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Don’t Look, but Lobbyists Abound

Driver. Speech polisher. Surrogate.

Not a typical day in the life of a K Street lobbyist.

While Washington, D.C., insiders spend most of their time working the halls of Congress or glad-handing at fundraisers, every four years Democratic and Republican lobbyists take a turn at the time-honored tradition of volunteering at the national conventions. The jobs lack glamour but are crucial to making sure the event goes smoothly.

This year is no different. Despite getting beaten up on the presidential campaign trail by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) as symbols of Washington’s corruption, lobbyists are returning to their roles. This time, though, many are aiming for lower-visibility positions, doing their part while sidestepping the spotlight. The main reason: to avoid detracting from the candidates themselves and, more importantly, to avoid attracting a candidate’s ire.

One Republican lobbyist, who is headed to Minneapolis/St. Paul to volunteer, would speak about his role only under the condition of anonymity. “I’ve heard that McCain doesn’t like reading in print about lobbyists who are helping,” said this K Streeter, who plans to help with advance work in the Twin Cities. Some of that work might include driving VIPs.

For most lobbyists volunteering at their party conventions, it’s a recurring role.

Democrat Paul Brathwaite of the Podesta Group is returning to volunteer at his fifth convention. Over the years, Brathwaite has spent time doing media in a more official capacity as a political appointee and helping shepherd the Congressional Black Caucus.

This time, Brathwaite says he’ll be volunteering as part of the Congressional relations team.

“I don’t know how much they will utilize me yet,” said Brathwaite, who’s at the ready to help.

Others have put in their time in advance. Phil Bangert of Patton Boggs is also taking on a volunteer role at this convention. Bangert spent much of August in Denver helping the host committee prepare for the convention. Fellow Patton Boggs lobbyist Mike Dino, who is based out of the firm’s Denver outpost, has also been working on the convention. As head of the Denver host committee, Dino has been on leave from the firm.

The increased scrutiny of lobbyists has caused some to rethink their convention role.

Manuel Ortiz of Quinn Gillespie & Associates is taking a less official role in Denver. In 2004, Ortiz served as a senior adviser to then-Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.). This convention, Ortiz said he’ll be shadowing some of the Senators and working with clients while still acting as a surrogate on cable television stations such as CNN International and Telemundo.

While Ortiz is in Denver promoting the Democrats, Juleanna Glover, a founding principal with the Ashcroft Group and a McCain campaign volunteer, will be in the Mile High City to protect McCain’s image.

“I’m planning to be in Denver helping to dispel misconceptions and doing whatever the McCain folks ask me to do,” she said.

That will be just the beginning of her convention travels. After the Democrats close out their show, Glover will head to the Twin Cities as part of McCain’s “friends and family delegation.”

“I’m completely honored to be participating in this particular delegation,” she said. “I’ve been really blessed to have been on the road with McCain. … I will of course do whatever they ask me to do.”

Another GOPer, Cynthia Berry, a partner with Powell Goldstein, plans to spend the next two weeks holed up in a locker room in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center leading a team of about eight speechwriters, who will help draft addresses and coordinate with the McCain campaign about what messages should be conveyed from the podium.

“For some of the speakers, the real high-profile ones, they have their own speechwriters or staff,” Berry said. “What we do is make sure they’re not off the reservation and make sure the themes the campaign wants woven in are woven in.”

It’s not necessarily an easy job; nobody likes to be edited. “You always get some resistance,” she said. “But we’ll cut and incorporate.”

Venable’s Rob Smith also will be holding down the fort in St. Paul working on the official proceedings committee.

“Anything that happens onstage we deal with,” said Smith, who is reprising his role in 2004. “It could be the national committee woman from Vermont. … We contact them to know what their time slot is, do the rehearsal, vet their speeches and help them with the podium walkthrough.”

David Norcross, a partner with Blank Rome and a longtime Republican National Committee insider, will spend this week working in St. Paul on a proposal to change the timing of the party’s primaries. Norcross is the chairman of the RNC’s Standing Committee on Rules and a member of the Executive Committee. On Aug. 27, the rules committee will vote on whether to adopt a measure that would spell out when states can hold their primary elections.

“The rule change is broad and sweeping,” Norcross said. It would specify that New Hampshire would go first in February. The last group of states would go in April.

For the RNC to make the change, it must be considered at the nominating convention.

The idea behind the rule, Norcross said, is to make the primary season “start later and spread it out so that the candidates don’t have to all be working 20 states on the same day, which is what happened this year.”

If the rule passes muster with the RNC, then the full convention would vote on it on Sept. 1.

After that, Norcross will be just a regular delegate.

While other Republicans and Democrats have decided against volunteering and won’t be burdened with official duties, many K Streeters plan to attend their parties conventions as regular political junkies.

Chuck Brain of Capitol Hill Strategies is planning on attending as a “private citizen” instead of doing legislative affairs as he did in 2004.

Even without official roles, lobbyists such as Nick Allard of Patton Boggs and Tom Quinn of Venable say they wouldn’t miss it.

Allard said, “This is the Super Bowl of politics.”