The Week In Abramoff

As the scandal continues to churn. . .

Last Tuesday the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent birthday wishes across the aisle to Jack Abramoff, who, according to horoscope.com, was “dreaming the hours away . . .

in a particularly sensitive mood and eager to get away from the harsh realities of life.” The Democrats issued a press release detailing what a fantasy birthday bash last year for Jack might have been like, one in which Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Bob Ney (R-Ohio), and Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) helped Abramoff party by letting him pick up the tab at Signatures, pay for golf excursions to Scotland, and hang out at his luxury skybox at the MCI Center.

No one can accuse the Dems of soft-pedaling the issue. Speaking of skyboxes, you may recall previous reports that Abramoff redirected funds donated by Russian clients for evangelical charities to pay for a suite at FedEx Field. Now the Boston Globe reports that Abramoff partnered with Russian energy company AO NaftaSib to explore for oil in Israel.

Ronald Platt, a lobbyist who worked with Abramoff, told the Globe that he was aware of the plan: “They supposedly had some kind of technology for determining oil and gas resources, they had discovered vast oil and gas deposits in the Israeli desert, and [Abramoff believed that] if these were exploited it would change the whole dynamic of the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, the barkers over at Judicial Watch sued the Secret Service for access to White House visitor logs to determine how many times lobbyists met with the president. So far, the White House has not revealed how many times Abramoff crossed the threshold at the executive mansion.

On Wednesday a status hearing for Abramoff cohort Michael Scanlon was unceremoniously canceled when both Scanlon’s lawyers and the Justice Department asked for a delay until June so Scanlon could give more dirt to prosecutors.

Finally, on Thursday, Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.) called for a special prosecutor to investigate Abramoff’s activities in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, which he represented and which somehow became popular destinations for lawmaker junkets. Surf’s up!

— Douglas McCollam




Power Surge

Hunton & Williams has energy to burn. Last week the firm added even more juice with the hiring of Mark Menezes, former chief counsel for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

He joins several other former energy experts from that committee now at the firm, including William Cooper, Sean Cunningham, Frederick Eames, and Joseph Stanko, who together make up the core of Hunton’s energy practice in Washington.

“It’s a chance to be reunited with some of my former colleagues,” says Menezes, who went to the Hill in 2003. There he oversaw the committee’s effort to rewrite the Clean Air Act and was instrumental in drafting the utility section of last year’s energy bill — a section that had been a stumbling block for the bill’s passage in the past.

He is no stranger, however, to the private sector. Menezes spent more than a decade as vice president in the Washington office of Central South West Corp., which later merged into American Electric Power.

— Anna Palmer and Emma Schwartz




Late Registration

When Rick Alcalde left the Federalist Group last April to start Potomac Partners, he signed up nine clients, six of whom followed him from his gig at Federalist. Why, then, was it only last month — nearly a year after starting work for his first clients — that Alcalde finally registered to lobby for them?

A phone call to Alcalde did little to clear that up. While happy to talk about his interesting group of clients, which include Station Casinos and the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Long Island, Alcalde became peeved when asked about the delay in filing registrations for them.

“You’re going to find some criticism in everything you do,” he said.

Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, lobbyists are required to register their clients with the House and the Senate within 45 days of being hired. Pressed further, Alcalde offered a variety of explanations.

“I didn’t incorporate my [firm's] name until later in the year” was his initial take. Then he added that he had incorporated a new business under a different name and didn’t want to have to re-register his clients. But Alcalde never registered clients under any name until Feb. 16.

He also cited the change in House rules, referring to the electronic-filing requirements for the House. But that change was only implemented last month and has no impact on registrations filed with the Senate. No midyear or year-end 2005 reports are on record with the Senate.

“I paid a professional to do my lobbying filing,” Alcalde said, declining to name that professional. “I feel like I’ve done everything that I’m required to,” he said, before adding that he regretted discussing the matter at all and hanging up.

