Loeffler's firm almost $5 million to represent it before Congress, the Bush administration and the World Trade Organization, according to U.S. Justice Department records.

Mr. McCain, meanwhile, has been one of the kingdom's most nettlesome critics. He has blamed Saudi leaders for fomenting extremism by supporting madrasas, Islamic religious schools that have been blamed in some Muslim countries for promoting militancy.

Mr. Loeffler said he doesn't need to lobby Mr. McCain for the Saudis because the senator "is a global expert and understands the Middle East better than anyone I know."

As for Mr. Loeffler's other clients, which include automakers and telecom firms, "I expect absolutely nothing in return," he said. "When I represent my clients before policymakers, I represent them based on my integrity and the argument of the moment."

Rudy Giuliani, a name partner in a prominent law firm that lobbies for clients, has several lobbyists advising him, including Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Giuliani's top immigration adviser is Stewart Verdery, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security who represents firms that want Congress to raise the number of foreign workers. Mr. Verdery didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, also has several lobbyists in his Cabinet. Benjamin Ginsberg, Mr. Romney's national counsel, and Brian Reardon, a senior economic adviser, are both lobbyists.

Mr. Ginsberg, whose firm is a lobbying powerhouse in Washington, also is an expert in election law. He served as national counsel to President Bush's campaigns and represented Mr. Bush in the 2000 Florida recount.

Craig Stevens, a Romney spokesman, said the campaign hired Mr. Ginsberg for his expertise in election law and political strategy.

The campaign expects Mr. Ginsberg would use "good judgment down the road" if he lobbied a Romney presidency, Mr. Stevens said.

"It's not necessarily that he's a lobbyist, but that he's a highly skilled attorney and highly skilled political strategist that make him valuable to a campaign," Mr. Stevens said.

On Thursday, Mr. Romney was challenged about the involvement of lobbyist Ron Kaufman in his campaign, culminating in a heated exchange with an Associated Press reporter. Mr. Romney's reliance on lobbyists for advice clashed with his self-image as an outsider who would shake up Washington's establishment.

Offering valuable services to the winning candidate can mean better access later on as a "friend of the family," Dr. Thurber said.

"If you're a friend during a war – and that's what campaigning is – then you're a friend later on," Dr. Thurber said. "If you only lobby when you need something from the person ... you're not as effective as a person who is a friend of the family."

Mr. Ginsberg, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, lobbies for IAP Worldwide Services, a defense contractor that competes for military business. He also represented AIG Technical Services, which markets insurance coverage specifically for the cleanup of shuttered military bases.

Even the three major Democratic candidates, who have attacked one another's ties to lobbyists, have leaned on people with deep ties to the lobbying world.

Mrs. Clinton's team includes Harold Ickes, a lobbyist whose clients include the owner of A&P grocery stores, for-profit nursing homes and local governments in New York. Mrs. Clinton's finance director, Jonathan Mantz, was a lobbyist until 2006 for defense contractors Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.

Mr. Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff in Bill Clinton's White House, did not return a phone call seeking comment. A Clinton spokeswoman also didn't return a call for comment.

Sen. Barack Obama, whose New Hampshire campaign chairman was a lobbyist in that state, employs at least three former lobbyists.

Mr. Obama has criticized lobbyists for having outsized influence in Washington, where he's taken credit for pushing through the law that improved disclosure of campaign donations coordinated by lobbyists.

An Obama spokesman said the former lobbyists no longer represent clients.

Two of them, Emmett Beliveau and Brandon Hurlbut, quit lobbying to join the campaign last year.

Mr. Beliveau, who oversees Mr. Obama's campaign stagecraft, reported at least $720,000 in revenue to his firm from lobbying clients the first half of 2007, according to Senate lobbying records.

Mr. Beliveau worked at the same lobby firm, Patton Boggs, where Mr. Ginsberg is a partner.

Mr. Hurlbut, whose clients included insurance companies and Environmental Defense, reported income to his firm of $360,000.

"The folks who work here all work here because they think [we] have the ability to truly transform our nation and bring a fundamental change to how Washington does business," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign.

Even former Sen. John Edwards, who has fulminated against special interests and vowed to ban lobbyists from the White House, employs three former lobbyists.

All of them previously worked for labor unions.

David Medina, Mr. Edwards' political director, lobbied for the AFL-CIO from 1998 to 2003, according to Senate records. Two other advisers, Chris Chafe and Matt Morrison, worked for unions that endorsed Mr. Edwards' rivals, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.

(dallasnews.com)

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