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An Albany, N.Y., law firm’s establishment of a lobbying base in Washington, D.C., and a Washington law firm’s links to a lobbying enterprise in Albany exemplify a new trend toward cross-pollination between K Street and State Street, observers say. Last week, the Albany firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna announced that for the first time in its 27-year history it has opened an office outside the state capital. That office is on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, and houses a new enterprise called WOH Government Solutions. In Washington, Whiteman Osterman & Hanna plans to focus on “government relations,” lobbying and the building of “grassroots on matters of importance” to its clients, the firm said in a release. Simultaneously, the Washington lobbying law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and Manhattan’s Harris Beach have established an Albany presence under the wing of former Assembly Minority Leader Clarence Rappleyea. Rappleyea, a well-connected Republican, recently established Rappleyea Public Affairs Group. “Rapp,” as he is still affectionately called by his friends in the Legislature and New York Gov. Pataki’s administration, said he provides a spectrum of services ranging from procurement to traditional lobbying on matters like banking and insurance and gambling. He said his new firm functions in a local counsel role for Akin Gump and Harris Beach. Observers say the Whiteman Osterman & Hanna and Rappleyea/Akin Gump/Harris Beach moves illustrate a more sophisticated, more comprehensive approach than old-style lobbying. Both enterprises seek to provide clients not only with influence, but guidance through the intricate and sometimes unintelligible maze of public policy. “For so many clients, understanding and addressing the distinct nature of federal and state government, as well as their interconnectivity, can be crucial to business success,” said John Dunne, a former Republican state legislator and assistant U.S. attorney general who is now senior counsel to Whiteman Osterman & Hanna. Running the new business is Todd R. Howe, who was most recently a senior vice president for the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Previously, Howe worked for then-Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and served as deputy chief of staff to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under Gov. Cuomo’s son, Andrew. In addition, Howe served in the U.S. Labor Department during the Clinton administration. He also spent some time as vice president of Sawchuk, Brown Associates, an Albany public relations firm. Howe said he hopes to act as a bridge between client interests and government policies and regulations. “Washington impacts decisions in the business world daily, yet the executive and legislative branches of the federal government can be difficult to understand and navigate,” he said. Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, the largest law firm in Albany, lobbies for about 30 clients in New York state, including Worldcom Inc., the New York Stock Exchange, American Express and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Partner Richard E. Leckerling, who chairs the lobbying practice, said the new enterprise in Washington represents the firm’s commitment to expanding its “government relations practice group.” ‘GOVERNMENT RELATIONS’ Increasingly, lobbyists are describing their work as “government relations,” a term that perhaps more accurately describes the range of services Rappleyea provides in Albany and Whiteman Osterman & Hanna offers in Washington. Under that umbrella comes traditional lobbying, grassroots advocacy, polling and other activities associated with modern political campaigns. “The practice in D.C. of trying to combine lobbying with media, PR and grassroots is spreading to Albany,” said lobbyist Gene DeSantis of the Albany and Washington firm of Malkin & Ross. “In the old days, lobbying was pushing the right legislator’s button and having a pipeline to the leader. Now, people are realizing that maybe what you need to do is juice up the public at large and create a climate where your client’s issue or interest becomes paramount in the public’s eye. There is a real effort to reach out to the citizens at large.” David M. Grandeau, executive director of the Lobbying Commission, said there is no question that lobbyists are increasingly embracing the tactics of political consultants. “There used to be a pretty bright line between political campaigns and lobbying campaigns,” he said. “You had some crossover in funding, and some of the people who were top lobbyists were also involved in campaigns. But now, it seems lobbying campaigns are run like political campaigns with polling and all the other earmarks of political campaigning. The result is a lot more money is being spent on media.” Kenneth L. Shapiro, a lobbyist with Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, the major lobbying firm in Albany in terms of billings and a strong presence in Washington, said that while D.C. tactics may be increasingly employed in New York, there are critical differences between the two arenas. “The [Albany] arena is much smaller, so you are able to get to members more easily than you can in Washington,” said Shapiro, who served as chief counsel to three different speakers of the state Assembly before joining the ranks of lobbyists. “In Albany, there is the potential, depending on who you are, to get to the members,” he said. “It is much more difficult in Washington and you end up dealing with a lot more staff.” Whiteman Osterman is hoping that Howe is able to provide the insight and access into Washington politics that the firm already offers to New York politics, according to founding partner Michael Whiteman. “Since its founding … Whiteman Osterman & Hanna has specialized in representing public and private sector clients on matters of policy and advocacy at the state and local levels in New York,” he said, “and now we bring that same level of experience, integrity and knowledge to our nation’s capital.”

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