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Ebola Gold Rush for Lobbyists

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    A News4 I-Team review found a $400,000 boom in the lobbying business related to the Ebola virus. Scott MacFarlane reports. (Published Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014)

    The Ebola threat triggered a wave of business for Washington, D.C.-based government lobbyists, according to a review by the News4 I-Team.

    More than a dozen pharmaceutical companies and health organizations have registered to formally lobby the federal government about Ebola-related issues since July. In all those companies have committed to spend about $400,000 in doing so, the I-Team reports.

    Lobbying disclosure records, filed by organizations and lobbying firms with the U.S. House of Representatives, show a series of recent filings on behalf of smaller, lesser-known biotech and pharmaceutical companies involved in Ebola-related research.

    D.C.-based lobbying giant Greenberg Traurig submitted official paperwork Oct. 20 to represent Alaska Structures, a manufacturing company that promotes its production of shelters used by the military “to stop the spread of the Ebola outbreak” in Liberia. The paperwork, reviewed by the I-Team, shows the firm generated $40,000 in income between July and September while representing Alaska Structures before Congress, a State Department agency and the U.S. Department of Defense.

    BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, a North Carolina-based company which was recently awarded federal funding to research Ebola treatments, secured the services of Bay Bridge Strategies, to lobby on its behalf on “Ebola response” before Congress. The official filing by Bay Bridge Strategies indicates the firm generated $40,000 in income from its work for BioCryst between July and September.

    The I-Team’s review also found recent lobbying arrangements, specifying Ebola as an issue for advocacy, made by:

    • Zimek LLC, a Florida company that produces disinfectant technology.
    • Welch Allyn, a medical equipment manufacturer.
    • Cerus Corporation, a California-based producer of an anti-viral blood treatment for Ebola victims.

    Dave Levinthal, a Washington-based lobbying analyst and scholar with the Center for Public Integrity, said national emergencies often trigger a flurry of lobbying activity on Washington, D.C.’s K Street, the legendary fulcrum of the lobbying industry. “You need somebody good on K Street,” Levinthal said. “If you don't have somebody good on K Street, you put yourself in peril.”

    The I-Team’s review found approximately $400,000 in lobbying expenses combined by companies or firms specifically seeking lobbying assistance on Ebola issues.

    The review also found a recent filing by Genalyte, a San Diego company seeking FDA approval of an Ebola blood test. The company’s lobbyist, D.C.-based Mercury LLC, didn’t specify Ebola in its official paperwork. But the filings show the company has sought the services of Mercury’s Vin Weber, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. A spokeswoman for Mercury told the I-Team, “We are working to help a young start-up with a fast, affordable and scalable Ebola detection platform connect with the right government officials to help combat Ebola in the United States and abroad. There is real convergence of interests between policymakers and the private sector around addressing this shared challenge. Now is not the time to divert attention to Beltway business.”

    A spokeswoman for the D.C.-based Dentons firm, which is lobbying on behalf of Zimek, said it began working for the company in September. The spokeswoman told the I-Team, “In light of the immediate health concerns, Zimek, like other leading health and technologically focused companies, is committed to helping governments, health care providers and those impacted by the disease in any evolving public health emergency.”

    Greenberg Traurig spokeswoman Nancy Taylor said her firm often advocates in front of federal government agencies on healthcare issues. “One of our greatest resources is our bench strength of former members of Congress, congressional staffers and administration officials who have had direct experience in working with and for the committees and agencies that have jurisdiction over these issues,” Taylor said. “Knowing how these federal offices interact, which agencies own which issues, and understanding their competing priorities allows us to advise our clients.”

    Mike Lofgren, a 28-year congressional staffer and author of “The Party Is Over,” a book detailing the mechanics of the federal government, said the lobbying surge is not surprising. “It’s precisely how homeland security (firms) got involved with lobbying after the 9/11 attacks,” Lofgren said. “It’s based on the same thing – fear of terrorism and fear of an infectious disease. (The companies) are now gearing up.”