Friday, January 27, 2006

Roy Blunt, Lobbying "Corruption," and Air Pollution

There are two excellent stories this morning that I’d like to call to your attention – one in the Washington Post and the other in the Wall Street Journal – both on the link between key members of Congress and influential lobbyists who raise money for them.

I’d like to focus your attention, if I may, on the subject of the Journal story by Brody Mullins and the link to dirty air.

The Journal looks at one Gregg Hartley, former aide to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and now a lobbyist who also spends time as a fundraiser for Blunt. “Mr. Hartley is now assisting Mr. Blunt in his bid to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay as House majority leader,” the Journal notes.

What, you might ask, is the connection to air pollution?

Hartley’s connection to Blunt apparently became VERY useful several years ago when California set out to require lower-polluting lawnmowers. And the small-engine firm Briggs & Stratton (which has factories in Missouri) countered with a DC lobbying blitz against California.

You may recall the publicity when Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) tried on behalf of Briggs & Stratton to stop California from setting the tougher pollution standards. Bond initially blocked this in an appropriations bill.

Then a real brass-knuckle battle ensued behind the scenes: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, then brand new on the job, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) fought against Bond. And for a while it appeared as if they would prevail, as other key appropriators, including Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Jim Walsh (R-NY) sided against Bond.

But at the last minute, Blunt intervened, according to insiders. Behind closed doors, he demanded that Briggs & Stratton get a break. Blunt basically big-footed appropriators including Walsh, who were trying to assert the rights not only of California, but of other states to adopt the California standards.

In the end, Blunt prevailed, and an uncomfortable "compromise" was reached - California was given the right to move ahead with cleaner small-engine standards. But other states lost their legal right to adopt the California standards. EPA was directed to set tougher national standards - something that still hasn't happened because of continuing opposition by Briggs & Stratton. (Feinstein pointed this out last week in a letter to EPA.) That means we’re breathing extra smog in the summer when lawnmowers rev up.

One of Briggs & Stratton’s major lobbyists at the time was Cassidy & Associates, the firm Hartley joined in 2003. According to lobbying disclosure records, Hartley's firm received $620,000 from Briggs & Stratton for their services on this issue from mid-2003 through mid-2005. The second-half 2005 records have not yet been made public.

A couple of quick footnotes: Blunt is also a key player in some other environmental battles, including an effort by gas stations and the mini-mart lobby to restrict the rights of states to require cleaner fuels. (The mini-mart lobby, the National Association of Convenience Stores, is usually one of Blunt’s top campaign contributors.)

Briggs & Stratton had some other pretty skillful lobbyists during that round of the lawnmower battle. One of them, Granta Nakayama, was then with the firm Kirkland & Elllis. Last year Nakayama was made head of the U.S. EPA office of enforcement. More on Briggs & Stratton and its continuing lobbying campaign, as the year proceeds.

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