A pair of senior Hill aides at the center of a brewing battle between Hollywood and Silicon Valley are packing their bags for K Street, where they’ll work for two of the entertainment lobby shops trying to influence their former bosses and colleagues in Congress on the very same issue.
Allison Halataei, former deputy chief of staff and parliamentarian to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and Lauren Pastarnack, a Republican who has served as a senior aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee, worked on online piracy bills that would push Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook to shut down websites that offer illegal copies of blockbuster films and chart-topping songs.
Halataei recently joined the National Music Publishers’ Association, and Pastarnack is jumping to the Motion Pictures Association of America, two lobbying groups pressing Congress to pass the proposals.
The departures are a classic example of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and downtown, where the private sector lures well-connected staffers just as a high-stakes legislative battle heats up. The goal is straightforward: leverage the insight, connections and expertise of an insider to tip the scales in their favor.
“This is one of those mega-fights where there is a lot of money at stake and whenever it gets to that, it’s kind of ‘Katy bar the door’ as far as what they’ll pay for talent,” said McCormick Group headhunter Ivan Adler. “This fits into the perfect scenario of why senior-level people from well-placed committees get hired, and it’s because they really know the three p’s: people, policy and process. And that makes them very valuable in the Washington marketplace.”
NMPA President David Israelite dismissed the idea that Halataei was hired because of the ongoing legislative battle.
“It has nothing to do with pending legislation,” Israelite said. Allison “knows our issues, has really good relationships across the aisle and is a very smart lawyer.”
Further, Israelite said, hiring Halataei would be “nothing but hurtful to our effort” and cited Smith’s support since he introduced the House version of the piracy bill. Smith’s committee is slated to mark up the bill as early as next week.
MPAA spokesman Howard Gantman declined to comment, and Pastarnack did not respond to a request for comment.
One former GOP aide who works on these issues, Carl Thorsen, said departures like this can actually help the process.
“Professionals who bring this kind of experience with them downtown generally improve the process all around, and their involvement is a positive regardless of who they represent,” said Thorsen, who is a contract lobbyist for NMPA through his firm Thorsen French Advocacy. “Alli Halataei and Lauren Pastarnack are both savvy and well-regarded professionals, and I am thrilled they will be involved in the debate surrounding these important issues.”
Indeed, the hires are just part of the associations’ strategy to influence the online piracy legislation. The music publishers are set to beat their lobbying spending from last year. The publishers spent $620,000 during the first nine months of 2011, according to disclosure reports. That’s up from $420,000 over the same period in 2010. For its part, the MPAA brought on former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who has almost completely revamped the trade group, making significant personnel changes. MPAA spent about $1.3 million on lobbying during the first nine months of 2011.
The new hires will be integral to the groups’ lobbying operations. As vice president for government affairs, Halataei is NMPA’s chief liaison to Capitol Hill and federal agencies on behalf of the music publishing and songwriting industry. Pastarnack will be director of government relations at MPAA.
The former aides will face one-year lobbying bans, which means they cannot lobby the respective committees where they previously worked. But those bans don’t render the former aides useless to their new employers.
“They can provide invaluable insight to people on the outside — even in the consultation mode,” one tech industry lobbyist said, noting that Halataei had been Smith’s secondhand person and knows how the Texas Republican thinks and what would be an effective lobbying strategy.
Additionally, the Senate and House panels work closely together, and both Halataei and Pastarnack have ties to staffers in the chambers they didn’t serve in and aren’t banned from lobbying.
And while music publishers and the movie industry would like swift passage of the legislation, it probably will be a multiyear effort. Patent reform legislation, another effort shepherded by Smith and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), took six years to get across the finish line.
Halatei and Pastarnack are just the most recent examples of senior staffers headed to an industry in the middle of a legislative brawl.
In 2009, Michael Paese, former top aide to then-House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), created a stir when he joined Goldman Sachs as head of its lobbying office. Frank, who was trying to pass a massive banking regulatory overhaul, took the extra measure of extending Paese’s cooling-off period. Frank issued a memo that barred Democratic members of the panel from communicating with Paese until the end of the congressional term in 2010.
And while the departures are completely legal, congressional watchdogs like Craig Holman of Public Citizen don’t like it.
“This is very much a troubling aspect of the influence-peddling industry and unfortunately, it is the way business is done,” Holman said. “This is the revolving-door abuse in which those who have a great deal of money can afford to hire senior staffers or even former members of Congress to do their bidding for them in the private sector as lobbyists.”
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