K Street Files: Retail Politics — Durbin Looks to Refill Coffers

Posted November 16, 2010 at 6:54pm

Large retailers were the big winners from an amendment sponsored this summer by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. This week, the industry is fêting the Illinois Democrat at a $1,000-per-head fundraiser.

According to an invitation for the event, Target Corp., Best Buy Co. Inc., Sears Holding Corp. and the Retail Industry Leaders Association are hosting the fundraiser Thursday morning at Target’s D.C. offices on 8th Street NW.

Durbin’s amendment, which was included in the financial services reform bill, calls for the Federal Reserve to regulate interchange fees, the rates charged by banks and companies such as Visa and MasterCard for credit card transactions.

A Durbin aide on Tuesday defended the fundraiser, saying in an e-mail that the event is for Durbin’s leadership political action committee, Prairie PAC. The aide added that Durbin’s “event is one of dozens of similar Congressional fundraising events scheduled this week in DC.”

“It is in no way out of the ordinary for members to have PAC events this time of year,” the aide wrote. “Senator [Charles] Schumer held one for his PAC last night and many others have events scheduled this week and through December.”

The aide also said that the Illinois Democrat used his PAC money last month to help endangered Democrats. “Durbin’s PAC maxed out to every Senate incumbent, all targeted challengers, the DSCC and the DCCC this past cycle,” the aide wrote. “It’s no secret that Democrats will have 23 seats in the Senate up for grabs in 2012 and Durbin is doing what he’s always done — making sure he is able to do all he can to help incumbent Senators and expand our majority in the next Congress.”

Campaign finance records show that Durbin is one of the few Democrats supported by RILA. In the 2009-2010 cycle, RILA’s PAC gave just one-third of its campaign contributions to Democrats, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis. Meanwhile, Best Buy gave 62 percent of its contributions to Democrats last cycle, while 60 percent of Sears’ political contributions went to Democratic causes — a ratio that a Republican lobbyist suggested they reconsider.

“The big retailers aren’t adjusting to the new political winds; they’re still kissing Durbin’s ring for last year’s victory,” the GOP lobbyist said.

Closed for Business

After nearly a decade of controversy, a Texas charity run by former Rep. Tom DeLay is shutting down. Federal tax filings show that the onetime House GOP Leader’s DeLay Foundation for Kids is “in the process of winding down its affairs.”

“Assets will be distributed to 501(C)3,” DeLay’s group wrote in Internal Revenue Service documents filed this summer. The organization’s phone number on Tuesday was inoperable.

DeLay’s 24-year-old nonprofit organization has been a persistent source of scrutiny since 2003, when Roll Call and other news outlets reported that the former Texas Republican was raising significant amounts of tax-deductible contributions from well-heeled corporate and K Street donors, who wanted to cozy up to DeLay. In 2005, the New York Times reported that the group’s donors included AT&T Corp., Corrections Corporation of America and Exxon Mobil Corp., among others.

In a 2003 fundraising invitation for the charity, DeLay and his wife, Christine, said the event’s venue is “a wonderful tropical paradise, with the feel of Fantasy Island,” Roll Call reported at the time.

“The Ocean Reef Club is an excellent spot for a fun-filled family vacation and we are delighted that you are considering this destination not only for your family, but also to help the DeLay Foundation for Kids,” the DeLay charity’s website read, according to a Roll Call report.

This week, DeLay continues to face charges in an Austin courtroom over allegations that he illegally used corporate campaign contributions for political purposes. DeLay is fighting the charges, which include “using his political action committee to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate funds into Texas legislative races in 2002,” according to the Associated Press.

A More Perfect Union?

Starting Jan. 1, the marriage between Cassidy & Associates and the Rhoads Group will be complete, and Rhoads is taking the Cassidy name.

The Rhoads Group has long been a subsidiary of Cassidy, but it has maintained its separate brand. Gerald S.J. Cassidy will remain executive chairman of the firm he founded more than 30 years ago, while Rhoads Group’s Barry Rhoads will become president of Cassidy & Associates. Gregg Hartley, a former top aide to Sen.-elect Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), will continue as Cassidy & Associates’ vice chairman and chief operating officer, while former Rep. Marty Russo (D-Ill.) will still be the shop’s senior vice chairman and chief executive officer.

Rhoads has been with the Cassidy operation since 1997. Merging his shop into the larger company will give him and his Rhoads Group colleagues a bigger platform, Rhoads said. “I bring a lot of enthusiasm and a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude,” he said.

And he’s also bringing revenue. Rhoads Group “added $1 million worth of new business this year,” he said.

No one from the Rhoads Group will be out of a job, he added. “We’ll actually be looking to expand,” he said.

K Street Moves

• Who says Democrats aren’t in demand downtown? Alaina Beverly, who was the associate director of the Obama White House’s Office of Urban Affairs, has joined the Raben Group. Beverly, who began her career with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, will be a principal at the firm.

• George Lowe, a former chief of staff to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), is joining the government law and strategies group at Brown Rudnick. Most recently, he ran Lowe Strategies. At Brown Rudnick, he will focus on political and parliamentary strategy, coalition building and crisis management.

• Kadesh & Associates has tapped Warren Weinstein, who joins the firm’s water, energy and environment practice. Weinstein previously was legislative director at the Bipartisan Policy Center Advocacy Network.

• The American Academy of Pediatrics has added Tamar Magarik Haro and Daniel Gage to its roster. Haro was staff director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee on children and families. Gage joined AAP from J.A. Green and Co., a lobbying firm where he was vice president of government affairs.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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