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Tainted Ex-Senator Joins Lobbying Firm

Former Sen. Conrad Burns, whose ties to lobbyists helped sink his re-election bid, has landed at a new workplace: a Washington lobbying firm.

Burns will work for his former chief of staff, Leo Giacometto, at the firm Gage, which has lobbied for Montana interests and several national technology companies, often making headlines for its connections to Burns and his staff.

In the Montana Senate race, Democratic challenger Jon Tester pounded Burns on his ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the heart of an influence-peddling scandal. Burns had accepted about $150,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff, his clients and associates. He later gave that money away, and denied any wrongdoing.

"I don't know who Abramoff influenced, but he never influenced me," Burns proclaimed in a political ad last year.

Burns won't be able to become a lobbyist just yet, as Senate rules prevent former members from lobbying their ex-colleagues for one year. The Senate is now considering ethics legislation — partly prompted by the Abramoff scandal — that would bump that period to two years.

A statement from Gage said Burns will be a senior adviser to the firm, focusing on "increasing the firm's visibility and presence domestically and internationally to provide a greater reach of opportunities for Gage clients."

The release touts Burns' experience on the powerful Commerce and Appropriations Committees and says he has been praised as "one of the fathers of the modern Internet."

"Conrad's expertise, knowledge and background as a senior member of the United States Senate will be of great value to our clients," said Giacometto in the release. "Not only does he have in-depth knowledge and understanding of the United States government but through his international travels, the senator has developed key relationships that will bring the clients of our firm significant opportunities abroad."

The release also included a statement from Burns.

"I look forward to joining the talented team at Gage and I am excited to lend my knowledge of government, telecommunications and the international market to our clients," he said.

Gage was mentioned in a state legislative audit of University of Montana research programs last year. The auditors said that the university needs to more closely monitor lobbying deals after one program was largely paid for with about $4 million in federal money secured by Burns in the 2003, 2004 and 2005 federal budgets. Gage lobbied for the program in Washington.

Meanwhile, Montana's new Democratic Senator, Jon Tester, gave his first floor speech Tuesday in the U.S. Senate. Tester encouraged his colleagues to adopt pending ethics legislation pending, telling colleagues that scandals and questionable behavior have brought a shadow over the Senate.

The ethics legislation is based on a bill that stalled in the last Congress. It would ban gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists, slow the movement of former senators to lobbying jobs, require lobbyists to provide more information on their activities, and oblige senators to be more open about their special projects, or earmarks.

The Senate is expected to spend up to two weeks on the legislation.

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