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Do’s and Don’ts It’s all enough to stymie Miss Manners. The Senate Ethics Committee last week came out with guidance for senators hoping to attend lobbyist-sponsored parties at the national political conventions. The Senate’s guidelines are, naturally, slightly different from those issued late last year by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — just to make it all a little more complicated for party hosts who don’t want to violate ethics etiquette. The House committee had ruled that such parties are allowed, as long as they meet other rules governing events that lawmakers may attend (finger food only, folks!) and don’t honor a specific member — though they could honor delegations or caucuses, for instance. The Senate has gone a step further, asserting that the senators also can’t attend parties where the honorees are solely members of Congress. Stefan Passantino, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge who advises members of Congress and outside groups on ethics, says he’s warned clients to avoid any perception that they’re violating the spirit of the law. For instance, he says, it could cross a line “to have a major party honoring a member the Sunday night” before a convention starts — even though it would be technically allowed. Watchdog groups objected to the House ruling, saying it left too many loopholes. Still, the further guidance was enough to spur lobbyists to start planning parties. Now, in the wake of the Senate ruling, lobbyists have to avoid honoring groups of lawmakers — something Passantino says many of his clients were going to avoid anyway. And the Senate ruling explicitly notes that honoring “Nevada Republican Officials” as opposed to the “Nevada Congressional Delegation” would be fine. Of course, all the other ethics rules would still apply to the event. That means no pricey gift bags, and no sit-down six-course meals. And expect the party police to be out in force. — Carrie Levine
PFAW Pick When Ralph Neas left the top spot of People for the American Way in August, the organization suggested that his replacement would be someone who would focus on its constitutional rabble-rousing roots. PFAW announced last week that the person is Kathryn Kolbert. An Annenberg Public Policy Center researcher, former American Civil Liberties Union attorney, and founder of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Kolbert is best known for arguing 1992′s Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the Supreme Court. Framing the case as a referendum on Roe v. Wade rather than on Pennsylvania law, she “vastly outperformed” then-Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, historian David Garrow wrote. While PFAW has become active on other issues, Supreme Court advocacy “is my strength,” Kolbert says, though she says she wants to spend more time with PFAW’s Washington staff before setting an agenda. One goal, however, will be building up the group’s finances so it can inject Court issues into the presidential campaign — and be ready to put pressure on the victor. “People need to understand just how bad the current Court really is,” she says, bemoaning the loss of former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s mitigating influence on the “paternalism” of the current Court. — Jeff Horwitz
Out of Africa Most companies doing business in Africa might view news reports that their good names are being pilloried in the Ugandan parliament with significant concern. Not so for the Whitaker Group. Members of parliament claim the firm, headed by former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa Rosa Whitaker, charged exorbitant rates, failed to pay Ugandan taxes, and was hired in violation of government procurement rules, according to the East African, a regional newspaper. “This kind of stuff gets thrown around all the time when you’re representing African governments,” says Whitaker Group spokesman Robert SanGeorge. The firm’s strategy, SanGeorge says, is simply to let the whole issue blow over. “We represent the entire government, so we’re not in a position to comment on what one faction or another says or does,” he says. “It’s definitely not a productive thing for us to be drawn into.” — Jeff Horwitz

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