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K Street Files: Fighting Back

A group of prominent union lawyers has registered, in no uncertain terms, its deep discontent with new lobby law guidelines set out by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House.

[IMGCAP(1)]In a sharply worded 10-page letter, lawyers for the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees last week wrote to Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson and House Clerk Lorraine Miller to complain about the guidance for the new forms their offices issued May 29.

The forms, which are due in about two weeks, deal with section 203 of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.

That sections requires all individual lobbyists and all lobbying organizations to file forms that list ties to any political action committees, federal campaign contributions more than $200 and expenditures for events that honor covered officials.

In the letter, the union groups say the overly broad “misinterpretation” of the law by the Secretary and the Clerk “will both chill ordinary interaction and association with Members of Congress and impose undue and unreasonable recordkeeping and reporting burdens on registrants and their employed lobbyists.”

One crux of the controversy deals with the provision that mandates that lobbyists and their organizations disclose money they spend on events that honor Members of Congress.

Examples from Erickson’s and Miller’s offices have indicated that having a Member speak at an annual meeting for a union or association could be considered such a reportable event. “We do not believe that Congress intended to require reports of such meetings and appearances,” the letter stated.

The groups also took issue with the guidance provided related to PACs. “We believe that the dearth of guidance regarding your interpretation of the terms ‘established,’ ‘financed,’ and ‘maintained,’ along with the overly broad and simplistic guidance provided in your construction of the term ‘controlled,’ will have detrimental though unintended consequences,” they wrote in the letter.

Laurence Gold, the AFL-CIO’s associate general counsel and a lawyer in private practice who represents other lobbying organizations, signed the letter along with five other union lawyers.

“This is definitely a hot issue,” he said in an interview. The letter, he added, “came together because a number of us who deal with these issues realized how the May 29 guidance had gone so far afield.”

The response? Gold said he hasn’t heard back from either office.

But a statement from the Clerk of the House said: “In order to accommodate the thousands of new filers who are required to participate in the LD203 disclosure process, we are developing additional guidance that we plan to release in the beginning of [this] week. This guidance will provide clarification on key areas and will assist new filers in the completion of the LD203 form.”

That would likely be welcome news to Gold.

“These new forms are due in [16] days from thousands and thousands of people, literally, and the guidance is terrible,” he said. “It’s both vague and incorrect. That’s a tremendous burden on everybody — those who have to file and a burden on Members, who are going to find they’ve been, quote, honored or, quote, recognized when all they thought they were doing was attending a meeting.”

Gold added that such disclosures would “tar people for having received benefits they didn’t get and would be fodder for attack and cynicism.”

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which pushed for the new lobbying and ethics law, said the guidelines “don’t bother me, but could be interpreted as overly broad.” He said he believes new examples are being debated that would “more accurately reflect the actual intent” of the law.

Fishy Move. Will he, or won’t he? That’s the big question after longtime Washington lawyer Ira Fishman’s widely talked about departure from Patton Boggs appears, at least for now, to not yet be a done deal.

Fishman, who has served as Patton Boggs’ chief operating officer since 2004, sent out an upbeat, firmwide e-mail June 25 announcing that he had accepted a position as the “CEO of a non-profit organization whose mission is to recruit, train, and support mentors for disadvantaged young people.”

It was Fishman’s second tour with the firm. He first left Patton Boggs in 1993, after 10 years, to work in the Clinton administration and the private sector. He returned to Patton Boggs in 2001.

On June 30, firm founder Thomas Boggs Jr. and Managing Partner Stuart Pape responded in kind with a glowing letter regarding Fishman’s contributions to the firm.

Yet two weeks after the love fest filled Patton Boggs lawyers’ inboxes, it appears that Fishman’s departure isn’t crystal clear. On Friday, a firm spokeswoman “declined to confirm that Ira is leaving.”

Only time will tell, and it’s not talking.

Dialing Up a New Client. CTIA — The Wireless Association has bolstered its outside lobbying roster. It recently retained the Madison Group, a bipartisan lobbying and consulting firm that focuses on tax, technology, trade and transportation issues.

“We are pleased to represent the leading voice in telecommunications,” Madison Group partner Blair Watters, a one-time lobbyist for the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said in a statement. “CTIA is an important client whose issues affect every American.”

The Madison Group will focus on a few bills, including the 21st Century Servicemembers Protection Act.

That bill, introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), would allow military members who have been called up to service to terminate or suspend certain service contracts, including those with cellular phone companies.

The firm is also helping CTIA secure passage for the MOBILE (Modernize Our Bookkeeping In the Law for Employee’s) Cell Phone Act of 2008, which would change the way employer-provided cell phones and BlackBerries are treated in the tax code.

K Street Moves. Thomas Gibson, most recently the senior vice president of advocacy at the American Chemistry Council, is leaving the group Sept. 1 to become president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute. He will replace current president Andrew Sharkey III, who is retiring. (See related story, “One Duly Authorized Successor,” p. 11.)

• The National Music Publishers’ Association has tapped Jay Rosenthal, most recently with the law firm Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, as its senior vice president and general counsel.

• Patton Boggs of counsel Michael Bloomquist is exiting the firm for telecom law firm Wiley Rein. Bloomquist rejoined Patton Boggs in 2007 after serving as deputy general counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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