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Auto Lobbyists Work the Hill From In-House

Hired guns for General Motors and Chrysler are still awaiting their marching orders in the wake of the Obama administration’s announcement that the struggling automakers’ restructuring plans are insufficient.

“We’re in a holding pattern,— said one lobbyist, who is on retainer for one of the ailing automakers.

Instead, the car companies are relying on their in-house lobbying teams to communicate with Capitol Hill, according to outside lobbyists for GM and Chrysler.

While Monday’s directive to improve automakers’ plans for long-term viability came from the White House, GM pivoted almost immediately to Capitol Hill, deploying Fritz Henderson to brief the Michigan delegation. Henderson will replace Richard Wagoner as president and CEO today.

“We have been keeping key Members updated on our progress from the very beginning,— said a GM official of the company’s activities in Congress.

“Lobbying is legally protected speech, and we’re going to continue to speak to Members and keep them informed of what we are doing,— the GM official said. “Now it’s more important than ever to do that.—

GM also enlisted Covington & Burling’s Stuart Eizenstat and Promontory Interfinancial Network’s Eugene Ludwig to help produce its financial plans for the administration and for its March progress report. Ludwig was former U.S. comptroller of the currency.

“It’s been my role to interact some with the administration,— said Eizenstat, who also helped prep GM’s Wagoner on his testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and House Financial Services Committee.

GM spent $13.1 million on lobbying in 2008.

Outside consultants for the company in 2008 included Baker & McKenzie, BKSH & Associates, Bob Moss Associates, Covington & Burling, Davis & Harman, Greenberg Traurig, Jennings Policy Strategies and Hogan & Hartson, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports.

The Auto Alliance is also staying on the sidelines. The trade group composed of 14 automakers does not take positions on policies that do not affect the entire industry, according to Auto Alliance spokesman Wade Newton.

It’s unclear whether Chrysler will be as aggressive as GM on the Hill.

The government is giving Chrysler 30 days of working capital so it can finish a merger with Fiat and will consider giving the company another $6 billion if the merger is successful.

Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management owns the ailing automaker. Former Bush administration Treasury Secretary John Snow is the chairman of Cerberus.

Chrysler spent $5.8 million on lobbying in 2008. The company has Timmons & Co., Venable, and Patricia C. Kennedy on retainer, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports. Cerberus spent $2 million in 2008 on lobbying with the bulk of that coming in the fourth quarter of last year.

Chrysler did not return calls by deadline.

Cerberus declined to comment.

Auto suppliers, represented by the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, kept their lobbyists away from the administration, sending economists and other executives to talk with Treasury in the trade group’s ultimately successful bid to secure $5 billion in aid for its members.

“The administration has made it known the role for lobbyists,— said Ann Wilson, a lobbyist for the group.

But Wilson said MEMA lobbyists are trying to keep lawmakers on Capitol Hill apprised of the situation.

“There is a deep level of concern on Capitol Hill about the jobs picture, and there should be,— Wilson said. “We have been working with folks on the Hill, making sure questions are answered, also to make sure they know about employment in their district.—

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