Washington’s UFO lobbyist sees progress in first public hearing in 54 years

Presented by Freight Rail Works

With Daniel Lippman

‘IT’S A MAJOR EVENT’: Tuesday’s public House hearing on “unidentified aerial phenomena,” also known as UFOs — the first in more than half a century — did not yield a bombshell revelation from the government that life exists on other planets. But it was a promising step toward taking such reports much more seriously, according to Steve Bassett, who for decades has been lobbying for the U.S. to acknowledge “an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race.”

— “This hearing breaks the ice. It’s a major event,” Bassett told PI in an interview this week. “It doesn’t seem like it probably to a lot of people … but I know how big it is.” Bassett lobbies for and is the head of Paradigm Research Group, a key goal of which is to shift the politics around the issue and normalize discussions about UFOs to enable such a disclosure from world leaders. And he came away from the hearing feeling heartened about the effort. One thing Bassett found notable was that aside from one “little smile” during the hearing at one point, there was “zero eye rolling, zero jokes” about the issue.

— “This is serious stuff,” he said, adding that just a shift toward the term “unidentified aerial phenomena” helps normalize and remove the stigma from reporting such sightings, a trend deputy director of naval intelligence Scott Braybacked up with data during the hearing.

— Bassett also found it notable that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, made time to appear at the subcommittee hearing. Schiff “did not have to be there. But he was there,” said Bassett, who’s long pushed for public hearings to take testimony from government and agency witnesses on the issue.

— The real star of the day, he said, was Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). Gallagher pressed Pentagon officials “on claims that a ‘glowing red orb’ once shut down nuclear weapons in Montana and that a recently leaked document revealed that other-worldly vehicles — and possibly even extraterrestrial bodies — are being kept from government leaders and the public,” POLITICO’s Bryan Bender reports, winning plaudits from advocates like Bassett.

— The lawmaker told Bryan that mainly, he was offering the Pentagon the chance to “easily disconfirm” such theories, in order to “focus time and energy on more plausible hypotheses.” Still, “if anybody set the stage for another hearing — a new hearing, it’s Gallagher,” Bassett told PI.

— For him, the best case scenario is that public hearings continue over the summer, opening the door for President Joe Biden to “comfortably and appropriately” attribute sightings to an extraterrestrial phenomena. Ideally, it would happen before November’s midterms, Bassett said, allowing candidates to show voters where they stand on the issue before they go to the polls. Although Bassett said that for now, his work hasn’t paved the way for the kind of access to lawmakers’ offices to discuss these issues that he’d like, he envisions such a time coming. “I think that will emerge,” he said. “I’ve put in 26 years.”

Happy Friday and welcome to PI. What’s going on out there? Send K Street tips, gossip and musings: [email protected]. And be sure to follow me on Twitter: @caitlinoprysko.

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A message from Freight Rail Works:

America could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 million tons a year if we shipped more freight by rail — and that’s only the beginning. We’re collaborating with experts, research universities and government agencies to develop more environmentally friendly ways to power locomotives. Learn what we’re doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we enter a more sustainable era of freight rail.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR CAMPAIGN FINANCE?: After the Supreme Court this week continued to chip away at campaign finance regulations by striking down a limit on the amount of post-election funds that can be used to pay back personal loans from candidates at the behest of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), what might we expect from the court in future rulings on the subject?

— “The Court made clear that it will not rubber stamp any future or existing campaign finance restrictions,” Hogan Lovells’ Michael Bell, Jamie Wickett and Will Crawford wrote in a memo sent to clients Thursday. They add that though the court’s ruling focused narrowly on the issue of candidates loaning personal funds to their campaigns, “the decision’s aftershock will surely affect the future trajectory of campaign finance law more generally.”

— “The Court’s reasoning seemed to reject all but the narrowest of campaign finance restrictions and placed the burden squarely with the Government to justify its restrictions,” the group continued. Their prediction on the outlook for future cases? “Absent a legitimate, sufficiently tailored restriction to remedy anticorruption, future campaign finance restrictions are likely to meet a similar fate.”

