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Nickles Forming Lobbying Practice

Ending months of speculation about his post-retirement plans, former Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.) announced today that he is forming his own political consulting and business venture company. The Nickles Group, as the new firm will be known, will focus on health care, energy, and tax policy — all subjects Nickles worked on during his 24 years in office.

Beyond those areas, Nickles added in an interview, “I expect we’ll be involved in a wide variety of issues.”

The firm has been in the works for long enough to have a logo as well as a fledgling staff of current and former Nickles aides, though not long enough to have office space or a client list.

Nickles said he will start pitching to prospective clients Jan. 4.

A one-year lobbying ban on former Members and aides will prevent Nickles and two of his principal partners from paying visits to Capitol Hill on behalf of clients. But Nickles said he doesn’t expect the temporary restriction to hamstring his business.

“You look at Bob Dole, who’s been very successful, and you don’t see him walking around the Senate hall,” Nickles said, referring to the former Senate Majority Leader and Kansas Republican who now lobbies for the law firm Alston & Bird. “I’m going to be involved in various capacities, and I’m going to be energetic in growing the business.”

The announcement should quell rumors circulating since last year that Nickles would start a firm with fellow retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). The prospect of a new lobbying shop established by the former Senate GOP Whip and the wily Democratic deal maker from Louisiana attracted so much buzz that it was even mentioned on the short-lived HBO series “K Street,” in a scene starring Breaux’s lobbyist son, John Breaux Jr.

In the interview, Nickles did not rule out the possibility of working with Breaux in the future, saying it “would be for him to announce” if it happens.

“I had decided to start my own business, and at some point he could be part of it,” Nickles said. “Or we could do some other business together. That’s still on the table, even if he joins another firm.”

A spokesman for Breaux could not be reached for comment.

Nickles may be going it alone for now, but he can count on advice from other former Members who have successfully made the leap from Congress to K Street.

Former House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.), who formed the Livingston Group after leaving the House in 1999, said Nickles should brace himself for long, intensive hours.

“It’s got to work like a clock, not a slinky,” Livingston said. “You’ve got to know your clients; you can’t get involved in conflicts of interest; you’ve got to know the rules so you don’t get embarrassed.”

While the Nickles Group is starting out with an all-GOP team, the Oklahoma Republican said he will not limit his hiring to Republicans, saying he’s simply starting up the firm with former aides he knows and trusts.

Hazen Marshall, a partner with the new firm, most recently worked as majority staff director for the Senate Budget Committee, which Nickles chaired.

Stacey Hughes, another partner, brings 15 years of legislative experience in health-care policy. She recently served as a conference committee negotiator for the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.

The firm’s fourth principal, Cindi Merifield Tripodi, worked for a number of lobbying operations after leaving Nickles’ staff, including the Motion Picture Association of America and the American Medical Association.

Most recently, she was managing director of Public Strategies, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based firm.

Nickles declined to say how many other people he planned to hire beyond the initial group, saying the firm would grow with its success — just like the janitorial business he started in college, as well as the family machine business he helped run before being elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 1978.

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