Ethical Partying

Posted December 18, 2007 at 6:24pm

One week after the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct released guidance on how Members and lobbyists can ethically party together at the 2008 political conventions, a coalition of government reform groups has registered a “strong objection” and is calling on the committee to backtrack and issue a major buzz-kill to K Street revelers.

[IMGCAP(1)]The ethics committee’s guidance last week said that while lobbyists or lobbying groups cannot host events that honor individual Members at convention parties, it’s OK to throw events that honor a state delegation or caucus. In other words: Party on.

The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters and Public Citizen signed on to a letter Tuesday saying they believe it is “incumbent” for the committee “to immediately withdraw this guidance and to issue new guidance that properly reflects the meaning, purpose and spirit” of the new ethics legislation.

In an interview, Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer said the ethics committee’s guidance “is really a comprehensive attempt to gut the provision.”

“Look, here’s where we are now,” he said. “Lobbyists can’t spend $25 to buy a Member of Congress a meal, but under this interpretation lobbying organizations can spend $100,000, or more, at the national conventions to pay for lavish parties.”

In the letter, the groups charge that the committee’s guidance has opened “gaping loopholes” that will allow K Streeters to win the “favor and influence with Representatives by paying for lavish parties” and provides a “clear roadmap for Members and lobbyist on how to circumvent and ignore the new rule.”

“Just who do the members of the House Ethics Committee think they are fooling?” the letter continues.

The letter didn’t touch on this, but Wertheimer said lobbyists will need to disclose on their lobbying forms the money they spend on parties at the conventions.

“Members ought to understand that if they attempt to use this guidance as a basis for circumventing the ethics rules, all of the money spent by lobbyists and lobbying organizations to pay for their parties is going to be disclosed to the public,” Wertheimer said.

Lobbying and ethics expert Ken Gross of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom disagrees that all party expenses will have to be reported.

Some of the parties may well require disclosure, but others may not, Gross said, adding that the ethics committee’s guidance was no surprise. “I think they’ve held to the letter and the spirit of the rules,” he said of the committee’s interpretation.

The Senate Ethics Committee is expected to issue similar guidance to its House counterpart, sources said.

A New Contract. The Professional Services Council and the Contract Services Association, two organizations that represent federal contractors, will merge next year and take the Professional Services Council’s name.

PSC President Stan Soloway will remain president of the merged group, and PSC’s senior vice president, Alan Chvotkin, will become executive vice president and counsel. CSA’s senior vice president for public policy, Colleen Preston, also will become part of the leadership team.

Together, the new PSC will represent 330 businesses that provide federal agencies with services such as information technology, engineering and international development, among others, according to a press release put out by the two groups.

Some of the current business members of CSA and PSC include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and SAIC.

K Street Moves. Larry Hart, formerly communications coordinator for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, has registered to lobby for the American Conservative Union. Though he is working as an independent consultant, Hart serves as the group’s director of government relations.

Before going into the administration, Hart had his own PR firm, but he said, “for the first time, I’m going to be doing lobbying.”

The former aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and one-time Energy Department employee said he is focusing on energy issues and tax policy.

“I’m just getting started again,” he said.

Leah Carliner contributed to this report.

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