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Many lobbyists come to the job after interning in politics

Posted: Monday, January 29, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Thyes Shaub's job as one of the best-paid woman lobbyists in Alaska means more than winning over clients, staying on top of issues and overcoming gender barriers.

It also means fielding hurtful jabs that occasionally reach her dining room table.

''My daughter came home from school one day and said she had told some friends that I was a lobbyist,'' said Shaub, a 50-year-old mother of two who represents a handful of timber, banking, business and tourism interests.

''One kid said, 'How does it feel to have a mother who lies for a living?' '' Shaub recalled her daughter saying. ''It's so odd that some people have that impression.''

Fair or not, lobbyists are largely stuck with the reputation of being slick talkers who seal deals in smoky bars with a wink and a nod, and maybe a hand in filling campaign war chests.

But despite the negative image, this profession as old as government itself is flourishing, even as disclosure laws and campaign finance limits try to reign it in. And for a dozen or so professionals who hold some of the most coveted contracts, professional influence peddling means big bucks.

Lobbyists are required to report their earnings. Though the 2000 figures won't be available until March, the 1999 figures show that Joe Hayes, the highest-paid Alaska lobbyist that year, earned $720,716 from his 15 clients, which included the city of Nome, World Net Communications, Cornell Corrections, and a batch of oil and gas companies.

And if the steady increase in money spent on lobbyists is any indication, the people writing the checks believe having someone in Juneau to push or protect their positions is worth every penny. The top-paid lobbyist in 1989 was Sam Kito Jr., who earned $327,655.

In Alaska, at least, the image of lobbyists as fast-talking Type A personalities stuffed into rumpled suits and sporting gold chains and overflowing wallets appears to be fading.

A visitor to the Capitol would be hard-pressed to find a lobbyist escorting a lawmaker down the hallway while whispering in his or her ear, an arm draped over the legislator's shoulders and a cigar propped between fingers adorned with large, shiny rings.

''In the older days with Alex Miller, there was a different group, what were called 'juice lobbyists,' who had muscle for getting things done,'' recalled longtime lobbyist Ed Dankworth of Anchorage.

Miller, who carried an unlit cigar in his teeth and called everyone ''kid,'' died in 1998. For more than two generations, he was a fixture at the Capitol who flaunted his behind-the-scenes influence.

A Miller contemporary, lobbyist Lew Dischner, helped fuel the distrust of lobbyists and their relationships with lawmakers after a famous scandal.

A lobbyist for the North Slope Borough, he was convicted of bribing former borough officials with gifts and trips and then using their influence over borough contracts to win kickbacks from businesses.

In 1989, Dischner was sentenced to seven years for being found guilty of more than 20 felony counts of extortion, racketeering, and mail and wire fraud.

''But the days of backroom deal making are over,'' claims Ashley Reed, a ''Top 10'' lobbyist known as much for his art of persuasion as for his physical size.

''When I first started, this was a different town,'' said Reed, who brought in almost $520,000 in 1999 for protecting the interests of his oil and gas clients, World Net Communications and the North Slope Borough, among others.

Years ago, a popular downtown hotel used to host a rock 'n' roll band seven nights a week, Reed recalled with a smile. ''They were wild nights, till 2 a.m.,'' he said. It was a meeting place for lobbyists and lawmakers, he said. An informal setting for formal decisions.

''It gets calmer every year,'' he said, seeming to lament the change.

Lobbyists play an important role in making sure legislators have the information they need, Reed said.

''Lawmakers are taxed,'' he said. ''They're expected to fix something, but they can't be experts on everything.

''I don't know a lot about one thing. I know a little about a lot of things,'' he explained.

''You have to have an understanding of the subject. Then you lay out a scenario to the lawmaker, how it would be politically advantageous to do something.''

Having a background in politics helps, he said.

A look at the top lobbyist suggests that's true: No. 1 Hayes is a former House Speaker; Dankworth served in both the House and Senate; Reed was Gov. Bill Sheffield's campaign manager; both Kent Dawson and Jerry Reinwand, No. 2 and No. 8 respectively, worked as Gov. Jay Hammond's chief of staff.

Kim Hutchinson, however, started out with Dischner. This 51-year-old lobbyist has spent the past 25 years trying to influence the Alaska Legislature and in 1999 earned $458,499 for his efforts.

''In the end, it's spending time with these people and understanding what drives them,'' Hutchinson said. He keeps a low profile, nearly to the point of being elusive.

''I try not to bother people,'' said Hutchinson, seated recently in a restaurant wearing his standard dress: black baseball cap, black polo shirt and wire-rim glasses. ''I don't know that standing in the hall is going to make people like you.''

Plus, Hutchinson revealed, it's best to wait until the final 10 days of the session to take your best shots.

Sam Kito Jr., who earned $576,254 in 1999 for a dozen clients, said he too stays out of the way.

''As issues get more complicated,'' 63-year-old Kito added, ''you spend more time and the staff gets more involved in the legislative process.''

Lobbyists like to say, and lawmakers agree, that their main value is to provide information. But a lobbyist's word has to be solid, said House Speaker Brian Porter. If they lie, even through omission, they may as well catch the next plane out of town.

''When you're looking at the attributes of an effective lobbyist, there are four things, and the first three are honesty, honesty and honesty,'' said Porter, R-Anchorage. The fourth area includes personality and tact, among other things.

But there are tricks to this trade, and some are downright sneaky.

One tactic is slipping, at the last possible moment, amendments into must-have bills.

Another is to track potentially damaging legislation and drop in a bomb if it makes it too far.

''To kill a bill, all you have to do is put in something that's unconstitutional,'' Reed said.

''I always lobbied to kill bills,'' Dankworth said.

Some companies hire lobbyists simply to make sure nothing happens, Reed said.

''The big clients just want to maintain the status quo,'' he said. ''The bigger the client, the more they'll pay, the less they want. The smaller the client, the less they'll pay and the more they'll want.''

Dankworth, a former powerful Veco lobbyist who has slowly pulled back from this type of work, said part of a lobbyist's job involves setting the stage for success. In other words, stacking the deck in your favor.

Lobbyists have to do their homework, Dankworth said, and that includes ''helping people get elected who philosophically believe in your views.''

For years, big guns like Dischner and Dankworth raised thousands of dollars for candidates. A campaign finance reform that went into effect in 1997 allows registered lobbyists to give only to candidates running in their home districts.

''There's a perception that lobbyists go down there and buy the legislators,'' Dankworth said. ''That's not true. The real reason is to educate the legislators.''

There's pleasure in that part of the job, Shaub said.

''It's nice to take someone out to dinner and to talk in a relaxed way,'' she said. ''I'm a social person. A lot of this is just about human relationships.''



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