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K Street Files: Wish Upon a Czar

K Street lobbyists focused on intellectual property protection are learning it’s a tough time to be heard in Washington, D.C., if your issue does not entail banks, automobiles or, well, banks.

[IMGCAP(1)]Despite the flurry of czars named by President Barack Obama in his first three months in office, still yet to be named is the new intellectual property enforcement coordinator, or IP czar, created under the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2007, or PRO-IP Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush last October.

“Clearly, the White House is going to want to staff and fund the IPEC position,— said Chris Merida, director of Congressional and public affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supported the legislation. “But it makes for a hard case with appropriators, to ask for money, if the person hasn’t been nominated yet.—

The legislation, authored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), called for the new position to be placed within the executive office of the president but left many of the decisions, including structure and staffing, to the discretion of the president.

The Obama administration’s focus on the economy has forced lobbyists who represent the diverse range of groups that supported the bill, from labor and pharmaceuticals to software companies and movie studios, to strike a delicate balance in pushing their interests against the weight of the global economic meltdown.

“We’re holding meetings, making calls and tracking it closely,— said a lobbyist from the entertainment industry. “But it’s a balance of how much pressure to apply without appearing insensitive or risking long-term, negative impact on the industry.—

Industry sources say three people — Shira Perlmutter, executive vice president of global legal policy for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, Victoria Espinel, a visiting law professor at George Mason University, and Sandra Aistars, assistant general counsel for intellectual property at Time Warner — have emerged as frontrunners for the job of coordinating government-wide efforts to stem the wave of counterfeiting and piracy that now costs the U.S. economy around $250 billion a year.

“There doesn’t seem to be a problem with the names being floated,— said a lobbyist familiar with the issue. “So the question is why we haven’t heard any announcement or indication from the White House?—

As the appropriations process moves into high gear, advocates both in and outside of Congress have taken to pen and paper to reinforce to the White House the importance of filling and fully funding the IPEC position.

The bill’s sponsors in the House sent a letter to Obama in February outlining a proposed structure for the new office, followed by a letter in March from the four Senate sponsors, who urged the president to “nominate the IPEC and ensure that it is prioritized and properly resourced within the White House.—

The Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy, a group of more than 600 associations and businesses that coordinated industry support for the PRO-IP Act, delivered a letter to Obama in December and has more recently ramped up industry outreach around the IPEC position.

“There is some anxiety,— said a member of the coalition who asked not to be named. “We see a strong need for the IPEC and would have hoped to have a nominee by now.—

Going Nuts. If the nation’s peanut farmers had their way, it would be Jimmy Carter in the White House and a peanut crop on the South Lawn instead of a vegetable garden.

The United Peanut Alliance, representing peanut growers in six states, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on March 17 raising concerns that his comments in his March 14 radio address that daughter Sasha “has peanut butter sandwiches for lunch probably three times a week— and “no parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch— may have misled American consumers into believing peanut butter products are not safe.

The $1 billion peanut industry, hit hard by both the recent salmonella crisis and the struggling economy, brought in its largest crop in more than a decade last year and is concerned that low consumption will affect pricing and hurt growers, according to Robbie Blount, executive director of the Western Peanut Growers Association, and one of the letter’s signatories.

In the letter, the peanut growers asked for the president’s assistance in assuring American consumers that peanuts are safe and requested a White House meeting to update the president on the status of the crisis.

“We would like the opportunity to educate the president on this issue,— Blount said. “The message is peanut butter brands found on grocery store shelves are safe for you and your family.—

The White House had not responded to the letter as of press time Tuesday.

A Taxing Debate. Nonprofit groups are rallying behind a recent proposal by Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would lower tax bills for private foundations that stand to get caught up in a tax code wrinkle.

The Council on Foundations, which represents more than 2,000 organizations, is encouraging lawmakers to standardize how its members pay excise taxes, levies that were designed to encourage grant-making but that now threaten many struggling groups with additional tax penalties.

Former Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.), president of the council, recently wrote to Schumer in support of his excise tax plan, writing that it would increase private foundations’ “payout rates, as most of our member foundations have done recently, and not be penalized.—

“We do not want the excise tax to serve as an unintended disincentive for foundations to increase giving and respond to the economic crisis or future natural or man-made disasters,— Gunderson wrote.

K Street Moves. Siemens has a new chief lobbyist: Kathleen Ambrose, who had led the D.C. office of mining company Rio Tinto, will take over at Siemens as a senior vice president on April 6. She replaces Greg Ward, who recently left to head up United Technologies’ D.C. office. Meanwhile, UT lobbyist Darby Becker, who handled aviation issues for the company, is moving to General Electric, where she will handle the aviation portfolio there. In addition, a restructuring at UT subsidiary Hamilton Sundstrand eliminated the job of its D.C. lobbyist, Jeff Faszcza.

• The Alexandria, Va., law firm of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein has added Daniel Fisher as legislative director. Fisher spent the past four years as counsel to Senate Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). In his new role, Fisher will serve primarily as director of government affairs and associate counsel to firm client, the Associated Equipment Distributors, an Illinois-based international trade association.

• Washington-based Policy Impact Communications is expanding west beginning today, with the addition of Mitchell Menlove as vice president. Menlove will head the firm’s operations in Phoenix, the same city where he has spent the past four years as director of government affairs for Greenberg Traurig.

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