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K Street Files: Wither (Hunter) Biden?

It didn’t take long for Hunter Biden, the son of vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, to come under the spotlight for his lobbying career.

And with good reason.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) is the running mate of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who has made it his mission to publicly chastise K Street. And Obama, of course, famously banned all federally registered lobbyists from donating to his presidential campaign.

So that begs the question: If Hunter Biden can’t donate to his father’s effort, will he take a leave from his firm and head to the campaign trail?

Hunter Biden and a colleague of his at Oldaker, Biden & Belair did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment about whether Hunter Biden plans to disengage from his firm during the campaign. Obama-Biden spokesman David Wade did not provide a comment by press time.

Based on lobbying disclosure reports, much of Hunter Biden’s business comes from Catholic universities seeking governmental funding, including securing money through the increasingly controversial earmarking process.

His recent clients include St. Xavier University, University of Scranton, St. Joseph’s University and Regis University as well as pharmaceutical companies Pulmatrix Inc. and Achaogen Inc.

Hunter Biden has also worked on Internet gambling legislation. And a Los Angeles Times article last week called into question Hunter Biden’s and other family members’ involvement with law firm SimmonsCooper, which represents clients suing asbestos manufacturers for damages.

According to lobbying data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Hunter Biden’s firm, Oldaker, Biden & Belair, which lists 12 partners on its Web site, has reported $1.7 million in lobbying fees so far this year. Last year, it reported earning $3.5 million from clients.

Gone Good Ol’ Days. It wasn’t what it used to be.

That’s the assessment of Democratic K Streeters who converged on Denver last week for their party’s quadrennial nominating convention.

They certainly weren’t taking a hit at any of the speeches or the pizzazz on the official stage.

Instead, they were bemoaning a less enjoyable party scene. A combination of new ethics restrictions, a shaky economy and Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) stated disdain for corporate lobbyists combined to make the K Street party scene, quite simply, not as great as it used to be.

“It was markedly diminished just in terms of off-site interactions,” said Democratic lobbyist Larry O’Brien of the OBC Group.

O’Brien, a top donor to the Democratic Party and to its House and Senate campaign committees, said that he still has plenty of events to pack his calendar, and at party-organized fetes he had ample opportunity to mingle with lawmakers and their top aides.

“If you weren’t involved in that fashion, I suspect it would have been a dramatically different convention experience than years past,” he said.

Another Democratic lobbyist who made the rounds in Denver said he saw fewer Members and staff at the receptions, concerts and parties.

“There was definitely less opulence,” this lobbyist added. “People definitely spent less money.”

Of course, plenty of corporations and groups did spend thousands and thousands of dollars at outside parties in Denver, and Members of Congress and aides could be found at nearly all of them.

But, the lobbyist said, “the atmosphere was generally chillier.”

And in some cases, government officials found they had to pay to enter parties, including one last-minute change in the ticket price for a Kanye West concert sponsored by the Recording Industry Association of America and the ONE Campaign. Originally, it was free to Members and staff; but two days before it was to take place, House Members and staff were informed that it would cost them $90 a ticket.

Now that the party scene has packed up and set up in the Twin Cities, Republicans are adjusting their expectations accordingly.

“I am expecting smaller, more intimate gatherings, mostly lobbyists, their clients and political operatives,” one Republican lobbyist said. “It is probably a good thing the parties aren’t so big or numerous this cycle because folks can spend more time at the convention center and focus on the message of the campaign.”

Another GOP lobbyist said he expects the logistical difficulties in the Twin Cities — where events are taking place between both Minneapolis and St. Paul — to make the party scene less appealing.

“I think while there certainly is some positive buzz and a lot of great events that are scheduled, there is, however, some uncertainty about actually getting to the events as you are looking at an eight-mile distance between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul,” this second Republican said.

“From a logistics standpoint, that’s a bit of a challenge, especially if you are in the hall and then need to head to Minneapolis for an event, then all the way back to St. Paul for another event, and then all the way back to your hotel … in Minneapolis.

“After a few days of that, there is some concern people are going to get tired of all the back and forth and start skipping events.”

Republicans’ Turn. Most Republican lobbyists spent last week glued to the coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. And many of them said Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) party set a high bar for the Republicans’ convention this week in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

“I watched it pretty closely,” said GOP lobbyist Todd Weiss of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. He called the Democrats’ speeches “great stuff” and praised the opposing party for putting on a good show. “There were no real gaffes for Republicans to hang on to. Democrats did what they needed to do.”

But, Weiss added, “I think there are a lot of opportunities for Republicans.”

Another GOP lobbyist, David Hoppe of Quinn Gillespie & Associates, said he kept up with news reports of the goings-on last week in Denver. A former Republican Senate staffer, Hoppe said the appearance of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the liberal icon who is battling brain cancer, was a moving moment at the Democratic convention.

“Sen. Kennedy’s showing up just brought great excitement to the crowd,” Hoppe said.

But, he added, the issues are still out there, and Obama needs to do more to define his policy positions. “Clearly there’s a great fascination about Sen. Obama, but is there the trust there?” Hoppe said.

“Certainly Sen. Obama is great at making a speech and McCain is not as good, but with [McCain], people tend to have a better sense of who he is,” Hoppe added.

Mike Tongour, another GOPer who watched the coverage of Denver from back in D.C., said Obama and the Democrats had put on “one of the best conventions to watch” that he could recall.

“On TV, it came across as very effective, impressive,” said Tongour, who runs the TCH Group. “I am hopeful that the Republican convention will be as good.”

Instead of watching on TV, GOP lobbyist Juleanna Glover of the Ashcroft Group watched from a Republican war room near the Democratic convention.

She was there, she said, not as a lobbyist but as a political operative with a history as a former spokeswoman for such party notables as Vice President Cheney.

She did not view Denver as a hit for Democrats. “Much of the Obama messaging out of Denver just really didn’t pass the laugh test,” she said. “The theme that John McCain would be an extension of the Bush administration is laughable.”

She added that Obama’s speech in front of 80,000 people at Invesco Field, complete with rock stars simply fed “into the mainstream belief that there’s just too much focus on style and not enough on substance. McCain is nothing but substance.”

And Republican strategist Ron Bonjean agreed that the Democrats left plenty of room for improvement. “I think we have a chance to do a much better job,” he said. “McCain has the opportunity to continue to define Obama as inexperienced.”

Weiss said that in the end, the conventions’ import on the November elections is limited. “The day you get Obama and McCain in a debate, then I think the conventions don’t matter anymore,” he said.

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