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When Dan Glickman, former secretary of the Department of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton, was tapped in 2004 to replace the legendary Jack Valenti as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, many Republicans considered the move a potential box-office disaster, if you will. Done at the height of Republican congressional power, the hire infuriated many Republicans, chief among them former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), considered one of the chief Republican whips whose task was to ensure that K Street filled empty job slots with their own kind. Soon after Glickman secured the job, Santorum told Roll Call of a meeting with Republican senators to discuss “fair representation on K Street,” adding that he paid attention to who in the lobbying industry was hiring whom. Not only did Republicans pay attention, but they were instrumental in placing loyalists in some of the top jobs in town. Launched in 1995, when Republicans took control of Congress after 40 years in exile, the K Street Project was a massive effort to cement the relationship between the new Congress and the business community. Now that Democrats are in control of both houses of Congress, the tide is turning and such unofficial arrangements between Capitol Hill and K Street are undergoing new scrutiny. A recently passed Senate measure strictly forbids members from influencing, on the basis of political affiliation, the hiring practices of any private entity. Additionally, members may not “influence or offer or threaten to influence the official act of another.” The House is set to tackle similar legislation in February. But what about members who have, historically, made calls to K Street to tout departing staffers? “Certainly, inquiries should originate from the potential employer and not the Hill,” says former Rep. Max Sandlin, a Democrat from Texas and co-chairman of Fleishman-Hillard Government Relations. But Sandlin may be being a bit too cautious, at least according to the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Such calls are safe, says Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “If [the call is] based on a personal relationship or their qualifications, that is acceptable,” says Hammill. What is not OK, according to the proposed legislation, is promising legislation or a favor in exchange for making a specific hire. Lobbyists say that for now, at least until the heavy reform climate abates, lawmakers may be a bit gun-shy about touting staffers. But give it a few months, they say, and it will be business as usual. “I don’t know how or why you would prevent a call like that,” says John Haddow, a former aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who is now vice president of Parry, Romani, DeConcini & Symms. “I would think, if a staffer was leaving, if [Hatch] felt that a call for him would help the guy, I have to think he would make it.” One recent example of a lawmaker going to bat for a staffer: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), former chairman of the powerful Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, was a strong proponent of his former staffer, Mitch Rose, becoming the head of the National Association of Broadcasters when Eddie Fritts announced his departure in early 2005. Stevens even lauded Rose at the 2005 NAB State Leadership Conference, shortly after bidding adieu to his friend Fritts. Rose says now that much of the Hill chatter surrounding Stevens’ desire to see his former staffer placed at the head of the broadcasting association was “a little overhyped.” “Stevens took great pain that they should choose who they wanted to choose,” he says. “I had support from other individuals. Everyone had support. I wasn’t mounting any such campaign to have members involved.” Regardless, Stevens’ drumbeating didn’t work. The job eventually went to another Republican, David Rehr, who had been head of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Alan Roth, a partner at Lent Scrivner & Roth who left his position as chief counsel to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in 1996, says he narrowed his job search down to three law firms. When he settled on his firm of choice, he asked a member of Congress to give a call on his behalf to the firm chairman. (As it turned out, the chairman had already made inquiries of the member.) “If I worked for a member of Congress for a long time, I would hope that the member thought highly enough about me to be an advocate for me in trying to get that job,” Roth says. “Not only do I think it’s perfectly appropriate, it would be a great disappointment [to me] from someone I had devoted a personal amount of my professional life to [if he didn't].”
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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