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Comstock in Trade

Former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock (most recently seen serving as part of the defense team for Scooter Libby) has registered to help Hearst Corporation lobby for a shield law that would prevent prosecutors from forcing reporters to testify against their sources (that is, people like Libby). [IMGCAP(1)]

Comstock left Blank Rome at the end of the year to join Mark Corallo, another former Justice spokesperson, at their new firm, Corallo Comstock. The lobbying registration she filed on behalf of Hearst at the end of February is her first for the new firm.

Last May, Corallo filed an affidavit in support of Hearst’s motion to quash a subpoena to compel testimony by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. The reporters broke the story of the BALCO steroids investigation, and prosecutors tried, but failed, to force the two to testify about how they got access to grand jury testimony in the case. Corallo’s affidavit argued that the subpoenas of the Chronicle reporters were inappropriate and would not have been approved by the Justice Department when he was there.

Corallo said that when Hearst was looking for outside lobbying help, he suggested Comstock, who was still at Blank Rome at the time.

Hearst and other news organizations are pushing Congress to pass a “shield law” that would protect reporters from having to reveal confidential sources unless prosecutors can prove that the reporter’s testimony is central to a criminal case and the information cannot be obtained any other way. Libby’s case became a rallying point for advocates of the shield after New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to jail rather than comply with a subpoena requiring her to testify who told her about CIA operative Valerie Plame. (Turned out it was Libby).

Workers Needed. With the immigration debate heating up again, tech industry honchos are hoping they can finally convince lawmakers to lift the cap on visas for the high-skilled workers they say their companies desperately need.

Already this year, the cause has gotten an assist on Capitol Hill from no less than Bill Gates himself. But as the lobbying push gets focused, the sector is turning to David Castagnetti and his team of hired top guns at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to take the lead. The firm is now heading up Compete America, the industry coalition for the issue formerly housed at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Robert Hoffman, a top lobbyist at Oracle and co-chair of the coalition, said that even though the industry is seeking a targeted fix — raising annual high-skilled visas from 65,000 to 115,000, exempting those who get graduate degrees, and green-card reform — for now it will pursue it through a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

As last year’s massive street demonstrations made clear, the politics of the issue are explosive. Some tech sources expressed skepticism that the broader bill will make much progress this year, but Hoffman said he remains hopeful.

The coalition includes Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, TechNet and the Information Technology Industry Council.

Uneasy Charities. The nation’s largest and most powerful charities are stepping up pressure on the federal government to tighten the standards for its long-standing fall charity drive. The Combined Federal Campaign, as it’s known, is the world’s largest workplace charity campaign, raising more than $260 million in pledges in 2005, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

But in updating the rules of the drive late last year, OPM dropped a requirement that participating charities guarantee they do not spend more than a quarter of their funds on administrative costs.

“Everyone is uncomfortable with this,” said Thomas Bognanno, president and CEO of Community Health Charities of America.

Added Janet Cave of Global Impact: “We’re all interested in keeping the campaign healthy and growing, because of all the good it does.”

The worry, they said, is that fewer federal employees will choose to give once they realize the program is no longer ensuring the efficiency of participating charities.

The OPM did not return a call for comment.

Meanwhile, heavy-hitting charities, including Global Impact, Earth Share and the Red Cross, are leaning on Members of Congress to get involved. So far, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Tom Davis (R-Va.), and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) have all sent letters expressing concern.

With planning already gearing up for the fall fundraising drive, Cave said time is running out.

Getting Religion. Ave Maria University, the conservative Catholic university founded in 2003 by the founder of Domino’s Pizza, is getting baptized into the ways of Washington, D.C., lobbying. The school has tapped Russ Reid Co., a firm that specializes in public relations and lobbying for nonprofits.

No one from Russ Reid or the Florida-based Ave Maria returned several calls seeking comment, but a registration says the lobbyists will look for appropriations in the foreign operations bills.

Meanwhile, Russ Reid has brought on a handful of other Christian-themed clients, including the D.C.-based Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, a Christian organization focused on kids’ education founded by the former Washington Redskins defensive back, and Every Home for Christ, whose mission is to promote Christian beliefs. Neither group returned calls seeking comment.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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