Alcalde did manage to beat at least one deadline: Harsher penalties for late filings are, for the moment, still only proposals.

— Andy Metzger




Lab Work

It goes without saying that methamphetamine abuse is a big problem in the United States, but should that tie the hands of small stores that sell pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products like NyQuil and Sudafed, key ingredients used in the production of the addictive drug?

Not according to Walt Sanders of Sanders International Group, who has registered with the Senate to lobby for a variety of associations and companies, including the American Council on Regulatory Compliance, Fellows Inc., and Parris Manufacturing Co., that make and distribute over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

The associations objected to the Senate’s original anti-meth bill, sponsored by Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which sought to classify cold remedies as controlled substances that only pharmacists could distribute.

Sanders says that would hurt small stores that don’t have pharmacies. “You are cutting off a major market to a legitimate product,” he says.

Fortunately for Sanders, the House version, which has been folded into the USA Patriot Act, places only “reasonable restrictions” on small stores.

Sanders supports the bill, noting that small drugstores can accept restrictions such as placing cold products behind the counter and limiting the amount of medicine legitimate customers may purchase.

— Joe Crea




Barnes’ Disability Act

Looks like Barnes & Thornburg will be taking an active role in shaping new guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The comment period for the rules changes ended last May, and lobbyists say Justice plans to have the proposed rules out by July. Barnes has registered to lobby on the rules for a panoply of associations, including the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The groups want to set up meetings with various regulatory agencies. An advisory board within Justice has the authority to set standards for access to public spaces for the disabled.

“It could result in retrofitting of certain spaces, widening of aisles, changes to front doors and parking spaces,” says Paul Kelly, senior vice president of federal and state government affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Of concern to Mike Williams, the director of the outdoor power equipment programs for the North American Equipment Dealers Association, are possible changes to the number of handicapped-accessible doors businesses must have.

“It’s different if you are a hotel or motel,” says Williams, “but for some of our dealers and smaller dealers it could be a problem.”

— Joe Crea




Healthy Growth

Linda Tarplin, Raissa Downs, and Jennifer Young opened their three-woman health care shop, Tarplin, Downs & Young, only two months ago, but it can already boast one of the most impressive client lists of any health care practice in town.

Last week the all-Republican firm registered its first nine clients, including more than a few blue chip players. The Biotechnology Industry Organization, Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association, Wellpoint, the Healthcare Distribution Management Association, and BioGen IDEC all followed Tarplin from her former practice at the OB-C Group.

The new registrations should cover some of the firm’s startup costs; Tarplin’s OB-C clients paid that firm $580,000 during the first half of 2005, the most recent period for which complete records are available. But the firm’s clients aren’t all carry-overs.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, AstraZeneca, Wyeth, and American HomePatient, an in-home health care service, are also signed up. But the firm may have to slow its pace. “We will be adding more clients, but one of our partners is having a baby,” says Young, referring to Downs.

— Andy Metzger




Clean Airwaves

For the first time in its 60-year history, the National Religious Broadcasters has opened up an office on Capitol Hill.

Frank Wright, president of the Manassas, Va.-based association that represents Christian broadcasters, says on his legislative radar this year is stopping hate crimes legislation, which, as Wright puts it, “has enormous implications for religious broadcasters.”

While blocking the measure might prove difficult — there are 65 votes in the Senate in favor of the legislation — Wright will at least seek an exemption for religious entities and use the opportunity to lobby members on the bill’s implications.

“We still think it’s bad law,” Wright says. “If I don’t like you, I have not broken a law until I punch you in the nose.”

The concern for Wright and his association is that biblical passages that condemn homosexuality could legally be interpreted as “hate” speech. He says that in Canada, religious broadcasters can’t read on the air certain portions of the Bible that denounce homosexuality.

Wright says the association will add four or five full-time staffers in the D.C. office by the end of next year.

— Joe Crea