Chairman Billy Tauzin: Bell Ringer - Page 5

— Bayou Style">

Connected — Bayou Style

Still, the seemingly incestuous connections that might raise eyebrows outside of Louisiana run deep with Tauzin.

In 1999, BellSouths Abbott endorsed Billy Tauzin III for a job as one of the state external and regulatory affairs officers in Louisiana. Those who know the younger Tauzin say he has a sound political sense, learned from his father. He earlier sold cell phones for Bell Atlantic in Washington.

The younger Tauzin said his appointment was "very forthright and well-publicized in Louisiana." While he lobbies the state legislature, where his father got his political start, he insisted, "I never talk to my father about telecommunications."

Until recently, Tauzins daughter, Kimberly, was a lobbyist for the NAB, another powerful entity that courted favor with Tauzin and made sizable campaign contributions to Tauzin while he was chairman of the House Telecommunications subcommittee.

Other ties abound. His former chief of staff, Wallace Henderson, came to Tauzins office in the early 1980s from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association — which recently changed its name to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association — and is now a lobbyist for the Bell-dominated USTA.

It was Henderson who originally steered Tauzin toward telecommunications when he first came to Congress. Tauzin said a visit to one of the first satellite TV conventions in Omaha, Neb., left him "fascinated" with the issue. "I just fell in love with the whole concept of technology and communications and began working on that on the committee for that reason," he said.

Henderson is not the only key Tauzin staffer to perform the Beltway dance, moving between the Hill and industry groups with which they have dealt during their congressional stints.

Late last year, when it was clear he had the inside track for the Commerce Committee chairmanship, Tauzin hired Jessica Wallace as his staff counsel and recently named her to oversee telecommunications issues for him as counsel to the Commerce Committee. Wallaces previous post was at the prominent lobbying law firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, where her telecommunications clients included BellSouth and SBC.

With Tauzins backing, Dan Mattoon, BellSouth vice president for congressional affairs, was named to the National Republican Congressional Committee to ramrod fund-raising, Mattoon helped Tauzin with a dinner last March that raised $7.2 million for the GOP. Big-name contributors — sponsorships started at $100,000 — included AT&T, Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, SBC and others that got a seat at the head table with Tauzin.

Tauzin also likes to spend leisure time with lobbyists. He spends considerable time hosting Bell lobbyists and fellow lawmakers at his 233-acre retreat in the marshlands of Maryland that he bought for $165,000 in 1993 and uses for hunting and fishing. Tauzin said he simply enjoys hunting and does it as a retreat from the pressures of Capitol Hill. "I do it for me," he said. "Anybody else wants to join me, theyre welcome."

The hospitality works both ways. The Center for Public Integrity last year identified Tauzin as the member of Congress who has accepted more industry-sponsored free trips than anyone else — a total of 42, worth $77,000, in four years. Among them was a visit to Paris with his wife and a son for a week before Christmas, 1999. Instinet, the online stock brokerage subsidiary of Reuters that announced its plans to go public that week, paid for the airfare and three days food and lodging. Time Warner, just three weeks before announcing merger plans with America Online, paid for the rest, according to official records filed by Tauzins office.

Despite the long list of ties to industry, Tauzin strongly disputed any suggestion that they influence his views or votes. Tauzin said anybody examining his record of more than 30 years of politics, from the Louisiana House to the U.S. Congress, would conclude that he is independent.

"The cable industry has always been a big supporter of mine. Who took on the cable industry in 1992 to help create satellite television" Who stood up on the floor and fought everybody — the leadership of both parties, the Rules Committee, the leadership of the Commerce Committee? Cable has, was before and has since been a supporter of my efforts here. But I took them on when I thought they were wrong. And Ill take on the Bells when I think theyre wrong. Ill take on anybody if I think theyre wrong," he said.

Washington opponents, however, insisted the ties are the outward signs of strong influence bought by contributions.

"Billy is clearly going to be the quarterback who helps the Bell interests reach their objectives," the CMEs Chester said. "He may yell at them during hearings, but theyll be sharing a Dixie beer and a bowl of gumbo over at his house later that night."