K Street Files: The Fog of Bailouts

Posted September 30, 2008 at 6:47pm

If there’s one thing certain about the embattled economic bailout plan, it’s that lobbyists pushing for the proposal are operating in an environment of chaos and confusion.

[IMGCAP(1)]Financial services groups taking the lead to help revive the once-failed bill have been dialing onto calls with White House officials, working to retool their grass-roots efforts and trying to get the latest intelligence from Capitol Hill.

“We’ve had a number of conference calls,” said Scott Talbott, a top lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable. “We are focusing on how to change the bill to bring along enough votes to secure passage, while still increasing liquidity and strengthening the economy.”

That’s a tall order.

Talbott said one proposal includes raising the $100,000 limit on the amount insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “It’s back to square one, but it’s not starting from scratch,” he added. “All options are on the table.”

One financial industry source said the White House is trying to keep industry groups posted with daily calls, including one Tuesday led by White House official Barry Jackson (other calls have been led by former K Streeter Ed Gillespie). In addition, this source said, all players are turning to nonfinancial-services business leaders to make the sell for the package.

“There’s an acknowledgment in my industry that the financial services industry aren’t the best messengers during this policy dialogue,” this source said. “There’s been a concerted effort for nonfinancial-services industry to take a lead in this advocacy effort, talking about how the impact of tightened credit is impacting their business in Members’ districts, as those messages are more eloquently conveyed.”

This source said outside groups, Congressional and administration officials are looking to companies in the manufacturing sector or regional groups to take the lead in the lobbying efforts because the message of Wall Street isn’t selling.

“We’re all trying to get over that ‘bailout for Wall Street’ message,” this source added. “We’re talking about how it affects small businesses, student loans, ordinary people.”

A spokesman for the American Bankers Association said the group’s membership has been dialing into conference calls and is working to figure out what to do next. “We had some grass-roots efforts on this last week and over the weekend. We’re not sure what’s next,” this spokesman said.

Another financial services lobbyist said many of the conference calls over the past few days have been filled with “utter confusion.”

“People are trying to impact something they have no impact over,” this lobbyist said. And the Members who voted against the package did so because they are “worried about losing re-election, not worried about making some lobbyist happy.”

The Independent Community Bankers of America is one association moving full speed ahead. With two key provisions in the proposal for the group, including a buyback of preferred stock that its members bought of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the group has been mobilizing members for call-ins to lawmakers’ offices.

“I think we’re just picking up there will be an additional vote maybe later in the week,” said Steve Verdier of the ICBA. “If that’s the case and we get word of that, we will redouble our efforts and ask the House to vote yes on the bill.”

Perhaps one silver lining for GOP lobbyists is the renewed clout of House Republicans, many of whom voted against the bill that was championed by President Bush. That, in turn, has made GOP lobbyists more in demand on this issue.

“House Republicans — Members and staff — have been more relevant now than in the past two years,” said Sam Geduldig, a former aide to House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) who is now a lobbyist with several financial services clients at Clark Lytle & Geduldig. “Republican lobbyists are as relevant as we’ve been in two years.”

At least until a deal is reached.

Power Ball. The NFL has long been active in Washington power circles, relying heavily on blue chip law firm Covington & Burling to do its influence peddling inside the Beltway. That’s about to change.

The NFL is opening up a shop of its own. The league lured Jeff Miller, chief counsel and staff director for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. Korn/Ferry International did the search for the NFL.

Miller, who has been a staffer on the Judiciary Committee since 2000, will put that expertise to use next Congress as antitrust issues — over how the NFL negotiates its television contracts for all 32 franchises, instead of having the teams do it on an individual basis — are likely to come up.

The move to open its own Washington office puts the NFL on equal footing with Major League Baseball and the NCAA, which both have small Washington operations. The NFL did not return calls. The NHL and the NBA both count on sports lobbyist Philip Hochberg to be their eyes and ears in Washington. The NBA also uses McGuireWoods Consulting.

The new in-house addition doesn’t worry lobbyists at Covington. The league has relied heavily on the firm for years. The NFL has paid Covington $410,000 for lobbying as of the end of July, according to Senate disclosure reports.

“We’re going to do the same kind of work,” said Martin Gold, of Covington & Burling. “We’ll work along with the new vice president that is being hired for legislative affairs, so I don’t anticipate very much changing other than the fact that we’ll have a different way of organizing government affairs work.”

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