Puttin’ on the Ritz

Posted February 8, 2008 at 6:22pm

Heads up, defense contractors. It’s time to dust off those checkbooks. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) is holding his annual cattle call to raise campaign funds.

[IMGCAP(1)]The event, staged as has become tradition in recent years in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, is set for Feb. 27. Those hoping to get an earmark from the defense-spending poobah will note that’s about two weeks before appropriators hand in their own project requests.

Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey explained that his boss holds two events a year to benefit his re-election committee — the dinner in the spring, before Pennsylvania’s mid-April primary, and a breakfast in the fall. The late February date for the dinner has nothing to do with the earmark request deadline, he said.

Rather, it is timed to coincide with the anniversary of Murtha’s 1974 special election win that first sent him to Congress.

But last year provided some stark guidance for contractors lobbying Murtha’s office: Every private entity that received a special project from the Pennsylvania Democrat in last year’s defense spending bill had given him political money at some point since 2005. And of

the $413,250 those PACs and employees contributed over that two and a half-year period, nearly a quarter of the sum — $100,750 — arrived in the two weeks leading up to last year’s original deadline for lawmakers to file their earmark requests, a Roll Call analysis found.

To attend “An Evening with Jack and Joyce Murtha,” as the event is officially known, supporters are asked to cough up $1,500 per person, or $5,000 per political action committee, according to a copy of the invite.

Trading Barbs. With Democrats on the Hill promising that a free-trade agreement with Colombia would be dead on arrival, the business community is fighting back. More than 700 associations and companies late last week dispatched a letter urging Congress to approve the deal.

“Doing so will advance both the economic and foreign policy interests of the United States, to the immediate benefit of U.S. workers, farmers, consumers, and companies,” said the letter by The Latin America Trade Coalition and signed by The Boeing Co., FedEx Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the chamber’s numerous state and local affiliates and others.

“To reject the agreement would be to abandon America’s closest ally in Latin America; it would undermine Colombia’s recent economic progress while doing nothing to further reduce violence or protect human rights.”

House Democratic leaders as well as key Senators have said no way, and unions — already opponents of most free-trade agreements — have blasted the deal because of anti-labor violence in the Latin American country.

“This is obviously very fluid with the trade debate,” said Christopher Wenk, trade lobbyist with the U.S. Chamber. “We thought it was a very appropriate time to say we strongly want to see a vote.”

Big “I” Promotion. Charles Symington is moving up at the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, also known as the Big “I”.

He was recently promoted to senior vice president of government affairs, making him responsible for both federal and state government relations. Prior to joining the Big “I” four years ago, Symington served as a senior counsel for the House Financial Services Committee.

K Street Moves. The Cohen Group has lured Ingrid Belton Henick from Barbour Griffith & Rogers. Henick will be a vice president at the Cohen Group, the firm of former Defense Secretary William Cohen, and will focus on its practice in India.

“Ingrid adds significantly to the considerable expertise our team already has regarding India,” Cohen said in a press statement. “Her depth of experience will help us provide maximum support to our clients in India and around the world.”

• The Herald Group has added Erica Fitzsimmons, formerly with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s national political program, as an account executive. Fitzsimmons will focus on new media development for the firm’s clients. At the chamber, she managed voter education and issue advocacy campaigns.

• In yet another Chamber departure, Christopher Gindlesperger, most recently manager of media relations for the big- business lobby, starts a new job today as director of communications for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican staff. In his new role, Gindlesperger will focus on staffing ranking member Arlen Specter (Pa.) and the committee’s other GOPers.

• Peggy Clarke, most recently with the firm Powell Goldstein, has joined Blank Rome as a partner. She will focus on international trade and market access issues.

• Jane Alexander, a former deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, has joined Clean Air-Cool Planet, a nonprofit group that promotes solutions to global warming.

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