Charity, Interrupted

Posted April 1, 2008 at 6:43pm

Lobbyists who wanted to answer a call for assistance to a family in need had to put away their checkbooks this week after realizing that their help would put them on the wrong side of ethics rules barring gifts to House employees.

Mike Hacker, director of coalitions for House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Monday sent out an e-mail soliciting aid for a member of Clyburn’s security detail who recently lost his home in a fire. The e-mail gave clothing sizes for the Capitol Police officer and his pregnant wife and child, and suggested donations of new and used clothing or gift cards.

[IMGCAP(1)]But shortly after the e-mail went out, Hacker, a former lobbyist himself, sent out a second message urging people to ignore the first, noting that he hadn’t thought to clear the matter with the House ethics committee and that under current rules, he wasn’t permitted to solicit help for the family. A Clyburn spokeswoman on Tuesday told HOH the office was readying a letter seeking a waiver from the rule that bans staffers from soliciting donations. Hacker might be able to get a special waiver permitting him to seek help for individuals who’ve suffered a catastrophic or natural disaster, but lobbyists, no matter how charity-minded, still won’t be able to help out.

That has left some lobbyists irritated. “It seems that because of the overreaching new ethics laws, neighbors can’t help neighbors in a time of crisis if one of them happens to be a lobbyist,” one vented to HOH. “I would challenge anyone to show me what sort of benefit a lobbyist could potentially derive by helping out a Capitol Hill police officer. It’s both a terribly sad and silly outcome.”

Charity might begin at home — but at least for lobbyists, it can’t begin in the House.

Grammys, Not Gavels for Legend. Members of Congress can breathe a little easier knowing there’s at least one guy who doesn’t want their job. Five-time Grammy Award winner John Legend, who was speaking Tuesday before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, said he doesn’t harbor any Congressional office envy. “They say a lot of celebrities want to be politicians and a lot of politicians want to be celebrities, but the fact that you have to listen to people beg you for money all day doesn’t make me want to be a politician,” he told the panel.

Sounds like Legend, who was visiting the Hill for Arts Advocacy Day, will just have to be content with adoring fans who only want autographs.

And although Legend doesn’t want to be a Member of Congress, the Capitol is rife with musicians turned politicians. During a lunch on Tuesday with the visiting artists and House leaders, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) regaled attendees with the story of how Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) met his wife, Peggo. Hodes, Hoyer told the group, answered a newspaper ad that Peggo had placed for a singer seeking a guitarist. The duo performed together in a folk band, and later went on to perform as “Peggo and Paul.”

Fools on (and off) the Hill. April Fools’ Day tomfoolery struck the Hill on Tuesday, and HOH both dished up the jokes and swallowed one themselves.

During a news conference Tuesday on H-2B visas, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) told colleagues that he initially fell for Roll Call’s mock cover page featuring too-hilarious-to-be-true stories. And he tells HOH that when he read Roll Call’s fake news stories about National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) retiring and about House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) using PAC money to buy Nationals box seats, he saw an opportunity to throw his hat in the ring for Cole’s spot and to snag some killer seats at the new ballpark.

“Unfortunately, somewhere between asking for baseball tickets and plotting my takeover of the GOP, I realized that something was amiss and that perhaps my staff was playing a trick on me,” Wittman jokes to HOH. “Sure enough, a quick phone call back to the office confirmed that Roll Call had gotten the better of us and that no one would be calling me Mr. Chairman any time soon — but I do still plan to ask Leader Boehner for baseball tickets.”

Wittman wasn’t alone. An HOH item in Monday’s paper referring to an alarm clock that would make a donation to a late sleeper’s least favorite cause every time the snooze button was hit — well, that turned out to be an April Fools’ gag by the witty folks at To the political types who were intrigued by the possible fundraising applications, we’re sorry to get your hopes up.

Briefly Quoted. “One saving grace, I won’t ask for your home phone numbers.”

— Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), giving Big Oil execs their one laugh of the day before taking a beating Tuesday from members of the House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee.

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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