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Saint Nixed Santa Claus just got pink-slipped by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber last week rescinded the jolly gift-giver’s invitation to their annual holiday party. John Reid, a spokesman for the Chamber, says the Chamber is scaling back its annual December extravaganza to make sure it doesn’t violate any ethics rules. “I think our folks are being very careful to make sure it’s not an over-the-top type of event as it probably has been in the past,” Reid says, clarifying for good measure that the holiday affair “is not a party, it’s a reception.” If the event falls under certain exemptions — including being a “widely attended” event — members of Congress and staffers may attend. Reid says the Chamber is carefully planning the shindig to make sure it doesn’t pose problems. The food will be light hors d’oeuvres, and the ice sculpture was put on ice this year. Favors have been nixed as well, and, yes even Jolly Old St. Nick was struck from the program. “There is some value to them,” Reid says of photos of party attendees with Santa. “It seems like a crazy little thing.” The lobbying reform rules passed earlier this year — especially the stringent gift ban — are making the holidays even more stressful than usual this year. Lobbyists say they gave up on gifts — and gift baskets sent to congressional offices — years ago, but firms are also weighing who should make the holiday party invite list. It may seem Grinch-like to question largesse during the holiday season, but the rules are the rules — even if they mean giving Santa the boot. Many lobbyists say they’ve long since stopped giving gifts, anyway. “That’s so old school,” says Rich Gold, head of the public policy practice at Holland & Knight. It’s definitely out of style. “Even a lump of coal is not permitted under the new rules,” says Jim Christian, a partner at Patton Boggs. “It’s a thing of value.” Christian says the firm has never officially given gifts, but in the past, individual lobbyists may have sent items to people they had worked closely with. No more of that. The firm has conducted training on the new rules, he says. Another Patton Boggs partner, Darryl Nirenberg, says most questions from lobbyists at the firm have related to personal holiday gatherings. Can they still invite people who work on the Hill? Will it be covered by a special exemption for widely attended receptions (unlikely, for your basic holiday party) or will a gift be covered because the people involved are friends? For that, Nirenberg says, there are tests: “Is there reciprocity?” he asks. “Is there a bona fide friendship? If lobbyists are giving the same type of gift to everyone on the Hill, it would raise questions.” Sounds like Santa should check his list more than twice. — Carrie Levine
The Trimmings Still stuffed from Thanksgiving dinner? We thought so. We’re hearing it was a good day for the turkey lobby. Of course, the farm bill remains unresolved, and groups are still doing battle on a host of issues, from trade to labeling to dietary guidelines. Lobbying disclosure reports show the groups representing different pieces of your Thanksgiving feast have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars so far this year. The Cranberry Marketing Committee spent $50,000 lobbying on trade issues that would open up new markets for U.S. cranberries, and Ocean Spray Cranberries paid Cassidy & Associates $180,000 to lobby on the farm bill and Department of Agriculture appropriations. The Potato Growers Association wasn’t active this year, but the giant Grocery Manufacturers Association spent more than $750,000 — both on its own lobbying and with more than half a dozen firms, including Dutko Worldwide and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The trade association lobbied on a host of issues, from labeling to school lunches to free trade and energy issues. Then, of course, there’s the National Turkey Federation, which reported spending $60,000 lobbying on the farm bill and other issues. Looks like Thanksgiving isn’t the only time lawmakers talk turkey. — Carrie Levine
Clear Air President George W. Bush’s decree that commercial airliners would be able to fly in two military airspace corridors over the Thanksgiving holiday made headlines as a novel way to ease holiday flight congestion, but the idea is familiar territory for aviation lobbyists. The Air Transport Association has been lobbying on the issue, and dozens of other potentially time-saving rule changes, for at least a decade, says vice president David Castelveter. (Many of the ATA’s other prescriptions, such as “ZNY Pit Enhancements,” are a bit harder to explain in layman’s terms.) Another advocate for the switch was David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. Stempler, a member of several aviation rulemaking and advisory committees, says he hopes the rule change is a precedent for future holidays. But he cautions that the changes aren’t a cure for air congestion. “This isn’t even a 1 percent solution,” he says. “But like Chairman Mao said, �a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’” — Jeff Horwitz

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