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Embattled toy maker Mattel, whose chief executive is expected to return to the Congressional hot seat on Wednesday to answer another round of questions about unsafe toys from China, has added a new firm to its lobbying lineup. Mattel just inked a deal with Johnson Madigan Peck Boland & Stewart, according to Mattel’s Mary Elizabeth Michaels. [IMGCAP(1)]

Last week, Mattel CEO Robert Eckert faced Senators, and this week he is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. Mattel, whose annual revenues top $5 billion, recently recalled millions of toys made in China because of lead paint and other safety problems.

Johnson Madigan Peck’s David Johnson and Janet Mullins Grissom are serving as the firm’s point-people for Mattel. The toy company is also working with its longtime outside lobbyist, Thomas St. Maxens of St. Maxens & Co., as well as relying on help from its small in-house government affairs shop led by California-based Corinne Murat.

“We were happy to go and answer questions and discuss the issue, tell what we’re doing,” Mattel’s Michaels said about last week’s Senate hearing. “We’re working to get everything done.”

Don’t be surprised to see speedy legislation on this matter.

WAKE UP! Daniel Faraci, a former Hill staffer-turned-campaign aide, is trying to take a trade association with a sleepy Washington, D.C., presence and make it into one with some lobbying clout. The Alliance for Affordable Services represents about 150,000 small-business owners and self-employed people. The group has no political action committee and until this year had no registered lobbyists.

Faraci, who is the company’s first in-house director of government affairs, previously worked on the campaigns of GOP candidates including former Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) and current Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.). He said he is making the rounds — on both sides of the aisle — to push for health insurance tax credits for small-business employers.

“My vision is to eventually have this as an effective lobbying entity for small business owners and self-employed, to be their voice for tax alleviation, health care and whatever concerns them,” he said.

Today, Faraci and the alliance are kicking off a series of question-and-answer events in Members’ districts. Today it’s Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.). Next in line are Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.). Said Faraci: “We’re going to work with all the Members who have 1,500 or more association members in their districts and Members on key committees.”

Tempest in a TV. On Feb. 17, 2009, broadcast television will go digital when TV stations shut down their analog signals. That means that viewers without cable or a satellite connection or a digital TV set will see only fuzz that day — unless of course they’ve secured a converter box for their analog TVs.

Well, a new coalition of small cable companies has found just the solution: They are offering to install, for free, cable hook-ups into cable-less homes. And they’ll give those viewers access to their local over-the-air stations.

Except it’s not entirely free: The cable companies, which include Massillon Cable TV, want the government to suspend the “re-transmission consent” fees that cable enterprises are to pay to broadcasters.

The new group is called the Save Our Sets Coalition and has tapped lobbyists from Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice to take its idea to the Federal Communications Commission and to Congress.

“The proposal is being circulated amongst all of the cable operators,” said lobbyist John Mashburn.

The broadcasting lobby, however, is none too pleased. “There is no justifiable rationale for altering a law that has worked well for the last 15 years,” wrote the National Association of Broadcaster’s Dennis Wharton in an e-mail. “The retransmission consent process allows cable operators to negotiate with broadcasters for carriage of the most-watched programming on the cable line-up, and NAB will aggressively oppose any change to a law that has worked exactly as Congress intended when it passed the 1992 Cable Act.”

K Street Moves. Democratic lobbyist Heather Podesta has added Stacy Stordahl to her firm, Podesta + Partners. Most recently, Stordahl was senior policy adviser for the Senate Committee on Aging, working for Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).

• Dickstein Shapiro has launched a strategic alliance with Michael F. Barrett, a former Congressional investor on the House Energy and Commerce Committee for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). Barrett will be a consultant for Dickstein Shapiro clients.

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