Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Steve Chaggaris, Clothilde Ewing, Sean Sharifi and Natasha Kuzovich of the CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

Halliburton, The Sequel?: A group of businessmen with close ties to both Bush administrations - including former FEMA chief and Joe Allbaugh - has set up a consulting company to advise companies on getting a share of the billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded reconstruction projects in Iraq, The New York Times reports.

The Times reports that Allbaugh, President Bush's chief of staff while he was governor in Texas and the manager of his 2000 presidential campaign, heads the firm, called New Bridge Strategies. Among the company's other directors are vice chairman Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith, both of whom worked in the first Bush administration and have close ties to the current White House. In addition, Griffith and Rogers are partners – along with Mississippi gubernatorial candidate and former RNC chief Haley Barbour – in the lobbying powerhouse Barbour Griffith & Rogers.

New Bridge has started operations, the Times reports, and already has an office in Iraq. The company's existence was first reported in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

The company's website says, "The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective in both Washington, D.C. and on the ground in Iraq."

New Bridge president John Howland tells the Times the firm will be a middleman to advise companies that seek taxpayer-funded business. The main focus, Howland said, would be advising companies that want to do business in Iraq, including getting licenses to market products there. New Bridge won't seek any government contracts itself, Howland said.

Among the company's other directors are Richard Burt, ambassador to West Germany during the Reagan administration, and Lord Powell, a member of the House of Lords and a former aide to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The rebuilding of Iraq is expected to be a huge windfall for several U.S. companies, most notably Halliburton Co., the oil services giant formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney. Halliburton already has secured more than $1 billion in government contracts.

AFL-CIO Meets About The Meeting: AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is meeting on Tuesday with the union's executive committee to discuss presidential politics. The committee is an advisory group to the Executive Council and is made up of 24 union presidents, including heads of the 10 biggest unions. The committee has the power to recommend policy but not make decisions.

Sweeney is seeking guidance and consensus on whether the AFL-CIO should endorse a candidate early and whether he should even convene a larger meeting soon to discuss it. They had been looking at a mid-October date for the Executive Council to convene, but last week sources told CBS News that that meeting might not be held because there is no consensus on a candidate.

While individual unions have endorsed candidates - 14 of them for Gephardt, including the Teamsters and many building trades unions - the two biggest, the SEIU and AFSCME, have held back There is substantial support for Howard Dean at the SEIU and AFSCME President Gerald McEntee has said nice things about John Kerry and Wesley Clark.

AFL-CIO officials say that, in fact, it is rare for them to endorse early. Only Walter Mondale in 1983 and Al Gore in 1999 picked up early endorsements. While Dick Gephardt has substantial support and affection among union officials, their main interest is in finding the strongest candidate to oppose George W. Bush and they may want some more time to decide who that is. AFL-CIO officials say they have been impressed by Wesley Clark, who has come to small meetings, and may want more time to assess his campaign and how the field shakes out.

Gephardt supporters are pressing Sweeney for an early endorsement. Tuesday's meeting should give an indication about whether that will happen, or not, any time soon.

Wesley Clark Dot Blog: The newest presidential candidate, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, now has the newest weblog entitled "Generally Speaking."

The blog, officially launched over the weekend, promises "posts from the General himself," though a disclaimer on a different page explains, "Due to his busy campaign schedule General Clark can only commit to writing a blog post when time allows (approximately once a week)."

More frequent bloggers will include Clark's son, writer Wesley Clark Jr., as well as a "Blog Team," featuring two Draft Clark leaders: DraftWesleyClark.com founder John Hlinko and its Web guru Eric Carbone.

After a couple of initially unsuccessful attempts to get discussion started, an "open thread" welcoming bloggers posted yesterday wound up receiving over 200 responses as of this morning. Most of the posts are pro-Clark or others interested in some of his policy positions. However, there are always a few who like to stir the pot.

"I've been a Democrat for 30 years. Clark's been one for less than a month? It is not realistic to think you can join the party one month and be the leader of that party," said one.

Another wrote: "And why exactly was Clark at a GOP fundraiser in 2001 lavishly praising Bush. … What's up with that?"

Meantime, Clark and his supporters are on Capitol Hill today drumming up support among Members of Congress. This afternoon, he will meet at a private residence with Reps. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., Rahm Emmanuel, D-Ill., Marion Berry, D-Ark., and about ten other House members. And his supporters will hit uncommitted Democrats' offices on the Hill to drop off Clark bars (who knew they still made them?) and letters asking them to endorse Clark.

Tomorrow, Clark heads to Los Angeles to help out Gov. Gray Davis, drawing the ire of a few bloggers who apparently never heard the term insubordination.

"The General SHOULD campaign here in the Golden State, but I think he should stay AWAY from soon-to-be-former-Governor Davis. Don't support this toxic candidate," wrote one blogger.

Can I Use My Plane? President Bush heads today to Cincinnati, where the 45243 zip code provided him with his second-highest money total in the nation in the second quarter, to finish raising his $50 million for the third quarter. He also sent a "Frequently Asked Questions" memo to help out fund-raisers in his top zip code – 10021 on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

According to Lloyd Grove's new column in the New York Daily News, the campaign explains everything from which sets of wings a fund-raiser can use, to how many hours they can use their assistants to help them with their fund-raising efforts.

Here's the memo, with some supplemental questions from the CBS News Political Unit:

Question: "Can I use my personal aircraft for campaign business?"
Answer: "No, you may not use your personal aircraft for campaign business. Corporate aircraft may be used, but only if each person boarding the plane pays the equivalent of a first-class airplane ticket."

[Washington Wrap: Do the buy one ticket and get one free deals apply?]

Question: "Can I have a fund-raising cocktail party for my friends at a private club or hotel and pay for the party?"
Answer: "No. You may have them come to your house and treat them up to $1,000 in expenses per adult in the household without it counting against your $2,000 contribution limit."

[Washington Wrap: Does the $1,000 in expenses include the cost of the goody bags?]

Question: "Can I use my executive assistant to help with my fund-raising activities?"
Answer: "Any person can volunteer to help. Employees may volunteer a maximum of 1 (one) hour per week during working hours and an unlimited amount outside of the office."

[Washington Wrap: Does it count if my assistant is working out of the conference room? What about the lobby?]

Quote of the Day: "People in Iowa do not know much about him. I think they are concerned about his Democraticness." – Iowa Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack on Wesley Clark. (Des Moines Register)