Santa Falls to Ethics Clause

Posted December 14, 2007 at 6:35pm

Sorry, Washington, there is no Santa. That roly-poly, red-suited fellow who usually jollies up the annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce Christmas blowout? He got the ax, thanks to the new ethics rules governing gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and their staffs. [IMGCAP(1)]

In previous years, the Chamber’s ultra-luxe party has been one of the favorites on many a Hill staffer’s holiday calendar. A “real” Santa, usually flanked by a posse of elves, was one of the fete’s highlights — other than, of course, the free-flowing, top-shelf bar. Partygoers could pose for pictures on St. Nick’s lap and get a Polaroid to memorialize the merriment, a la childhood visits to the mall Santa. But this year, party planners worried that the snapshots could be considered a gift of value banned under the new ethics rules. A chamber spokesman said the group went so far in making sure the event didn’t run afoul of the new rules that organizers had to cut out some favorite traditions. “We were so compliant, we had to fire Santa,” he said. Valet services, too, were nixed, since they could possibly be seen as a gift.

Some attendees were saddened by the absence of the jolly old fellow, including one former GOP staffer who made an annual tradition of having her picture snapped with Santa and her old roommate, and pinning the mug shot to the fridge.

But it wasn’t tantamount to coal in partygoers’ stockings, since the open bars and plentiful cocktail snacks (albeit very, very tiny ones, so as not to violate the ethics rules, which have been interpreted to exclude food needing a knife and fork) were there to console revelers, no matter if they had been nice — or naughty — this year.

Small Steps, Giant Leap. When he walked onto the Senate floor under his own power to vote on Friday, Sen. Tim Johnson (D) quietly marked a major milestone in his rehabilitation from a brain aneurysm that the senior South Dakotan suffered last year

Since his return to the Senate this fall — when his colleagues gave the mild-mannered lawmaker a standing ovation before a packed gallery — Johnson has used a scooter to putter around the Capitol complex and to come on and off the Senate floor for votes or speeches. But Friday, Johnson took his first steps on the Senate floor in more than a year, slipping quietly into the chamber with the help of a cane and an aide hovering close by.

True to form, Johnson did not inform any of his colleagues and only told his staff of his decision to abandon his scooter outside the chamber just prior to the mid-afternoon vote on the Defense authorization bill.

An aide close to Johnson said the lawmaker’s shaky, awkward entrance into the chamber, which was carried on C-SPAN, typified his rehabilitation. “The saying around here is, ‘It’s not always pretty, but it’s always beautiful,’” the aide said.

Mixing Business and Pleasure. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was all smiles and Christmas cheer as she greeted members of the media at her annual holiday party Thursday night. And though she turned on the charm for the fourth estate, she apparently didn’t save much for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), her No. 2 in House leadership with whom she’s sometimes had a strained relationship.

After Pelosi greeted Hoyer warmly, the two launched into some serious shop talk, engaging in a deep discussion in a corner just a few yards away from the gaping press corps. “They were pretty animated, and it didn’t look like either one of them was very happy,” one attendee spilled to HOH.

Still, it seems the holiday spirit prevailed when the two finished their conversation and turned back to the scribes in the room, smiling.

Elevator Oddity. Oh, the strange dynamics the loyalties formed by a presidential race can create. On Thursday, an HOH operative overheard a very public — and odd — exchange between fellow Florida Democratic Reps. Robert Wexler and Corrine Brown.

Wexler, who is white, is backing Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) presidential bid. Brown, who is black, is a supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). On Thursday Wexler appeared peeved at an attack by a Clinton adviser on Obama’s experiences with drugs as a young man. “Every time a black man tries to get ahead in the country, someone tries to pull him down,” Wexler repeatedly bemoaned to Brown, as the two waited with a small group of people for an elevator in the Capitol.

Brown, who our spy says appeared to take Wexler’s musing good-naturedly, just shook her head. “He’s always lecturing me,” she said to the fellow elevator passengers. When he repeated his sentiments about about keeping black men down — which were clearly pointed at the Clinton camp — Brown rebuffed him. “You don’t hear me saying anything bad about black people,” she finally told Wexler.

Tweet Charity. It’s not the birds and the bees that’s got environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. hustling for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The son of the late New York Sen. Robert Kennedy is worried about those adorable little robins and bluebirds and wants you to be, too.

In a fundraising letter that went out last Thursday, Kennedy laments the impact of global warming — and he’s not talking about melting polar ice caps, but something a little closer to home. “I’ve recently seen robins and bluebirds show up in the middle of winter. And this past January, a friend of mine ate asparagus he harvested in the Catskills, which are normally frozen this time of year,” writes Kennedy, asking for supporters to contribute $50, $75 or more to defeat Republicans.

Kennedy is just one of the celebs who’s recently tried raising funds for the DSCC. Actor and ace salad-dressing maker Paul Newman recently penned a pitch email seeking donations for the Dems.

Briefly Quoted. “Giuliani and the Ho’s”

— The subject of an e-mail sent from the Family Focus Coalition, passing along a news story — not about any naughty doings by former New York Mayor and presidential wannabe Rudy Giuliani, but about his business dealings with a Hong Kong family named Ho.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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