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Happy Feet Sorini, Samet & Associates’ soul — or maybe sole — is in lobbying for footwear companies. The recently opened firm just registered its first five clients, and all are shoe or outdoor wear manufacturers, distributors, or retailers pushing legislation that would do away with tariffs on low- to moderate-priced footwear, in addition to other issues such as trademark and copyright laws. Last year companies importing shoes paid nearly $2 billion in duties on footwear, according to lawmakers. Payless ShoeSource, Momentum Brand Group, the Outdoor Industries Association, Cintas, and the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America all signed on with the firm in May, according to recently released Senate records. Lobbyists Ronald Sorini, Andrew Samet, Kevin Koonce, and Keith Jenkins — all formerly of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg — registered to lobby on a bill called the Affordable Footwear Initiative, introduced last month by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. Sorini was previously senior vice president of Sandler, Travis and has also been a former chief textile negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative during President George H.W. Bush’s administration. Samet was a deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. Koonce is a former textile trade adviser to then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Payless made the move with the group of lobbyists into their new venture. The company paid Sandler, Travis $260,000 last year lobbying for the suspension of duties on shoes, according to Senate lobbying records. The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a trade group comprising dozens of footwear and apparel retailers such as Foot Locker Inc., Wal-Mart, Bakers Footwear Group, J.C. Penney Co., and Payless, paid the Loeffler Group $160,000 in 2006 to lobby on issues including tariff legislation. The legislation aims to get rid of U.S. shoe tariffs imposed on imports coming from assembly lines overseas, mainly in countries such as China and Indonesia. Crowley says the tax on importing shoes results in unfair price increases for footwear, especially children’s shoes. The bill does not include alleviating taxes on footwear products made in the United States. “American families are being forced to pay an unfair and steep tax passed along to them when purchasing shoes for their children,” said Crowley in a press release. The bill is being touted by Democrats as a way to stop unfair practices that cost families up to $5 billion annually. Democrats are confident the bill won’t face opposition because it doesn’t affect any particular U.S. industry, and they are calling the legislation an important anti-poverty tax cut. — Osita Iroegbu
Jackpot While convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff is sitting in Maryland federal prison, his lawyer Abbe Lowell has been working to squash a civil suit brought by some of the former employees of the Jewish school he started, who want to squeeze out more cash from the former influence peddler. Thirteen former teachers and administrators of the now-defunct Jewish Eshkol Academy had sued Abramoff and his wife, Pam — along with the school and Abramoff’s charitable giving organization, the National Institute of Torah Foundation (later known as the Capital Athletic Foundation) — in Montgomery County District Court in 2004 for breach of contract and failure to pay the employees’ total salaries. Abramoff and his wife were large contributors and helped set up the school, which went under because of funding problems in mid-2004, just as the scandal surrounding Abramoff’s lobbying began heating up. But this time Abramoff didn’t end up having to pay up. Lowell, now at McDermott Will & Emery, argued that Abramoff and his wife could not be held liable because they were simply generous donors, just as former employees of the Red Cross could not have sued donors after Hurricane Katrina. The judge agreed. On June 18, Judge Terrence McGann granted Lowell’s summary judgment motion and dismissed the case. — Anna Palmer
License to Lobby With last week’s Senate block of the immigration bill, it would seem that Janice Kephart’s job will get harder. Kephart, former counsel to the 9/11 Commission and president of 9/11 Security Solutions, lobbies for Digimarc Corp., which is vying to offer its services under Real ID — a controversial piece of the immigration bill that would require a federal identification card for any new employees. Though the Senate on June 28 rejected the immigration bill, Kephart remains optimistic. “The fact that you have the votes as close as you do means that we’re going in the right direction for Real IDs,” Kephart says. “If you do not have a state ID system, you’re going to have an employee system with no verification at all. I think the vote was a step toward people really recognizing our issue.” Kephart, a former homeland security consultant and counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information, says she and her client, which supplies more than two dozen states with ID programs and drivers license systems, will continue supporting federal funding of states that want to comply with Real ID policies. — Osita Iroegbu

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