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Stephen Koff
By Stephen Koff November 1, 2010

Rep. John Boccieri portrays challenger Jim Renacci as a menacing trade lobbyist

Most days, congressional candidates can’t get donations from lobbyists quickly enough. They’ll even take them from lobbyists who handle a sub-specialty: foreign trade matters.

And there’s nothing improper, illegal or fattening about that, because all sides in the nation’s trade battles -- from manufacturers who want cheap raw materials to the United Steelworkers of America, which wants to protect American foundry jobs – hire Washington lobbyists to look out for their interests.

So what is up, you might ask, with this criticism of an opponent by John Boccieri, a Democratic incumbent in Ohio’s 16th Congressional District? He accuses Republican challenger Jim Renacci of registering "as a foreign trade lobbyist," as if that were disgraceful.

Boccieri launched a cable television ad with that charge in early October. Then on Oct. 18 during a debate with Renacci in Canton, Boccieri repeated it. It’s a fact verifiable from public records,  the first-term incumbent said in answer to a question about the tone of ads, "that Mr. Renacci was registered as a foreign trade lobbyist in the United States government."

To back up this claim, Boccieri’s campaign pointed to a lobbying registration form filed in May, 2008, with the clerk of the U.S. Senate, where all lobbying registrations are kept. The form was filed by a fledgling consulting firm called Smokerise International Group, formed by three people, including Renacci, a Wadworth businessman. Named for Smokerise Drive, the street on which Renacci and other partners had offices, the firm also filed business registration papers with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office the same month, public records show.

The name sounded worldly, but there was nothing else international about it – and certainly not its clients. It had none.

The firm never filed a single piece of paper saying it represented anyone, as would be required if it had actual clients.

Renacci’s campaign spokesman, James Slepian, says two business associates wanted to form the firm and Renacci agreed to help because of his background as a CPA. The firm "never got off the ground," Slepian said in an e-mail to us, "but as a precautionary measure, one of the partners registered all three of them as lobbyists, just in case they ever took on any lobbying clients."

The registration, filed by Laura Mills, an attorney who was listed as vice chairman and owner, included areas of federal policy in which the firm might lobby. They listed nine areas, including defense, aerospace, the budget,small business matters and trade

Note that they didn’t say "foreign" trade, which would be redundant because trade is understood to involve the movement of goods or services between two countries.

That’s it. They never filed another piece of paper because they never lobbied.

You expected a smoking gun?

So did we, because calling someone a "foreign trade lobbyist" sounds dastardly. Of the nine potential lobbying areas listed in the Smokerise filing, Boccieri singled out only "trade" for criticism. We agree that might have been a smart tactic on his part, because saying that his opponent "registered as a small business lobbyist" would lack zing.

This, then, is the extent of the evidence on which the Boccieri campaign makes its claim.

It is Boccieri’s right to cast aspersions on trade lobbyists. But we were curious about his negative feelings, because Boccieri, like many candidates,  has accepted campaign donations from lobbyists, according to our review of data from CQ Money Line and the Center for Responsive Politics, which are services that track fund-raising. We looked up some of these donor-lobbyists’ filings in the Senate and found that some have lobbied on trade matters.

Or to use Boccieri’s own words: Boccieri even takes money from "foreign trade lobbyists."

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So yes, Renacci is registered as a lobbyist, and his fledgling firm said on its registration form that it intended to lobby on trade. But it ended up not lobbying at all, and had that not been the case, it also might have lobbied on all manner of benign-sounding matters, not a one of which Boccieri singled as horrific.

Boccieri’s "foreign trade lobbyist" claim is not false because it contains elements of truth. But it leaves out context and detail, intentionally creating a menacing picture of Renacci’s activities.

The claim’s accuracy is overshadowed by those details, and so the Truth-O-Meter considers it Half True.

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Rep. John Boccieri portrays challenger Jim Renacci as a menacing trade lobbyist

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