IF YOU MISSED IT THURSDAY: “Republican senators laid into a Google executive at the Capitol Wednesday over allegations that the company’s filters target GOP emails as spam. It quickly turned confrontational,” POLITICO’s Emily Birnbaum and Marianne Levine report.

— “The Senate Republican Steering Committee, the policy arm of the Senate GOP, had invited Google’s chief legal officer, Kent Walker, to discuss a recent study that found the company has disproportionately filtered Republican lawmakers’ emails into hidden spam folders compared to emails from Democratic lawmakers. Walker said there is no bias in how Google deals with spam.”

— “The group lunch grew unusually tense, according to three people familiar with the meeting, granted anonymity to discuss private matters. … One senator who attended the meeting, granted anonymity to describe the gathering, said it was ‘short of hostile, but confrontational.’

— “GOP lawmakers have laid into Google at public hearings, but the senator said the private meeting was even more heated. ‘They want to come and explain and dispute and do a tutorial, just as I expected they would do,’ the senator said. ‘But their problem was that we weren’t confined to five minutes or congeniality.’”

— “Walker reiterated to senators that filtering bias is unrelated to political affiliation and pointed out that the North Carolina State researchers said the discrepancies likely have to do with Gmail’s weighing of ‘past user behavior,’ meaning Gmail marks emails as spam based on how users have marked emails before. … Senators pressed Walker to tell them what percentage of lawmakers’ emails make it to regular Gmail inboxes and grew more frustrated when he was unable to provide those exact numbers.”

WATCHDOG SAYS NO EVIDENCE BERNHARDT VIOLATED LDA: “Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt continued to advise a former client after deregistering as a lobbyist prior to his joining the Trump administration, but the agency’s watchdog determined there was not enough evidence to show whether he violated federal lobbying disclosure laws,” POLITICO’s Ben Lefebvre reports.

— “The report by the Interior Department’s inspector general focused on Bernhardt’s activities as a lawyer for lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck before joining the Trump administration in August 2017, and his contacts with their client, Westlands Water District, a California entity that delivers water to about 700 farmers in the state’s Central Valley.

— “Even after joining the Interior Department, Bernhardt kept meeting with Westlands officials, according to a POLITICO review of his schedule, and made official policy decisions that benefited the district, though the inspector general’s report said those contacts were not enough to show he violated the law.”

— “‘Based on the evidence we obtained, we concluded that the conduct we identified, standing alone, did not show that Mr. Bernhardt acted as a lobbyist within the meaning of the statute after deregistration,’ the report said.”

— Still, because current and former congressional staff, as well as Bernhardt, did not sit for interviews with the IG, the watchdog wrote that “we were unable to obtain sufficient evidence to determine whether Mr. Bernhardt engaged in more than one ‘lobbying contact’ as that term is defined by the LDA. Accordingly, we could not draw conclusions as to whether he complied with the LDA.”

FLYING IN: The American International Automobile Dealers Association is set to hold its first in-person fly-in since the pandemic next week. More than 200 international brand car dealers and industry representatives from the group will be in town to meet with lawmakers, with more than 100 meetings scheduled. Members from the trade association will be discussing taxes, trade policy and proposals for union-only tax credits for electric vehicles.

— The Equipment Leasing and Finance Association is also holding a fly-in next week to tout the equipment finance industry’s role as a source of capital and investment in the U.S. to lawmakers and administration officials and to promote a favorable regulatory framework for the sector.

— FARE, which advocates on food allergy issues, held a virtual fly-in this week in which 300 participants met with nearly 200 Hill offices on issues including extending the expiration date on epinephrine auto-injectors, improving food allergy training in schools, and increasing the federal investment in food allergy research. Advocates met virtually with Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), Gallagher and Ben Cline (R-Va.), the co-chair of the Congressional Food Allergy Research Caucus.

