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Just the Shirt Off His Back At a time when mentioning the lobbying business tends to conjure images of shady dealings in dark corners, Dave Wenhold of the American League of Lobbyists says he’s happy to be known as “a lobbyist with a heart.” During the third annual Capitol PurSuit Drive last week, co-sponsored by the league and Men’s Wearhouse, Wenhold, the event’s founder, attempted to show a different side of the lobbying world — one entailing racks of donated suits and boxes stuffed with neatly rolled ties and dress shoes. As someone surrounded daily by suit-donning Washingtonians, he explains that formulating the idea to collect business attire for Americans re-entering the work force was a no-brainer. “You would not believe the changes in somebody when they put on a brand-new suit. . . . You see this sparkle in their eye, and their self-esteem goes through the roof,” says Wenhold, a partner in Miller Wenhold Capitol Strategies LLC. This year, Wenhold collected 10,562 items from lobbyists and members of Congress and their staff. The suits, shirts, and ties will be given to local and nationwide organizations, including Working Wardrobes, the Women’s Alliance, Career Gear, and Suited for Change. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who spoke at the drive, handed off items from his own wardrobe, making sure to point out that he would not be taking a tax deduction for his donations. Laura Dennis, an associate at Miller Wenhold and another of the drive’s organizers, calls it “the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.” And though the American League of Lobbyists has been called too small and inexperienced to wield much influence, Wenhold believes he’s proved skeptics of this particular event wrong based on the amount of participation in the drive, which collected a total of 13,000 suits in its first two years. But what about those who see Wenhold’s efforts only as a flashy gimmick to remedy recent skepticism about his line of work? After all, he acknowledges, “In the time of the post-Abramoff scandal, this is a time for us to highlight the good we do.” In response to critics, Wenhold points out that he and Dennis are the only two lobbyists to receive the President’s Call to Service Award (given to individuals for lifetime volunteer service) and insists, “This is one of those events that is very dear to my heart.” — Marisa McQuilken
Stop the Presses! Mass e-mail lobbying campaigns yield some influence over fence-sitting lawmakers, according to a survey conducted by the Showalter Group Inc., a Cincinnati-based shop that advises associations and firms about increasing their grass-roots effectiveness. Owner Amy Showalter, who has an “obsession with groups that perform in the field,” surveyed the top lobby firms and associations on the Fortune magazine Power 25 List, which featured organizations such as the National Rifle Association and the AARP. The study is of value, Showalter says, to firms with significant grass-roots apparatuses. Many other firms, including most of those she works with, “think their e-mail volume will save the world,” says Showalter of e-mail happy lobbyists. Of particular poignancy, Showalter notes in the study: Only three or four associations and firms actually knew the strategies of their opponents. Just who on the list was clueless? Showalter says she has to keep her lips sealed but adds that “the majority” did not know the grass-roots, PAC, and lobbying strategies of their opponents. — Joe Crea
Beyond the Sea Yes, Virginia, there is a lobby for the canned-tuna industry. The United States Tuna Foundation — the premier trade association for BumbleBee Foods, StarKist Tuna (Charlie the Tuna!), and Chicken of the Sea International — is cranking up its Washington presence. The foundation has hired Anne Forristall Luke as its new president, a position created by the retirement of the foundation’s executive director, David Burney. Forristall, who says she “eats tuna as part of my major protein source when I’m lifting weights,” will oversee the foundation’s Washington and San Diego offices. The billion-dollar industry, which is primarily regulated by the State and Commerce departments, hopes to expand its visibility both in the nation’s capital and internationally, focusing on environmental, trade, and sustainability-of-resources issues. — Joe Crea
