K Street Files: Inaugural Influence

Posted December 5, 2008 at 6:01pm

Forget about fixing legislation. What clients really want from their lobbyists right now is tickets to everything inaugural. And this is truly putting K Streeters to the test.

[IMGCAP(1)]“Nobody knows what’s going to be happening with inauguration tickets,” admitted Rich Gold, a former Clinton administration official who runs the lobbying practice at Holland & Knight. “To the extent that we can, we’re helping clients get tickets, but we’re not making any promises. Anybody who is is a fool.”

Holland & Knight has devoted a section of its Web site to President-elect Barack Obama’s transition and inaugural

matters. But when it comes to the hottest ticket to the actual swearing-in ceremony, most lobbyists are sending clients to their Members of Congress.

“We’re telling everyone to go through their Congressman and Senator,” said Patrick Murphy, a longtime Democratic lobbyist at mCapitol Management. “No one’s getting answers yet. The demand is just so outstripping the actual available seats and standing room.”

Murphy said that this year people are less interested in tickets to inaugural balls and more interested in the actual event. Even so, firms like his plan to sponsor parties of their own.

For the fourth inauguration in a row, Murphy has booked the Capital Grille restaurant, which is located along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — prime parade-viewing time.

His colleague, Gary LaPaille, a Chicagoan, is hosting a late-night cheeseburger “ball” at Capitol Hill’s Billy Goat Tavern. “We’re kind of working around the edges of it rather than trying to compete with all the craziness,” Murphy said. “Clients will be taken care of.”

Not all lobbyists plan to get into the inaugural parties, though. Tom Hogan, a Democrat who has hosted events during recent inaugurations, said he is sitting this one out.

“It’s just going to be a crush of millions of people,” he said. “My advice to clients is that unless you’re a family member, a big donor or dignitary, then it might not be worth the trip to D.C. I’m not minimizing the historical significance, but I think it’s going to be unmanageable.”

Bye, Bye Fannie and Freddie PACs. It’s been three months since the government seized control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ordering the cessation of lobbying and political giving.

Their absence on Capitol Hill has been notable, but until now it has been unclear what the plan was for Fannie’s and Freddie’s political action committees, whose combined coffers have more than $285,000.

While neither PAC has publicly had any activity since the government conservatorship was put in place in early September, Federal Housing Finance Agency spokeswoman Stefanie Mullin said the mortgage giants have started to wind down both PACs.

“The PACs are in the process of being disbanded and the companies will be returning funds,” Mullin said in an e-mail statement.

The mortgage companies have made headway closing down their lobbying operations, with just three people remaining in Fannie’s government and industry relations division.

Instead of trolling the Hill, the former Fannie lobbyists are “focusing primarily on handling day-to-day questions from Congress. The others have left the company,” another FHFA spokeswoman said.

California Connections. It’s true that incoming House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) does not have a long roster of former staffers out there on K Street.

But one little group of longtime lobbyists has cultivated Golden State lawmakers such as Waxman for decades. And they are poised to reap the rewards.

“Though the state is large and diverse, Californians stick together,” said lobbyist Sandi Stuart, a North Carolina native who got in with the West Coast crowd while working for then-Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.).

“A number of us have worked for and with Members of the delegation and their staffs for the past three decades, starting with the class of ’74,” which includes Waxman and Rep. George Miller (D).

In addition to Stuart and Fazio, who is himself a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, several other names are tight with the Californians, including Lucie Gikovich, president of Sacramento-based Platinum Advisors’ Washington, D.C., office; Judy Lemons at Dutko Worldwide; lobbyist Mark Kadish; and Jim Copeland of CJ Strategies.

“Many of us started as junior staff or junior members,” Stuart said. “We formed tight bonds that have lasted through the years. In many ways we grow up together and have been there for one another throughout. It’s like family.”

K Street Moves. It turns out Republicans can still get jobs in the lobbying sector. Ilyse Schuman, who has been GOP staff director and chief counsel on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has signed up with the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance as managing director. She will also serve as vice president of MITA’s affiliate, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

The groups represent companies that make medical imaging devices.

“It’s a technology that really saves lives,” Schuman said. “It’s a really exciting industry and an exciting issue that’s right in the center of the health care reform debate. I can use the experience I had on the Hill to really make a difference.”

• Capitol Solutions scored Capitol Hill veteran Don Lyster. Lyster, who most recently served as chief of staff to Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), joins as vice president and counsel.

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