Friday, February 24, 2006

Role of Sen. Elizabeth Dole's Husband, former Sen. Robert Dole, at Issue
Role of Sen. Dole's Husband at Issue
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer

The lobbying of former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole on behalf of the Dubai-owned company set to take over management of terminals at six major U.S. seaports is creating a political problem for his wife, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).

The chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Jerry Meek, yesterday called on Sen. Dole to remove herself from "any congressional oversight" of the Dubai port deal. "The fact that Dubai is paying her husband to help pass the deal presents both a financial and ethical conflict of interest for Senator Dole," Meek said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Dole rejected the criticism as "a partisan attack" and defended the senator's role as a lawmaker and her husband's as a lobbyist.

"Elizabeth Dole knows that her work is separate from Bob Dole," said her spokeswoman, Lindsay Taylor Mabry. "Bob Dole works for a law firm. Elizabeth Dole works for the people of North Carolina."

Former senator Dole (R-Kan.), 82, said in a written statement yesterday that he is not going to lobby his wife or members of Congress. His law firm, Alston & Bird LLP, helped steer the application of Dubai Ports World through the federal bureaucracy over the past few months, and Dole signed on as a lobbyist for the company this week. His spokesman would not say what lobbying, if any, Alston & Bird is now doing in Congress; the firm's spokeswoman did not return telephone messages.

Dubai Ports World beefed up its lobbying efforts, including on Capitol Hill, after lawmakers threatened this week to scuttle the transaction. The lawmakers said they feared that national security might be compromised by letting a Middle Eastern firm manage key U.S. ports.

Dole's statement said he will confine his lobbying to the Bush administration. "I have not nor will I 'lobby' Members of Congress on this issue, not even at home," he wrote. "I have not discussed the port issue with any Senator or member of Congress or anyone working for the Congress, nor will I do so in the months to come."

The controversy confronting the Doles is an increasingly common one in Washington. According to Public Citizen's Congress Watch, at least three dozen members of Congress have relatives who are professional lobbyists.

Congress Watch and other watchdog groups have loudly criticized the growing trend. "What better way to buy access to a lawmaker than to hire the lawmaker's son, daughter or spouse as their lobbyist on a lucrative retainer?" said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Congress Watch.

Some of Congress's most prominent members have relatives on K Street. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has a son, Josh Hastert, who works as a lobbyist for PodestaMattoon. The son of former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Chester Trent Lott Jr., lobbies for the Livingston Group. A son-in-law of Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is a lobbyist, as are the wives of both Democratic senators from North Dakota -- one for professional baseball, the other for insurance companies.

In addition, sons of two senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), are lobbyists. The father of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), former senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), lobbies, as does the wife of House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Blunt's connection to Altria Group Inc., the tobacco and consumer products company that his wife works for, was an issue in his unsuccessful bid to become majority leader.

Lawmakers defend their connections with lobbyists as just another byproduct of the modern world in which spouses are often professionals, as are their children.

Lawmakers also state that their lobbyist relatives do not lobby them personally.

Blunt's wife does not lobby the House of Representatives, a Blunt spokeswoman said. Hastert's son refrains from lobbying the House Republican leadership. Amid news media scrutiny a few years ago, Reid imposed a prohibition against any lobbying in his office by relatives.

Still, the issue remains sensitive. Various proposals to change lobbying laws amid the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal have included bans on lobbying by relatives of lawmakers.