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A Different Direction

Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has ended employment talks with Andrew Lowenthal, a lobbyist who counts mortgage brokers among his clients and was in the process of leaving his firm to become Dodd’s chief of staff, sources close to the situation said.

[IMGCAP(1)]Lowenthal, a former Dodd aide, is president of Porterfield & Lowenthal, a lobbying firm that represents a host of financial services industry clients, including the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

That group has opposed attempts by consumer groups and some lawmakers, including Dodd, to rein in what they call abusive practices by brokers to get borrowers to take loans they can’t afford, compounding the housing crisis.

Roll Call reported on Lowenthal’s potential hire in its April 21 issue.

Lowenthal’s firm has collected $480,000 from the mortgage brokers since 2006. His shop also lobbies for the American Bankers Association, Freddie Mac, a hedge fund group called the Coalition of Private Investment Companies, and Nasdaq, among others.

But Lowenthal himself had stopped lobbying for his clients in anticipation of moving back to Capitol Hill, where he had worked for Dodd in the 1990s.

One source with knowledge of the situation said that in the end, the complications of a major financial services lobbyist untangling his business relationships to become a senior staffer for the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee was too difficult to pull off.

“It was the practicalities of unwinding the business relationships that really did it,” the source said. “When the vetting process actually began, it became apparent that there would be so many recusal issues and complications that it was just too difficult to move forward.”

Dodd spokesman Bryan DeAngelis issued the same statement he offered in April: “The Senator is in the process of hiring a new Chief of Staff and we’re not going to comment until that process is complete.”

Political Reconstruction. Earlier this year when the National Association of Home Builders turned off the spigot of its hefty political action committee, the group delved deep into a different pocket to increase its spending on federal lobbying.

On Feb. 12, the group registered its discontent with what NAHB labeled a meager response from Congress to the housing crisis by taking the dramatic move of shutting down its six-figure PAC. Late last week, the homebuilders’ board voted to turn the funding back on and restart the PAC donations, according to an NAHB source.

But even as the PAC — one of the six largest in the nation — cut off the money flow to federal candidates, the group shelled out $1.33 million in the first quarter of 2008 to lobby Members on a host of issues, including mortgage reforms and foreclosure prevention legislation, according to its lobbying disclosure report filed with the Senate. That figure puts NAHB on track to spend upward of $5 million for the year, if it continues to spend at the current rate.

NAHB farmed out lobbying work to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and the OBC Group, which together accounted for $120,000 of the total. Lobbyists at both firms did not return calls seeking comment. And a spokeswoman for NAHB declined to comment.

Last year, the homebuilders’ lobby reported spending $3.2 million.

In the 2006 election cycle, BUILD PAC handed out $2.9 million in federal campaign donations, with 73 percent going to Republicans, who lost control of Congress in that year’s election.

Despite the nearly three-month freeze on the PAC’s giving, BUILD PAC had already doled out nearly $900,000 and was taking a more bipartisan path, sending 45 percent to Democrats and 55 percent to the GOP.

News that BUILD PAC was resuming its donations was first reported in CongressDaily.

Electric Shock Therapy. Rolling blackouts aren’t just a possibility; it’s likely in our near future.

That’s the message 3,000 members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are bringing to Capitol Hill this week.

Although the national energy debate is centered on a gas tax holiday, the association is pushing Congress to take the long view and give a serious look at energy sources now so that there isn’t a major crisis in the coming decade.

“A lot of people see the situation developing and think maybe it’s just a way to make a lot of money, not how to minimize the impact on consumers,” said former Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla.), who spent nearly 20 years in Congress before leaving in 1994 to lead the association, which represents cooperative electric utilities.

Instead of pushing for specific pieces of legislation, English says his group is trying to shift the debate, focusing on low-income power users and emphasizing additional infrastructure for renewable energy.

The group has not let its long-term, big picture message interfere with its day-to-day political contributions, however. With more than $1 million in its coffers as of March 31, 2008, its PAC has so far donated about $628,000 to federal candidates in the 2007-2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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