WASHINGTON -- The California High-Speed Rail Authority has bulked up its lobbying even as some lawmakers question its effectiveness.
Facing a skeptical Congress, the high-speed rail group this year enlisted a Republican lobbyist, Drew Maloney. He joins a Democrat, Mark Kadesh, to give the authority a 1-2 punch that covers both sides of the congressional aisle.
Both have their work cut out for them. For high-speed rail, the questions are sharp, the competition is motivated and the money is tight.
"It's a tough environment," Kadesh said. "All major projects are under the microscope ... but, we have the strongest and best ally, who is ... the president of the United States."
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The Obama administration has provided California nearly $3.5 billion for a high-speed rail system whose initial route would stretch from just north of Bakersfield to near Chowchilla.
For fiscal 2012, the Obama administration has requested $8.2 billion in national high-speed rail funds. Separately, lawmakers will write a transportation bill this year that could include a high-speed rail section.
Both the appropriations and public works bills are traditional catnip for lobbyists, but both will be particularly difficult to pass this year.
Jeffrey Barker, the high-speed rail authority's deputy executive director, characterized Kadesh and Maloney not as lobbyists but as "our actual federal policy advisers." They're part of a 20-member California staff.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority first hired Kadesh in June 2007, disclosure records show. Last year, the rail authority paid him $100,000.
Kadesh served as Sen. Dianne Feinstein's chief of staff for seven years. Two of his lobbying associates likewise formerly worked for Feinstein.
In January, when the House shifted to Republican control, the California High-Speed Rail Authority hired Maloney.
The California rail group paid Maloney's firm, Ogilvy Government Relations, $30,000 during the first three months of 2011, records show. Ogilvy Government Relations is a subsidiary of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which has a multimillion-dollar contract with the rail authority.
Kadesh targets Democrats and Maloney targets Republicans. It's a standard tactical division of labor. Some California congressional offices on both sides of the rail debate say they haven't yet been contacted by Maloney or the Ogilvy team.
"I wouldn't recognize him if he walked down the hallway," said Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno, a longtime high-speed rail advocate. "I've been frustrated, and I've questioned the authority several times about [Ogilvy's work]."
A lost opportunity, Costa said, occurred recently when the California Legislative Analyst's Office released a scathing 28-page critique of the high-speed rail project. No one tried to coordinate a unified Capitol Hill defense, he said.
Costa, while praising his fellow Democrat Kadesh as "effective," said that the California High-Speed Rail Authority "ought to save themselves some money" and consider ending the Ogilvy contract.
Katherine Strehl, the high-speed rail project lead for Ogilvy Government Relations, responded that the Republican lobbyists were brought in "due to their strong relationships with incoming members and leadership," and said they had done so successfully.