PROVIDERS, COMPANIES LAUNCH DIGITAL HEALTH COALITION: A group of health providers, universities and pharmaceutical companies has launched the Digital Health for Equitable Health Alliance to lobby for policies to bolster digital health programs, telehealth and other advancements like wearable health tech in a bid to eliminate health disparities in underserved populations. Its first president is Tanisha Hill, U.S. senior medical director of respiratory and digital health at Teva Pharmaceuticals.

— The coalition’s members include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Howard University College of Medicine, the African American Wellness Project, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Allergy and Asthma Network, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Meharry Medical College, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Patientory Foundation, Healthy Aims for Little Ones (HALO) and Families and Teva.

STEP INSIDE THE WEST WING: What’s really happening in West Wing offices? Find out who’s up, who’s down, and who really has the president’s ear in our West Wing Playbook newsletter, the insider’s guide to the Biden White House and Cabinet. For buzzy nuggets and details that you won’t find anywhere else, subscribe today.

Jobs Report

Chelsea Jerominski is now regional manager of state government relations for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, with a focus on the Midwest. She previously served as global advocacy specialist for Lions Clubs International.

Kay Moyer has joined CRD Associates as director of regulatory affairs. She was most recently a senior program officer for clinical affairs at the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Helen Davies is joining Edelman Global Advisory as deputy COO and managing director for economic security. She previously ran her own consulting firm, HD&A.

Heather Sawyer will be executive director of American Oversight. She previously spent more than a dozen years on Capitol Hill.

Julia Sibley is rejoining the International Republican Institute as senior adviser for communications. She was previously director of communications at Hudson Institute.

A message from Freight Rail Works:

New Joint Fundraisers

Friends of Lizzie Fletcher (Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, Leading People Forward PAC)

New PACs

51% Action (Hybrid PAC)
Citadel Securities Political Action Committee (Citadel Securities PAC) (PAC)
Maryland Action Fund (Super PAC)
Nevada 1st PAC (Super PAC)
Right of the People, Inc. (Super PAC)

New Lobbying Registrations

Chugach Alaska Corporation: Chugach Alaska Corporation
Foley & Lardner LLP: Tracy Hills Holding Company LLC
Frost Brown Todd LLC: Disposerx
Hobart Hallaway & Quayle Ventures, LLC: Bilt Incorporated
Penn Hill Group: Association Of Private Nonprofit Institutions LLC
Summit Strategies Government Affairs LLC: Fidelitad, Inc.

New Lobbying Terminations

Cohen & Gresser LLP: Management Sciences For Health
Intervistas Consulting Inc: Association Of Asia Pacific Airlines (Aapa)
Rr&G, LLC: Edward Jones

A message from Freight Rail Works:

Even as America’s freight railroads work 24/7 to keep our supply chains moving, the industry continues to take the lead on sustainability and emissions reduction. Rail moves more freight than any other method of transportation, yet only accounts for 1.9% of related greenhouse gas emissions — and our industry is working hard to get that number even lower. Every year, we continue to invest our own capital into making our equipment and infrastructure more sustainable, while teaming up with governments, universities and other experts to develop innovative ways to further reduce environmental impact. Learn how freight rail is helping the U.S. move toward a low-emission future.

About The Author : Caitlin Oprysko

Caitlin OpryskoCaitlin Oprysko covers lobbying for POLITICO and writes the Influence newsletter. She was previously a breaking news reporter for POLITICO, covering the 2018 midterms, 2020 election and everything (seriously) in between. She joined POLITICO Pro in 2016 as a web producer and also worked on Pro’s Legislative Compass team, covering an omnibus spending bill, the farm bill and several appropriations bills from their introduction to the president’s desk.

Before coming to POLITICO, Caitlin worked on the social desk for ABC News’ D.C. Bureau, where she used social media to monitor coverage areas, curated images and videos for broadcasts, pitched and reported out stories and collaborated on breaking news.

Caitlin is originally from the Atlanta area and graduated from the University of Georgia, where she covered state and local news and worked for the student-run newscast Grady Newsource.

This content was originally published here.