In Race for Top GOP Slot, K St. Counts

Posted January 25, 2008 at 6:16pm

In their two-person race for the top GOP slot on the Ways and Means Committee, Reps. Wally Herger (Calif.) and Dave Camp (Mich.) are leveraging and expanding their K Street networks to add some gloss to their candidacies.

Camp’s and Herger’s downtown “kitchen cabinets” of lobbyists are helping boost both Members’ fundraising efforts and polish their political strategies and policy positions — all to make Camp or Herger the best candidate in the eyes of their party’s Steering Committee, which will choose the committee’s top Republican later this year.

The race began in December when the committee’s current ranking member, Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), announced that he would retire.

Camp, who is in his ninth term, is considered the frontrunner over Herger, who with 11 terms has more seniority.

Camp has a larger network of lobbyist supporters, including many K Streeters who are tight with McCrery. But if Herger, a member of Roll Call’s “Obscure Caucus,” has ground to make up, he seems to be moving quickly.

On Thursday, Herger is convening a collection of former aides who are now lobbyists to talk strategy and policy, and he is in the process of setting up a leadership political action committee called Helping Ensure Responsible Government by Electing Republicans, or HERGER PAC.

(Camp’s Continuing A Majority Party PAC was set up more than a decade ago. In the previous cycle, it doled out more than $150,000 to Republicans.)

The lobbyists, an extension of the “Herger family,” provide a good sounding board for policies, said Herger, who also has seniority over McCrery.

“Most of them have been in Washington a long time,” he explained. “They’ve served on Capitol Hill and have a good feel for what’s going on. They also have very good connections with individuals throughout the nation involved in the areas of [Ways and Means] jurisdiction.”

That jurisdiction, including tax, trade and health care, is wide. And the powerful committee is considered a top priority for all business sectors, which is a big reason K Street has its eyes on the committee’s lineup.

One former Herger staffer said this week’s meeting will consist of the “heart and soul” of the Herger team in the private sector, most likely including John Magill, Herger’s chief of staff for nearly 20 years who is now a lobbyist with the Credit Union National Association; Paul Poteet, a former senior policy adviser in the personal office who is now director of federal government relations at the Biotechnology Industry Organization; Tim Urban, a former tax aide who works at Washington Council Ernst & Young; Dave Tenny of the American Forest and Paper Association; Greg Mesack, a lobbyist at the Eris Group who worked in Herger’s personal office; and Rich Nolan of the National Mining Association.

“Underestimate Congressman Herger at your own risk,” said a former Herger staffer. “When he puts his mind to something, he is seldom refused or defeated. I think you’re going to see a level of commitment and support and energy that has opened some eyes on K Street and on the Hill.”

On the Camp side, a long list of several former staffers, lobbyists with long Michigan ties, and those who have gotten to know Camp during his tenure in Congress are helping him raise money and serve as informal advisers.

They include, among others, John Guzik, a former chief of staff who now lobbies at The Franklin Partnership; another former chief of staff, Behrends Foster, vice president of federal affairs at America’s Health Insurance Plans; Christopher Wenk, a former aide who is now a trade lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Dena Battle, a former legislative director who is director of tax policy at the National Association of Manufacturers; Citigroup’s Robert Schellhas, who held personal office and campaign roles; Kathryn Lehman of Holland & Knight; Chris Cox of Navigators; Susan Hirschmann of Williams & Jensen; and Richard Hunt, senior managing director of government affairs at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, who is considering a run for McCrery’s Congressional seat.

Hunt, a former McCrery chief of staff, said he has known Camp since 1994. “Dave has been helpful over the years to many people, and thoroughly worked on many issues,” he said. Another Camp friend, Gary Lytle, president of Clark Lytle & Geduldig, goes back with Camp to their days in Michigan in the 1980s. “He’s right up there at the top — a great family man, willing to listen, very thoughtful,” Lytle said.

Added another former Camp aide, Mike Haywood of the LTD Group: “Dave’s network downtown has been tremendous. He has done a tremendous job of raising money … He’s done a lot of groundwork over the years to become ranking member or, optimistically, chairman.”

Both Herger’s and Camp’s fundraising will get a test early this year as both Members are among 24 team captains for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s March 12 fundraising dinner.

But Herger says this contest will not get nasty. “I see this as a very positive competition; both Dave Camp and myself are out to elect people who share our philosophies. It’s a win-win for the party,” he said.

“I want to emphasize that Dave Camp is a very good friend of mine, and we’ve worked together very well on the committee, and I’m quite sure — I don’t want to speak for him — I’m sure that whichever one of us wins, the other one’s going to be in complete support.”

But, Herger adds, his 21 years in Congress and 15 years on the Ways and Means panel makes him the man for the top spot.

Camp could not be reached for comment.

Longtime lobbyist Tim Locke of the Smith-Free Group, a Herger supporter, said Herger is more of an insider player than a headline grabber, and he would lead the Republican side of the dais well.

“He is the kind of guy who does his homework and moves an issue forward incrementally,” Locke said.

Duane Gibson, a former House Resources Committee staffer and now lobbyist at The Livingston Group, worked closely with Herger, who was not on that committee, on a 1998 forest recovery law that he said united tree-huggers and timber companies alike. The bill’s Senate sponsor was Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“I like Wally because he brought the left of the left and the right of the right together and really solved the problem,” Gibson recalled.