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K Street Files: Secular Coalition Finds Religion (on K Street)

Started just four years ago, the Secular Coalition for America has gotten its lobbying sea legs and moved into its own new digs on K Street.

[IMGCAP(1)]The group, which recently named former Maine state legislator Sean Faircloth as its executive director, used the fact that it now has a K Street address as a fundraising device in a recent e-mail to supporters.

The coalition got a little creative in its fundraising ask, including a list of possible contribution amounts: “$666 buys a legislator’s soul, we’ve heard — if that was bad information, we’ll substitute a new computer and printer— and “$232 might pay for a round of golf at a private country club with a member of Congress? We don’t know — we don’t do that. But if you send us $232, or any other amount, we will put it to good use lobbying for the rights of atheists, agnostics, and humanists.—

Coalition spokesman Jesse Galef said it’s a “point of pride— that the coalition has moved to K Street. It previously was co-locating with the American Humanist Association.

K Street “is notorious for having high-powered lobbyists,— Galef said. “The fact that a secular lobbying organization is on it shows we are a legitimate political power.—

Tobacco Brouhaha. The Canadian government’s proposal to ban flavored cigarettes has prompted several U.S. tobacco interests to lobby Members of Congress to pressure Canada to not inadvertently ban American blend cigarettes.

The legislation, which was intended to prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes, has evolved into a bill that would ban cigarettes that contain burley tobacco, according to tobacco farm groups such as the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, the Kentucky Farm Bureau, the International Tobacco Growers’ Association and Philip Morris International.

“The information we’ve got says they want to ban all flavors in Canada with the exception of menthol,— said Roger Quarles, president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association. “That means all flavorings and consequently all burley tobacco used in American-made cigarettes, would be banned.—

Burely is a major tobacco crop in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

American-made cigarettes include a “slight amount of flavoring to take away an inherent sting which is almost every time completely undetectable to the consumer,— Quarles said.

The tobacco groups have launched an advertising campaign in Capitol Hill publications, including Roll Call, saying that Canada could “destroy an entire segment of the American tobacco farming community.—

So far, several Members of Congress have written letters to their counterparts in Canada. The tobacco growers were successful in getting the legislation delayed until the Canadian government comes back in session in September.

But even if it’s enacted, that doesn’t mean tobacco groups will stand down. Quarles said they believe the legislation could violate international trade laws.

Regulate This. Proponents of federal regulation of the insurance industry continued their quest for a national law on Tuesday, writing Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) urging them to take action.

The Banking Committee letter comes as the panel was set to convene a hearing on modernizing the insurance industry.

The Coalition for Insurance Modernization, which includes the American Council of Life Insurers, the American Insurance Association and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, among others, wrote that while the industry has been regulated by the states for more than 135 years, it is time to “establish an appropriately crafted functional federal regulator for insurance.—

Law & Order Lobby. Actor Sam Waterston of “Law & Order— fame will be making the rounds on Capitol Hill today to lobby for the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill that would establish public financing of Congressional elections.

In addition to Waterston, the bill has the backing of a coalition of groups including Common Cause, Public Citizen and the Brennan Center for Justice. On Thursday, the House Administration Committee will consider the proposal, which would give candidates who voluntarily agreed to accept no more than $100 per contributor for each election a 4-to-1 match in federal funding.

Better or Worse’ — for Whom? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday sent a letter, signed by more than 1,500 state and local chambers, to all Members of Congress expressing the business community’s concern with current health care reform proposals.

“The business community desperately wants reform, but pending proposals fail our simple litmus test — will things be better or worse?— said Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs. “Congress should go back to the drawing board and create comprehensive, bipartisan health care reform.—

The chamber, the letter added, opposes a government-run health insurance plan, employer-mandated health care coverage and a “lack of any real effort to lower health care costs.—

The chamber on Monday sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee, which is working on a bipartisan health care reform compromise, urging the panel to come up with its bipartisan bill before the August recess.

K Street Moves. Dow Lohnes Government Strategies is bringing on Ken Bowler to lead its health and tax practice. Bowler, former House Ways and Means Committee staff director, also served as head of Pfizer’s Washington, D.C., office until 2005. Most recently Bowler served as director of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Office of Public and International Affairs. Bowlers joins as executive vice president.

• Verizon Communications is beefing up its Democratic ties, hiring Brian Rice. Rice is communications policy adviser to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

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