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‘Rainmaker’ leaves PAC

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES The custodian of the Democratic Freshmen political action committee has stepped down after calls for his resignation from a House Democrat concerned about his history as a registered lobbyist.

Rep. Jerry McNerney of California, one of 41 freshman Democrats elected in November's Congress-turning victory for their party, wrote a June 12 letter calling for the removal of William C. Oldaker, a longtime Washington lobbyist with ties to several Democratic lawmakers.

"While Mr. Oldaker's involvement with the Democratic Freshmen PAC may technically be legal, it surely does not meet the standard of rising above any hint of impropriety," Mr. McNerney wrote.

"Though I am in no position to control the Democratic Freshmen PAC's activities, I believe that lobbyists should not be attached to political committees," he wrote after a report in The Washington Times on the longtime Washington lobbyist's involvement with the political action committee.

Mr. Oldaker had previously been singled out as a "rainmaker" by government watchdog groups for his history of working with high-profile interest groups and organizations.

A political action committee is a private group that organizes and raises funds to elect or defeat lawmakers and or legislation.

However, Mr. McNerney, who won his congressional seat largely on a platform of promising to end political corruption in Washington, has said he will accept money from the PAC despite his letter calling for Mr. Oldaker's ouster.

Mr. Oldaker stepped down Thursday as the PAC's custodian, a post the Federal Election Commission says normally includes custody of a PAC's financial records.

Mr. McNerney said he was satisfied by the move.

"The letter was sent specifically to the Democratic Freshmen PAC about Mr. Oldaker," he said. "I'm pleased that Mr. Oldaker has stepped down, and that resolves the issue for me."

The PAC's treasurer, James Smith, also a registered lobbyist, will reportedly retain his position. Mr. Smith did not return a request for comment yesterday.

The law firm of Perkins Coie, which serves as counsel to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has reportedly replaced Mr. Oldaker's services. Mr. Oldaker also did not return requests for comment yesterday.

A 2005 report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), questioned whether Mr. Oldaker used his fundraising connections to gain influence with congressional lawmakers. Mr. Oldaker has previously overseen the leadership PACs of such high-ranking Democrats as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana.

However, Mr. Kennedy and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota both removed Mr. Oldaker from their PACs after the CPI published its report. Shortly thereafter, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas also removed Mr. Oldaker from his position as treasurer of her PAC.

Mr. Oldaker stepped down as treasurer of Mr. Reid's leadership PAC in early 2006, because the Nevada Democrat wanted to avoid having a registered lobbyist simultaneously serving in the capacity as his PAC treasurer. However, Mr. Oldaker remains an unpaid, "trusted adviser" to the PAC, according to Mr. Reid's office.

"Instead of waiting for newspapers to expose his involvement with PACs, he shouldn't have been hired in the first place," said Naomi Seligman Steiner, spokeswoman for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

The Democratic Freshmen PAC has come under repeated scrutiny from the Majority Accountability Project, an online publication formed by two former National Republican Congressional Committee staffers.

Earlier this month, the site's authors reported that the PAC was using the official congressional photographs of 22 House freshman lawmakers on its Web site. House rules prohibit the use of official resources for political and fundraising activities.