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D.C.’s Vote Victory Ever since Democrats took the helm of Congress, the District has been reaping the benefits — with some of the most controversial issues being pushed by lobbyists and advocacy groups. After a decade of wrangling, Democrats in April passed a bill that would give D.C. a House seat with full voting rights. And on June 28, the House dropped two riders from its appropriations bill that had long prohibited the D.C. government from using its own money to fund lobbying for D.C. voting rights and a needle exchange program. The $608 million D.C. appropriations bill would allow D.C. to use government money to fund needle exchange programs as a method of preventing the spread of HIV among drug users and to hire lobbyists to push D.C. voting rights legislation, an effort that has been long championed by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and DC Vote, a nonprofit educational and advocacy organization that lobbies to get D.C. residents full voting representation in Congress. “This shows that elections do matter,” says Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote. “With the November elections, we were poised to move the appropriations bill forward and eliminate the lobbying prohibition. It’s something that in the past we helped engineer in the Senate but were unsuccessful with in the House. With the change in power, our principal opponents are gone and our supporters are in power.” Zherka says the issue faced major opposition from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who resigned from Congress last year amid charges that he violated campaign finance laws. The D.C. appropriations bill, along with the House-passed D.C. voting rights bill, is currently in the Senate. Norton says the recent progress of the long-debated D.C. voting rights legislation would have come “easier and perhaps earlier had the city government been allowed to put the full weight of local resources behind the mostly grass-roots lobbying campaign.” Norton says House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Financial Services and General Government subcommittee, played key roles in dumping the lobbying prohibition rider. While it hasn’t been decided yet just how much the D.C. government would be allowed to spend on lobbying efforts, Zherka says supporters are pushing for anywhere between $1 million and $5 million a year. “We would be willing to compete for some of those funds,” says Zherka, adding that DC Vote has worked with the city on educational efforts. “But our main issue really is to get the city to do more on this issue with a very small percentage of the city’s budget.” — Osita Iroegbu
Moving Mouthpieces Dittus Communications has added five new faces since June in an effort to expand its reach to Democrats and Republicans alike. The hires come as the firm continues to work on high-profile issues for clients such as the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the American Electric Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, Kraft Foods, and McDonald’s. “Many industry sectors, specifically energy, health care, and the nonprofit sector, face significant legislative and regulatory challenges ranging from global issues like climate change to domestic challenges like the delivery of health care,” says Gloria Dittus, president and CEO of the firm. Corry Schiermeyer, former director of global communications for the White House National Security Council, joins as assistant vice president of the firm’s energy and environment practice. Also joining that practice is Lawrence Pacheco, former communications director to Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Michael Tucker, a former partner at Qorvis Communications, is now vice president in Dittus’ public affairs practice. General Electric’s Banks Willis was hired as an assistant vice president of Dittus’ health and nutrition practice. Willis has held several positions at GE, including marketing manager for General Electric Healthcare and legislative communications manager for GE Global Research. Julie Panna, former spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, was hired as assistant vice president of Dittus’ nonprofit practice. — Osita Iroegbu
Add Toner Getting into the game late sometimes has its perks. When Michael Toner gave up the chairmanship of the Federal Election Commission to start a new election law group at Bryan Cave in March, many wondered if he’d have time to get into the 2008 campaign. “I thought Michael was going to end up sitting this one out,” says Patton Boggs partner Benjamin Ginsberg, who is Mitt Romney’s general counsel. But Toner’s timing turned out to be lucky. It wasn’t until late in the spring, when most of Washington, D.C.’s top Republican legal talent was already locked up, that Fred Thompson began to publicly contemplate a presidential run. By the end of May, Toner had landed Thompson as a client. Toner declined to discuss his work for the former Tennessee senator and “Law & Order” star. And even attorneys who want to get on a campaign may not be entirely shut out just yet. “We haven’t seen the whole field at this point,” says Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice’s Lawrence Norton. Anybody want to work on the Newt Gingrich campaign? — Aruna Viswanatha, The American Lawyer

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