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Free Flow When the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press first formed in 1970, its members were incensed by a wave of government subpoenas demanding that reporters reveal the identities of confidential sources. In the next 37 years, despite numerous attempts to formally establish a reporter-source privilege — the committee counts 99 media shield bills introduced between 1972 and 1978 alone — a federal law never made it onto the books. But with the House of Representatives approving the Free Flow of Information Act by a margin of 398-21 last week, now one just might. A key to the bill’s early success has been reduced expectations. When initial versions of the legislation began to circulate, says Paul Boyle, chief lobbyist for the Newspaper Association of America, the industry sought an absolute privilege of confidentiality. But when push came to shove, it accepted certain exceptions, such as when the subpoenas are essential to national security or resolving criminal cases. “[There's been] a recognition that things have gotten so bad that journalists and media groups will now accept qualified privilege,” Boyle says. Another boost to the legislation’s prospects may have come from an unlikely source: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. His saber rattling about prosecuting reporters for leaks illustrated the need for a law, suggests Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. “One reason we picked up some Republican votes on the House side is that [the Republicans] kept saying to the attorney general, �If you have a problem with [the bill], tell us what the problem is,’” Dalglish says. Compromising and capitalizing on an opponent’s overreach are nothing unusual in a lobbying campaign, but the media’s dual status as advocate and observer has obligated newspapers to plead their case in editorial pages instead of congressional offices. Individual media corporations such as the Washington Post Co. and Disney have formally lobbied the Hill, as has the Newspaper Association. Reporters and editors have largely avoided championing the legislation, though Matt Cooper and Judith Miller have both testified, and “Hearst made the BALCO boys available,” Dalglish says, referring to San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada. Nor is everyone working in the industry convinced that the shield legislation amounts to effective, or even desirable, change. Walter Pincus, The Post‘s veteran intelligence reporter and a 2001 graduate of Georgetown’s law school, sees the legislation as offering limited protection against “a rush by lawyers to subpoena reporters to save themselves time looking things up.” But this benefit would come at the expense of allowing lawmakers to dictate when journalists may keep secrets. In a different time, Pincus suggests, Congress might have focused on communists or activists instead of terrorists. “It’s one thing to allow judges to decide who’s a journalist. But by going to Congress, you’re at their whim,” he says. When attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey’s confirmation hearings are over, Dalglish expects supporters of the shield law to focus on building a veto-proof margin in the Senate. It can’t hurt, she adds, that in the 1980s Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) contacted her organization about backing shield legislation. — Jeff Horwitz
Puerto Rican Gold Glamorous new lobbying clients may pull the spotlight (that’s you, private equity) but the old perennials can keep a firm in the black just as well. Take Puerto Rico, for instance. The argument over whether the Caribbean commonwealth should become a state has been raging .�.�. well, long enough to give lobbying firms decent business from all sides of the issue. Puerto Ricans have typically divided almost evenly over statehood. The House passed a bill promoting statehood in 1998 by one vote, though the measure failed in the Senate. Now the question’s surfacing yet again. The House Natural Resources Committee plans to mark up a bill this week that would create a process to move Puerto Rico towards statehood, and lobbyists are lining up on both sides of the measure. Americans for Democracy, a group dedicated to building support for Puerto Rican statehood, has Dutko Worldwide and Holland & Hart. The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration hired the American Capitol Group — including partner Tim Stewart, a former legislative director and chief of staff for the committee — to oppose the bill. “It’s probably one of the most complicated legislative issues I’ve ever worked on,” says Stewart of the competing proposals for statehood. He’s probably got plenty of time to review the details. — Carrie Levine

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