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Life Is Good Year-end 2005 disclosure reports are beginning to be released by the House Resource Center, and they show that lobbying remains a growth industry despite the cloud hovering over K Street. The deadline for filing year-end reports passed last week, though the House hasn’t released them all. Among the corporations and trade groups whose reports have been released, 82 reported spending more than $1 million on lobbying the federal government in the last half of 2005. Overall, the biggest spender of the year — by far — was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which paid out $19.8 million through its Institute for Legal Reform wing alone. That’s on top of the chamber’s regular operation, which doled out another $19.1 million. The figures are somewhat surprising, given that the group’s biggest battles, bankruptcy and class action reform, were won by early summer. The fight over asbestos liability, however, did drag on through the end of the year. Other big spenders included the American Hospital Association ($19.8 million), the American Medical Association ($19.2 million), PhRMA ($13.5 million), and Freddie Mac ($12.6 million). On the corporate side, the most extravagant spenders were General Electric Co. ($17.8 million), Northrop Grumman Corp. ($13.7 million), the perpetually embattled Altria Group Inc. ($13.6 million), Southern Co. ($13 million), Boeing Co. ($9.2 million), Microsoft Corp. ($8.7 million), and Chevron Corp. ($8.6 million), which fought a political battle with Chinese oil giant CNOOC to buy Unocal Corp. last summer. Legislative winners tended to pay handsomely for their victories. For example, on the biggest corporate issue of the year, bankruptcy reform, top spenders included Citigroup Inc. ($7.3 million), MBNA Corp. ($4.3 million), and American Express Co. ($2.36 million). But money couldn’t always buy love. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which failed to knock down class action reform, dished out $7.2 million, and the American Sugar Alliance, which failed to exempt sugar imports from the CAFTA bill, spent $3.8 million. Too bad Congress doesn’t give refunds. — Andy Metzger
Guarding the Bank Arab Bank may be the largest bank in the Middle East, but it’s had a rough go of it in the United States. Last May the Jordan-based institution took a shellacking at a House Financial Services Committee hearing when Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.) accused it of being “involved” in “a structured financial reward system for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.” Congress also accused the bank of failing to monitor the flow of terrorist funds and of having poor safeguards against money laundering. Perhaps hoping to head off a repeat performance, the bank bulked up on its lobby presence. It hired Cypress Group last July, just before the Senate Banking Committee held hearings on terror funding. Cypress was added to an existing lobby roster of O’Connor and Hannan and O’Neill and Associates. And just in time for a House hearing last week, the bank also hired Locke Liddell Strategies, the newly opened D.C. lobby outpost of Dallas-based law firm Locke Liddell & Sapp (best known for being a former home to failed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers). Roy Coffee, who worked for then-Gov. George W. Bush, is on the account. Phyllis Cuttino, a spokeswoman for Arab Bank, says that Locke Liddell was hired to provide general guidance, but the firm’s lobby registration says it was hired in connection with a hearing on Mideast banking. In that respect, Locke Liddell came through: Arab Bank wasn’t mentioned at last week’s hearing. But the bank isn’t out of the woods. The Senate Banking Committee plans to take another look at terror funding next month, including the role of bankers. — Andy Metzger
Signing Off The House of Representatives’ decision to implement a digital-signature system for lobbyists has been a well-documented disaster. But how did it get to this point? It depends on whom you ask. House leadership approached three vendors the General Services Administration approved to work on the system, and former House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) mandated last June that the House would accept only electronic filings as of Jan. 1. The three companies, according to a GSA official and a staffer on the House Administration Committee, were VeriSign, Operation Research Consultants, and Digital Signature Trust. Digital Signature Trust ultimately won the contract because it met GSA specifications that mandated the development of programs for both individual lobbyists and firms. House officials maintain that they wanted all three companies to participate but that Digital Signature Trust was the only one that came up with a workable proposal. Not so, says George Schu, vice president of VeriSign. “VeriSign was not asked to work on this.” But House Administration spokesman Jon Brandt says the company did submit an initial test system — and it failed. — Joe Crea

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