Christmas in June Thermometers across Washington may be topping 90 degrees, but there’s still something to remind lobbyists of last December’s frosty climes: a slew of newly released lobby disclosure reports released by the Senate outlining lobby spending for the last six months of 2005. The deadline for the forms to be filed was mid-February, but four months later, the Senate is still clearing its backlog, making public 696 year-end 2005 reports. Among the big spenders: Energy giant Southern Co. reported spending $7 million on its in-house operation on a number of issues, ranging from the Acid Rain Control Act to the Gulf region economic-development legislation to pension reform bills. Southern’s spending dwarfed that of other trade groups that had their filings made public this month, but Hogan & Hartson reported a mammoth haul from Nissan North America. The American wing of the Japanese automaker paid Hogan $1.1 million to lobby Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on CAFE standards (the average fuel economy of an auto manufacturer’s fleet), tax issues, and the ever-glamorous Tire Retread Act. Hogan netted another $720,000 from FM Policy Focus, for work on housing issues. Another group whose members may know a thing or two about tire treads, the American Trucking Associations dished out $1.2 million of its in-house cash to lobby on similarly glamorous issues: the Idling Reduction Tax Credit Act, hazardous-materials legislation, as well as some old standbys — namely, pensions, homeland security, and appropriations. — Andy Metzger
WIC Rule Riles Grocers Olsson, Frank and Weeda has registered to lobby for the National Women, Infants and Children Grocers Association to oppose an interim vendor cost-containment rule it says forces stores catering to participants in a federal grant-in-aid program to sell goods at Wal-Mart-level prices. Participants in the Agriculture Department’s (USDA) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), designed to assist low-income women and children up to 5 years old, use vouchers to buy nutritional products to supplement their diets. Milk, infant formula, eggs, and peanut butter are bought with vouchers at mainstream grocery stores or specialty WIC-only stores, which sell exclusively to WIC shoppers. The vouchers are then redeemed by state health departments, which typically oversee the program. The cost-containment rule was issued as part of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 and requires that WIC-only vendors price their items comparably to what grocery stores throughout the state charge, says lobbyist John Bode. And in places where discount giants like Wal-Mart dominate, that means WIC stores must sell goods at wholesale cost or cheaper, says Bode, adding that the new rule has been so rigidly implemented by the USDA that it’s driving WIC-only stores out of business. In Arkansas, all WIC-only stores are now scheduled to close at the end of the month, says Bode. “Arkansas has, of course, a high level of Wal-Marts and that’s part of the equation.” But Ann Wright of the Arkansas Office of Health and Human Services says that Bode’s account is inaccurate and the rule has yet to go into effect. “We don’t have any WIC-only stores closed right now,” she says. Wright declined to speculate on how stores will respond to the new rule. Bode emphasizes that his client does, in fact, favor cost containment and understands that it’s necessary to the well-being of the WIC program. The problem, he says, is that WIC-only stores are unfairly measured against huge chains when they should be grouped with comparably sized and priced vendors. “I would say that at the USDA and on Capitol Hill there’s stunned silence when they’re told how this is unfolding,” says Bode, who hopes the USDA will show “increased flexibility with the states” in its implementation of the final rule. — Marisa McQuilken
Xtra Crispy at a Cost New kid on the block Polaris Government Relations is representing the Association of Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchisees in a push to head off a potentially devastating suit filed earlier this month against their franchisor, KFC. The AKFCF, as it calls itself, followed Dan Gans to Polaris from Alexander Strategy Group after the firm closed its doors earlier this year in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal. “AKFCF jives very well with our client base of mostly business interests,” says Gans. The civil complaint, filed June 13 in D.C. Superior Court by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is over the health risks associated with the use of trans fats. The center is targeting KFC because of its use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils for frying. The oil results in food that is high in trans fatty acids, which can be bad for the heart. “My client is not being sued, but we feel that we will be impacted by it,” Gans says. Polaris has been lobbying for the passage of two bills on behalf of the AKFCF that would “prevent or eliminate frivolous lawsuits,” says Gans. The battle over the fast-food industry’s potential liability is being fought not only in the courtroom and on the Senate floor but also in the press. ConsumerFreedom.com, a nonprofit group representing restaurants and food companies, took out a full-page advertisement in the June 12 edition of the Express to lampoon lawyers and special interest scientists who sue the fast-food industry. The ad ran the day before the suit against KFC was filed, although the group claims the ad “had nothing to do with the KFC suit.” — Ben Sullivan

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