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K Street Files: Internal Combustion

When Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, was hired at the trade association last year, he suggested that he would not be making the kind of sweeping internal changes that he instituted in his previous job as head of the American Chemistry Council.

[IMGCAP(1)]But such plans turned out to be short-lived as Gerard, known in the industry as a fixer of ailing organizations, just finished a house-cleaning at the API that included letting about 40 employees go.

“I was unfamiliar with the organization,— said Gerard, referring to his earlier comments. He said that after reviewing the energy association’s structure and talking to its members, “we felt we needed to make some significant changes at API.—

“We believe the changes we have made will reinvigorate the association,— Gerard said.

After the layoffs, Gerard said he will move to fill some of the vacant positions to cover some of the association’s weaknesses.

As an example, he said the association will be looking for personnel to improve API’s use of social media. He said such changes will help answer the question of “How do we better use viral technology?—

With the job cuts, which amounted to 15 percent of API’s staff, Gerard said the staff will number just more than 200 people, down from around 250. The cuts are the culmination of a reorganization that included the ouster of four API vice presidents, including Jim Ford, who was head of federal relations. Ford was replaced last month by Martin Durbin, who had been at the American Chemistry Council and is a nephew of Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The API has long been a powerful voice for Big Oil in Washington, D.C. But the organization has experienced challenges in recent years as the Democratic-controlled Congress has sought climate change and energy bills that many in the industry oppose.

The API has spent $5.8 million on lobbying in the first three quarters of this year and contracted with a dozen outside firms to help its inside team. According to recently filed lobbying disclosures, those outside firms include Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Ogilvy Government Relations and a team at Olsson Frank Weeda that includes former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas).

Gerard said he annually reviews the outside lobbying firms but has no immediate plans for replacing them at this time.

Thorsen Hangs Out Shingle. American Continental Group’s Carl Thorsen is starting his own firm, the Thorsen Group. Thorsen, who has been at ACG for the past five years, will open the new firm Jan. 1. The former general counsel to then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will continue to focus on judiciary, commerce and financial services issues.

So far, Thorsen is staying mum on his client list, but he has recently represented the Walt Disney Co., Comcast, Harbinger Financial Investments, the Motion Picture Association of America and others.

“At this point in my career I’ve decided I want to own and operate my own business, and I will be putting all of my effort into making it successful,— Thorsen said.

Waiting to Inhale. The Specialty Tobacco Council is giving its lobbying team an infusion of new power. Rogich Communications Group recently signed up to lobby as a subcontractor for the group’s law firm, Finger, Parker, Brown & Roemer. The Las Vegas-based shop registered three lobbyists — Sig Rogich, Alise Haney and Rachel Wilkinson — to work for the client.

The specialty tobacco lobby has been fighting against a prohibition passed this fall that bans certain flavored cigarettes, including cloves. Rogich’s Wilkinson said the firm has been working on trade issues for the client. Indonesia, which is a large importer of clove cigarettes, is expected to make the ban an issue at the World Trade Organization.

The tobacco group has spent $835,000 on lobbying so far this year with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, the Smith-Free Group and Mayer Brown on retainer.

Four-More Encore. The National Music Publishers’ Association is expected to announce today that the group is extending the contract of its president and CEO, David Israelite, through 2014. Israelite was deputy chief of staff and counselor to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who ran the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, and has been at the helm of the NMPA since 2005. (Ashcroft now owns his own firm, the Ashcroft Group.)

“David has been exceptional in steering the publishing and songwriting industry through critical legal, business and regulatory challenges alike,— said Irwin Robinson, chairman of the NMPA board of directors, in a statement. Robinson added that Israelite “has been an effective public champion for the music industry.—

K Street Moves. The American Association for Homecare has brought on Jay Witter as senior director of government affairs. Witter was the chief lobbyist for the United American Nurses.

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