A lineup of lobbyists

Part two – Analysis

Editors’note: This is the second in a three-part series on lobbyists in Indian country.

WASHINGTON – Each lobbyist described below shared some or all of the top lobbyist traits identified by Indian Country Today’s Capitol Hill sources. All of them are based in or around Washington.

These sources put Wilson Pipestem and his Ietan Consulting group, including John Harte and Larry Rosenthal, at the peak of Indian-issue lobbyists in Washington. Pipestem showed why in a recent D.C. meeting. Following a first-rate tribal presentation that put a great deal of information on the table, Pipestem unassumingly closed in on the one difference that made all the difference, mentioned it briefly and let the discussion roll on without him. He even hoped to attribute the comment to someone else afterward – going by the code engrained in all the top lobbyists: put the client first. Ietan is allied with one of the most profitable lobbying firms in Washington, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Right in Pipestem’s neighborhood is Phil Baker-Shenk, with Holland & Knight. He strikes ICT’s Capitol Hill sources as the ultimate professional, a status long in the making. Some dozen years ago, the talk around Washington was of the many unshaved youngsters showing up as staff members on Capitol Hill. The subtext was that congressional members had a lot of gall, putting kids up front on the Native issues of the day.

About this time, two amateur lobbyists decided they would have a go at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on one subject or another. They met with Baker-Shenk, McCain’s man in governmental affairs at the time, and came away thinking maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to talk with kids – maybe you could capitalize on their susceptibility in a way you never would with Baker-Shenk.

He has continued to build his reputation as a firm, effectual, cooperative, knowledgeable, no-nonsense lobbyist. Holland & Knight has other notable lobbyists in Native affairs, including Gary Sikorski, Shenan Atcitty and Aurene Martin. Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell brings access and prestige to an already stellar crew.

Jana McKeag brings enormous credibility to her lobbying, as her active role in Native affairs stretches back to the occupation of Alcatraz Island during the Nixon administration. She doesn’t seek a huge stable of clients; but if she’s at work on an issue, she’ll know it cold.

Tom Rodgers of Carlyle Consulting is known as a hard worker and a good organizer who takes the lead on his clients’ issues. He has a great knowledge of the Senate and good communication skills. His “Indians first” attitude has led him to really get after groups he considers anti-Indian.

Paul Moorehead’s background is a huge plus for his clients as he comes off eight years as chief counsel at the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and, before that, a tenure as the head of legislative affairs with the National Congress of American Indians. The experience and connections of those years combine with all the qualities of the top lobbyists. Moorehead teams with a Tribal Practice Group at the firm Gardner Carton & Douglas that includes Kevin Wadzinski, Brian Gunn and Virginia “Ginny” Boylan.

Another member of the Gardner Carton & Douglas Tribal Practice Group gets special mention from ICT’s Capitol Hill sources on Indian-issue lobbyists. Though her specialty precludes actual fame, Kathleen Nilles is known far and wide among the knowing as a foremost expert on tribal tax issues. She’s a thorough professional and a past master of her complex subject matter.

At Pace-Capstone, Scott Dacey and Jim Wise make a good Republican/Democrat tandem. Wise, an old hand at government, has all the virtues of the best professional lobbyists, along with good contacts among Democrats and a nonpartisan style in deploying them. Dacey is the Republican, with contacts going back to his time on the National Indian Gaming Commission. Unlike many of the people mentioned in this review, Dacey didn’t learn the ropes from within Capitol Hill. But through hard work, he’s mastered them all the same.

Patricia Zell, of Zell & Cox Law, can get a meeting just about anywhere in Washington on the strength of her long association with Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. The assumption is that they still talk to one another and that Zell’s opinions still carry weight with a senator who is legendary in Native affairs. In her own right, Zell is considered tack-sharp on Indian issues and exceptionally well-informed when it comes to Indian law. Her background with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, where she served as chief counsel, led Zell to lobby primarily in the Senate. Her husband and business partner, Mike Cox, is also an attorney, also with an extensive experience of Indian country.

ICT sources mentioned a number of other Indian-issue lobbyists among their varsity cut, including John Guzik of Franklin Partnership; Mary Pavel with Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry; Gregory Smith of Johnstone & Associates; Christopher Boesen of Tiber Creek Associates of Capitol Hill (mainly on housing); Jack Trope of the Association on American Indian Affairs (mainly dealing in cultural issues); George Waters of his namesake consulting service (mainly on natural resource issues); and Carol Barbero of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker (mainly on Indian education issues).

Several names belong on the list by all criteria of talent, but remain in a kind of limbo due to scandal. ICT’s sources consider them wronged men with a lot to offer Indian country as lobbyists if they can put the whiff of scandal behind them.

<i>Continued in part three