K Street Files: Cold Start

Posted December 9, 2008 at 6:10pm

The typically apolitical stock-car racing circuit NASCAR recently fired off a letter to Senate and House leaders, urging them to bail out domestic auto manufacturers, “the backbone of our nation’s manufacturing sector.”

[IMGCAP(1)]“This industry isn’t confined to ‘Detroit’ or even the Midwest — it’s everywhere in America,” NASCAR Chairman Brian France wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Congressional leaders. “And its current troubles are putting our country’s overall economic health at stake. The livelihood of one in 10 people in America is related to the U.S. auto industry.”

But NASCAR may have much more than a passing interest in any bailout plan. Together, General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler inject about $100 million into the privately owned sport, which unlike other professional sports leagues shies away from legislative advocacy.

“As unattractive as the idea of corporate federal bailouts can be to many Americans, including me, there appears to be no alternative,” France wrote.

“Federal aid is in the best interest of the entire country.”

Shining Light on Lobbying. When President-elect Barack Obama made cleaning up Washington a campaign talking point, most inside-the-Beltway types were privately skeptical that he could actually enact real change.

But so far there has been at least one clear sign that Obama means business: The president-elect is insisting that any information that industry groups put together for meetings with the Obama transition team be posted to its Web site (change.gov/open_ government/yourseatatthetable).

That means the talking points and one-page memos of groups like the American Association of Port Authorities, CTIA-The Wireless Association, and the American Association of Airport Executives, for example, are available to the public.

The move surprised quite a few lobbyists when they saw how quickly the information went up.

“They joked that they hoped you spelled things right and you didn’t put anything in there that you don’t want the world to see,” Ralph Hellmann said of the Information Technology Industry Council’s meeting with the Obama transition team.

Could the days of backroom dealing be a thing of the past?

Dingell Bar Hot Commodity. It didn’t take long for K Streeters to start circling staffers who may be looking to jump downtown after longtime House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) lost his gavel to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Lobbyists say that several committee aides, including Gregg Rothschild and Dennis Fitzgibbons, are hot prospects.

“I don’t think they’re valueless based on the fact that Dingell isn’t going to be chairman,” said one Democratic lobbyist. “Some of them suffer more than others. Gregg Rothschild, he’s just as valuable pretty much now as before.”

Rothschild, a former Verizon lobbyist and chief counsel to Dingell, is seen as the “top draft pick” among several lobbyists. Fitzgibbons, former head of DaimlerChrysler’s Washington office and Dingell staff director, is also in demand, industry lobbyists say.

Road Weary. The Travel Industry Association will team up with the Travel Business Roundtable after the New Year to form a new group, the U.S. Travel Association.

Travel Industry Association spokesman Geoff Freeman did not indicate whether a sagging economy prompted the merger, which he said in an e-mail would allow the industry to streamline its legislative outreach. But he said the new group will keep its current lobbying lineup, which includes Monument Policy Group, BKSH & Associates and Sher & Blackwell.

K Street Moves. The McManus Group is adding Nick Shipley as director of government relations. Shipley had been legislative director to House Energy and Commerce Committee member Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).

• Joel Widder has joined Oldaker, Belair and Wittie (the firm formerly known as Oldaker, Biden and Belair, until the departure of Vice President-elect Joseph Biden’s son, Hunter) as a partner. Widder spent the past six years as a lobbyist at Lewis-Burke Associates.

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