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NFL Lobbyist May Be Under Investigation

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor

                Internet casino gambling continues to stir controversy in the U.S. as Tennessee Democrat Representative Steve Cohen has made the harsh accusation that a top Bush Administration adviser applied “considerable political pressure” on a former lobbying client.

                According to a publication from Poltico, Cohen has called for an investigation on William Wichterman, the adviser in question, to determine whether he disclosed his “potential conflict of interest” in influencing the Bush administration to enforce more regulations with the UIGEA. In March of this year, Wichterman was a registered lobbyist with Covington and Burling, representing the NFL.

The NFL makes no secret of their die hard opposition to internet gambling. As a lobbyist with Covington and Burling, Wichterman worked on internet gambling laws, the main focus for the NFL in legislation.

There has been an effort to release new UIGEA regulations before November 17th, the deadline to pass legislation that can’t be amended or reconsidered by the Obama administration. Wichterman, as well as other backers such as Republican Senator John Kyl, have put pressure on the current administration to enact the regulations before this date.

While the drafted regulations have been submitted, the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve must sign on off them in a 60-day review process. Because of this, the language of the new law is subject to review under the upcoming administration.

Cohen’s letter to the White House pushing for the investigation reads  that Wichterman “…has been a source of considerable political pressure to speed this regulation through finalization.” Furthermore, Cohen suggests that Witchterman “…has been among the most vocal advocates for the proposed rule and the underlying law” while serving as a lobbyist with Covington & Burling and representing the National Football League.

Cohen has also inquired of White House Counsel Fred Fielding if Witcherman had made a note of his conflict of interest in the issue. “If so,” Cohen continues, “was he nonetheless allowed by the White House to work on this issue?”

He asks Fielding if “there is a defined period during which employees who served as lawyers or lobbyists in the private sector must recuse themselves from matters affecting their former clients,” essentially suggesting the Bush administration’s policy on aides working in issue areas they covered as paid lobbyists is unjust.

Opponents to the new language in the UIGEA, such as House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, have continued to argue that the law is too vague and that, according to Politico it “places onerous requirements on these financial institutions – at a time when many a struggling to rebound from the slumping economy. While administration officials testified before this Financial Services panel earlier this year that this was the case, the OMB is not swayed, and has made no attempt to clarify what constitutes “illegal internet gambling.”

“The way to get a better reg[ulation] is to get a better law,” said Andy Barbour, overseer of Internet issures for the Financial Services Roundtable. “We’re interesting in pursuing that cause, as is the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.”

The Democrat from Tennessee has also inquired as to whether Wichterman intends to return to the lobbying firm. He calls for a catalogue of contact between the White House Office of Public Liaison with Treasury, OMB and the Federal Reserve.

The White House has failed to comment on the Cohen letter.  White House spokesperson Tony Fratto said on Thursday  that his office “does not comment on administrative rules that remain under consideration.”