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The perks bestowed by lobbyists on lawmakers are much loved and, lately, well documented: expensive dinners, golf trips, junkets to tropical locales. But now members of Congress are trying to stop the hands that feed them. After disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff reached a plea deal with the government in January, lawmakers rushed to propose a slew of lobbying reforms. Possible changes range from strengthening the disclosure requirements for lobbyists to removing earmarks from spending bills. To avoid a legislative logjam, Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) has tapped Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) to shape the various lobbying proposals in the upper chamber into a single bill. (Representative David Dreier, a California Republican, has the equivalent task in the House.) On the one hand, lobbyists say that Santorum is an obvious choice to lead a high-profile legislative push. He holds a top leadership position in the Senate as chairman of the Republican Conference. Plus, he has the incentive to produce a substantive piece of legislation, since he faces a strong reelection challenge this year from likely Democratic nominee Robert Casey. Santorum declined to comment for this article, but his communications director, Robert Traynham, says that his boss volunteered to take the lead on lobbying reform last November. People outside the Beltway, however, might find it curious that the man put in charge of cleaning out the stables is on a first-name basis with a lot of the horses. As an original architect of the K Street Project � which successfully sought to place Republicans in top positions at major trade associations � Santorum has deep connections to prominent lobbyists. Many of the senator’s former staffers have moved from Capitol Hill to K Street, including Michael Hershey at the National Association of Broadcasters, David French at the International Foodservice Distributors Association, Todd Weiss at the law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and Mike Mihalke at Alexander Strategy Group, the now defunct lobby shop ["They Knew Jack," page 66]. And up until last Thanksgiving, Santorum held a weekly meeting in the Capitol for about 20 lobbyists � including old guards such as former-representative Bill Paxon (R � New York) of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and former representative Bob Livingston (R-Louisiana) of the Livingston Group � in order to brief them on pending legislation. But as lobbyists are quick to point out, their relationship with Santorum is significantly different from that of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), another key player in the K Street Project. Santorum doesn’t fraternize at the usual industry hot spots. “Rick’s never out late. He’s not a back-slapping guy,” says James Hirni, a lobbyist at Cassidy & Associates who is also a member of Santorum’s fund-raising team. Still, some lobbyists worry that Santorum’s reelection fight will give him too much incentive to produce a tough reform bill. While lobbying and ethics- related issues never register as a major concern for voters in public opinion polls, late last year Casey began hammering away at Santorum’s links to K Street. Roll Call reported on an exclusive press conference Casey held in a private dining room at Jack Abramoff’s old restaurant, Signatures, which has since closed. Casey used the event to blast Santorum’s lobbyist ties and to outline his own ethics reform package. After Santorum was picked to manage the Senate’s lobbying legislation, Casey spokesman Larry Smar said, “It’s like the fox guarding the henhouse.” Other lobbyists are confident that Santorum will not make any reform package too severe or contrary to their interests. “He’s a principled guy who understands K Street,” says David Urban, former chief of staff to Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) and a partner at the American Continental Group. Urban adds, “You have to understand: You need someone who gets the system and can fix perceived functions.” Traynham, Santorum’s communications director, says that his boss is not consulting with any lobbyists on drafting the bill “at this point.” While Santorum may be in charge of the Senate’s lobbying reform efforts, John McCain (R-Arizona) is already out of the gate with his own proposal, with Senators Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) and Conrad Burns (R-Montana) signing on as cosponsors. McCain’s bill would require lobbyists to file financial disclosures quarterly rather than twice yearly, and would require reporting by grassroots lobbying firms. Though the lobbying community has a clear stake in the outcome of the reform effort, it’s one legislative initiative that most say they don’t expect to play a part in passing. “Lobbyists have had very little to say [about lobbying reform], unlike other effective interest groups we represent,” says Marsha Simon, a former aide to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) who’s now a lobbyist at Jefferson Consulting Group. “There is an acceptance from the vast majority of [lobbyists] who work hard that we can accept whatever the rules [lawmakers] choose.” And Simon is skeptical whether reforms will have an impact on the business of lobbying anyway. In her view, “No matter what rules you place on lobbyists � you could reduce the $50 lunch [limit], or [make it so that] you can’t buy any lunch at all � it isn’t going to affect the way we do our jobs significantly.” A version of this story originally appeared in Influence, a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel.

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