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Friday, November 7, 2008

K Street: Time for Right Wing Lobbyists to Hit the Road

K Street to be redefined. With Obama's election the influence and corruption of a Republican dominated K Street is doomed. It's about the time the government had some intelligence and integrity as opposed to right wing ideology. With the election, notice has been served. RGN

K Street suffers election anxiety
By: Jeanne Cummings
November 3, 2008 07:59 PM EST

Congressional Republicans aren’t the only ones bracing for big Election Night losses. Their partisan brethren in the business trade associations and corporate offices are, too.

Almost all of those high-paying jobs are held by Republicans — former Capitol Hill staffers and White House aides — whose influence will be significantly diminished if Democrats take over the White House and extend their majorities in the House and Senate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Chain Stores, and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America are all led by Republicans. And the list goes on and on.

The same red hue hangs over big corporate government affairs offices. Disney, AT&T, Verizon, Visa, Time Warner, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin and BlueCross BlueShield all are paying big bucks to top lobbyists with ties to the GOP, which is expected to lose power Tuesday rather than gain it.

Is a K Street partisan bloodbath in the offing?

That’s what many Republicans expect, even if Democrats don’t systematically go after their heads.

“I think corporate America will be very risk averse on this stuff,” said one Republican lobbyist. “They will try to do anything they can to avoid getting smacked. I definitely think there will be some pressure. They are a bunch of wussies.”

Already, the signs of change are in the air.

Global financial giant Citigroup last week promoted Jimmy Ryan, former chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), to senior vice president of federal government affairs. He will co-direct the company’s government affairs office with Heather Wingate, a former Bush White House adviser.

Also last week, Kerry Knott, a onetime top aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), was ousted as head of Comcast Corp.’s government affairs office and replaced by Melissa Maxfield, who once worked for Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader who now advises presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Democratic leaders aren’t expected to initiate a formal campaign, as former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) did in the 1990s, to change the partisan bias in the top business lobbying shops.

DeLay and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) openly pressured corporations and business trade groups to fire Democrats and replace them with Republicans in what was dubbed the K Street Project.

The sophisticated program included circulation around K Street of available Republican job candidates on the Hill and scorecards showing which firms were toeing the line and which ones weren’t.

DeLay’s efforts paid off later when those former Republican aides gained control of big corporate and trade association political action committees and doled out donations to their old friends in Congress. The former Hill aides also could galvanize the grass roots of the various trade groups to put pressure on members during legislative fights.

Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed not to duplicate such a program when they gained control of Congress in 2006. And last year, they pushed through ethics reform that could punish members if they interfered with a lobbying shop’s hiring practices. It also required members and their senior staffers to disclose any job negotiations with K Street.

But that’s not to say they aren’t willing to air their gripes about the continuing Republican dominance in the business lobby.

Last summer, Reid, Pelosi and others were furious when those organizations did not rally behind legislation that included popular tax extenders for industries.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has recently criticized the Chamber for its multimillion-dollar ad campaign on behalf of Republican candidates.

Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who advised former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), said that, despite the complaints, Democratic congressional leaders will be bound by their promise not to mimic DeLay’s K Street Project.

“You are going to see a shift over time,” Elmendorf predicted. “When jobs open up, more Democrats will be hired.”

“If you want to make a strategic decision about how you are going to lobby the next Congress and White House,” he added, “you have to think about hiring Democrats.”

One Republican lobbyist who heads a business trade group and asked to remain anonymous said the real game-changer for K Street could turn out to be the White House rather than shifts on Capitol Hill.

When Democrats regained control of the House and Senate in 2006, many trade and corporate lobbyists kept their jobs because of their close ties to people inside the Bush administration.

An Obama presidency would give Democrats complete control and could make it harder for many Republican business advocates to justify their positions.

On the other hand, the lobbyist speculated that the diversity of the expanded Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill may curb any K Street bloodlust among the Democratic leadership.

Many of the incoming House and Senate freshmen are expected to come from conservative and moderate districts, swelling the pro-business Blue Dog wing of the caucus rather than the traditional liberal base.

He recalled the arrival of President Bill Clinton in 1993. Rather than going after business, Clinton presented a moderate image and reached out to the corporate community.

Clinton’s goal was to “co-opt a portion of the business community” through his positions on free trade and other issues, said this lobbyist. And the strategy worked pretty effectively with global corporations.

But that might be a tougher pivot for Obama, who has promised to rewrite some of the Clinton trade deals to make them more labor and environmentally friendly.

Another Republican lobbyist sees what he hopes is a silver lining in a Democratic takeover: the need for a Republican lobbyist or two in corporate shops who are willing to stand up to the majorities on behalf of their clients.

In addition, one-party rule may also force the business community to conduct broader and more expensive lobbying campaigns to get their messages heard, the second lobbyist predicted.

“These associations and firms are going to have to employ a different type of campaign to shape public opinion and move it on its side,” the lobbyist said. “That will require paid advertising, earned media campaigns, grass roots.

“It will require a whole different way of looking at how the lobbying game is played.”

© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC

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