K Street Files: Sprint Plan to Fight Merger Not Yet Clear

Posted March 29, 2011 at 6:33pm

Not surprisingly, Sprint announced this week that it would wage a fierce lobbying battle on Capitol Hill against AT&T’s proposed $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile.

But executives with the Kansas-based telecommunications company, which stands to come out the big loser from the merger, were vague on how they intend to counter the formidable AT&T lobbying machine.

Sprint’s chief lobbyists said they will make their positions known both in Congress and at the federal agencies. The Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department must approve the sale. A number of lawmakers are calling for hearings on the merger, which they suggest will limit consumers’ cellphone options and increase their bills.

“We will be active on the Hill,” Bill Barloon, Sprint’s vice president of state and federal legislative affairs, said in a Monday interview. While Barloon left open the possibility that the company might beef up its lobbying team, he said nothing had been decided yet.

Sprint officials also would not say whether they were planning to form any alliances to counter the sale.

“It is not something we are prepared to talk about,” Sprint spokesman John Taylor said. While Taylor said Sprint was reaching out to media to talk about the company’s position, he could not say whether the company plans an ad campaign to whip up opposition to the sale.

Any lobbying effort would be an uphill challenge considering AT&T’s lobbying juggernaut. Last year AT&T contracted with 23 outside K Street firms and shelled out almost $15.4 million on federal lobbying. 

By contrast, Sprint spent just over $2.5 million on lobbying and had a team of seven outside firms. Taylor said the company was undeterred by the fact that it was outmatched.

“If this is a David-vs.-Goliath fight, that is OK because David won,” he said.

Art Brodsky, a spokesman for the advocacy group Public Knowledge, said it was understandable that opponents of the sale do not yet have a plan in place since the acquisition was just announced last week.

But Brodsky said a lobbying strategy would be devised.

“There will be some sort of something,” he said. “Nobody will roll over for this.”

Another Blue Dog on K Street 

Former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) is joining the K&L Gates law firm, following a parade of his fellow Blue Dog Democrats to K Street.

Gordon, who retired from Congress last year after serving 26 years, will be part of the firm’s public policy team, which also includes former Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) and former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.).

In a release announcing his hiring, the firm said Gordon’s areas of emphasis will include technology-related issues, renewable energy and nuclear energy.

Gordon was chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, which oversees NASA, and served on the Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the Financial Services, Budget and Rules panels.

“Bart’s committee service in the House was extraordinary by any measure and will add considerably to our policy practice’s capabilities in the technology-dense 21st century and especially in the energy sector,” Peter Kalis, K&L Gates chairman and global managing partner, said in a statement.

K&L Gates’ clients last year included the Commercial Spaceflight Coalition, Dell, NanoBusiness Alliance and NextEnergy.

In Congress, Gordon was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally moderate Democrats who represented swing districts, many in the South. In last year’s midterm elections, many of these lawmakers either retired or were defeated in the Republican wave.

But they have rebounded quickly with K Street firms eager to snatch up these former lawmakers because of their pro-business leanings and reputation for working with both parties.

Other Blue Dog Democrats recently joining lobbying firms include former Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), who is now with the Prime Policy Group, and ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), who was hired by Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz. 

Business Development

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb has hired a team of lobbyists from Ogilvy Government Relations. The firm’s Steve Tilton, formerly with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Mike Hogan, who was deputy chief of staff for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), will take the lead on the account.

Ogilvy isn’t the only firm with a new client on the books.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has signed Xcel Energy as a lobbying client. Lobbyists Elizabeth Gore, former chief of staff to then-Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and Al Mottur report that they plan to work on legislation pertaining to Clean Air Act regulations as well as nuclear power and clean energy standards. 

And the U.S. Business and Industry Council has tapped the MITA Group’s James Edwards, a former Senate Judiciary Committee aide, to work on intellectual property and patent issues.

Also, the Frankfort, Ky.-based firm MML&K Government Solutions has opened a Washington, D.C., outpost and started a strategic alliance with mCapitol Management.

“With this expansion, we are taking representation of our clients’ concerns to the next level by providing the highest quality of representation at the federal, state and local levels,” MML&K Director Sean Cutter said in a statement.

Smoke ’Em if You Got ’Em

If most industries have a lobbying “fly-in,” perhaps when the marijuana lobby hits Washington, D.C., today, it should be a dubbed a “smoke-in.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) are planning a big event at the National Press Club where they will preview the group’s first Congressional lobbying day.

“It is time for the federal government to take this industry seriously,” Steve Fox, the NCIA’s director of public affairs, said in a press statement announcing the events. “At a time when the U.S. economy is struggling, the medical cannabis industry is growing.”

Fox further noted that legal medical marijuana businesses are creating “thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars in tax revenue at the local, state and federal level.”

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