- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Hard on the palette

The Palette Restaurant in the old Madison Hotel on 15th Street Northwest, dubs itself as Washington’s elegant restaurant-cum-art gallery. They’re not kidding.

No sooner yesterday did we read New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd rip into New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for not being “angry enough” about everything from the war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina to President Bush’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution,” than we glanced up from our Palette two-top table to behold a most unappealing acrylic abstract nailed to the wall.

Created by Washington lobbyist and artist Dan Berger, the work is titled: “Is Maureen Dowd Necessary?”

The artist, no doubt, was inspired by the outspoken columnist’s recent book, “Are Men Necessary?”

The social king

And how does King Abdullah II of Jordan spend his downtime when otherwise not meeting twice this week with President Bush and attending a White House dinner in his honor?

He doesn’t do what other tourists do, that’s for sure.

Rather, he enjoys frequenting the Safeway supermarket in Georgetown, nicknamed by locals the “Social Safeway.”

During one previous trip to Washington, we kid you not, the young king was actually spotted pushing a grocery cart down Safeway’s aisles — loaded to capacity with what one stunned witness described as “junk food.”

“He likes to walk around. He’s very modest and a people’s person,” one of the king’s men (actually a woman) told Inside the Beltway yesterday. “He went to Safeway this past weekend and walked around the Georgetown Mall.”

PR hangar

Did we hear correctly that Linda Roth Associates LLC, one of the leading public relations and promotions firms in the nation’s capital, has moved its offices into an airplane hangar at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport?

“Our business is really taking off, so what better place to be,” Mrs. Roth Conte, the firm’s president, tells Inside the Beltway. “We’ve been excited to get in here for a long time. It’s a wonderful space, although it’s something that’s not really open to the public.”

It’s federal property, in fact. A longtime aviation client of the firm’s, it turns out, also located in what is called Hangar 11, pulled some strings with Uncle Sam, who was happy to have the PR folks fill the vacant space.

“We had to take a test, go through security checks. This is obviously a high-security area — so we’re conforming to new rules and regulations,” says Mrs. Roth Conte. (She’d better not tell the Transportation Security Administration that one of her clients is the National Rifle Association.)

We’ll let you know when the PR mogul gets her pilot’s license and parks an airplane outside her door.

Who should pay?

As far as one congressman is concerned, one bad apple — read, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff — shouldn’t spoil the barrel.

As everybody knows by now, lawmakers and lobbyists from K Street to Kalamazoo are busy drafting lobbying-ethics legislation — proposals ranging from full lobbyist disclosure, to requiring members to pay when traveling on corporate jets, and a ban on gifts and free meals.

Hold your horses, says Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican.

“First of all, I am concerned about a possible ban on all privately funded travel,” he writes in a letter sent to Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee. “If private organizations are not allowed to pay for fact-finding travel, it will mean that taxpayer-funded travel will take its place, resulting in more government spending.”

The congressman makes a good point.

In other words, should American taxpayers start forking over hard-earned dollars to pay, let’s say, for a lawmaker to fly to Texas? Or should the Exxon Mobil Corp., which need we remind you just posted a record profit of $36 billion in 2005, pick up the tab?

“I also believe that banning lobbyists and others from providing food or buying meals is shortsighted, at best,” says Mr. King. “The idea that a member would trade their vote for a meal is ridiculous and the debate itself demeans us all.”

While the congressman does back some much-needed lobbying reform, he wants Mr. Dreier and the rest of Congress to start enforcing the lobbyist rules already on the books.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected].

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