MAC: Mines and Communities

Ex-staffers Return To Hill To Lobby On Asbestos Fund

Published by MAC on 2006-02-07
Source: The Hill ()

Ex-staffers return to Hill to lobby on asbestos fund

by Elana Schor, The Hill

7th February 2006

The Senate's long war over the proposed asbestos-litigation trust fund has given the lobbying industry its biggest contracts and busiest revolving door, bringing a virtual army of ex-leadership aides back to their former bosses' doorsteps.

The Fortune 500 corporations designated in the trust-fund bill's second tier, reserved for companies estimating more than $75 million in liability to injured workers, have dispatched more than 20 outside firms to promote the bill in addition to their in-house lobbying operations and the efforts of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Despite the overwhelming amount of time and money invested, however, the bill's fate is uncertain at best.

The biggest individual asbestos lobbying contract belongs to Mark Tipps, former chief of staff and longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Tipps was hired by Akin Gump to help manage its asbestos windfall, which includes $2.5 million in lobbying payments from one defendant corporation - Dow Chemical - as well as millions more from other defendants.

Tipps received close to $1.5 million for two years of work predominantly on asbestos, though lobbyists closely tracking the bill said he has not been active on the issue in recent months. Akin Gump partner Joel Jankowsky said the firm turned to Tipps because of his extensive courtroom experience.

"Our relationship with him was pretty long-standing, so when the asbestos thing came up, we turned to him because we knew him. He is a litigator and has experience on this stuff, and of course he knows Frist." said Jankowsky, who has been a leader in the firm's trust-fund work along with Smith W. Davis, a veteran of the office of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).

The second-biggest individual asbestos contract went to Francine Rabinovitz, a California-based lawyer and frequent expert witness at asbestos bankruptcy trials. Dow Chemical has doled out $1.14 million to Rabinovitz since mid-2003.

The most active pro-trust-fund lobbying firm, however, is the Democratic shop Swidler Berlin, which has made more than $23 million representing the Asbestos Study Group (ASG), a business-backed coalition famous for its asbestos ad blitzes. Swidler Berlin's asbestos point men are Thurgood Marshall Jr., a former Senate leadership and Clinton White House staffer, and Brian Fitzgerald, a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The ASG has collected its share of GOP lobbyists as well, including a $680,000 contract with the now-defunct Alexander Strategy Group, which was forced to close its doors last month because of its entanglement with the ongoing criminal investigation into disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Asbestos Alliance, an offshoot of NAM that uses Timmons & Co. for its lobbying activities, has added to ASG's efforts. Timmons's top asbestos lobbyist is Larry Harlow, an experienced Republican hand, but its team also includes former Democratic Senate aide Rich Tarplin.

On the opposite side of the table, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) has assembled a Democratic-lobbying dream team to help kill the bill. Patton Boggs's ATLA lobbyists have raked in more than $4 million since 2003 working on asbestos in addition to other class-action and tort-reform issues.

Patton Boggs's top ATLA lobbyists include Jonathan Yarowsky, a Clinton White House adviser who spent five years as the Senate Judiciary Committee's general counsel and leadership liaison, and Karen Marangi, a former Judiciary Committee counsel to ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (Vt.).

ATLA did not return a call for comment.

Trial-law interests also have signed up their share of ex-aides to former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who engaged Frist in negotiations on the asbestos trust fund but ultimately could not reach a compromise. Andrea LaRue of the Nueva Vista Group, one of ATLA's most active asbestos lobbyists, is a former Daschle counsel and Democratic leadership liaison, and asbestos plaintiffs have also signed up ex-Daschle aides Rita Lewis and Richard Sullivan at the Washington Group.

The Coalition for Asbestos Reform, a group of smaller businesses that object to the asbestos bill's trust fund contribution formula, late last year assembled a bipartisan lobbying team of its own at Fleishman-Hillard. Paul Sweet, a former chief of staff to ex-Rep. Vic Fazio (R-Calif.) and John McCamman, a former chief of staff to Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.), are the Coalition's Senate lobbyists.

Labor unions, usually a reliable Democratic constituency, are split between opponents that characterize the bill as a giveaway to employers and groups such as the United Auto Workers, which has thrown its million-dollar lobbying budget behind the bill in an effort to guarantee some compensation for workers sickened by asbestos.

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