K Street warms up to psychedelics

K Street warms up to psychedelics

With Daniel Lippman

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off this Monday for Memorial Day, but we’ll be back in your inboxes on Tuesday.

K STREET STALWARTS WARM UP TO PSYCHEDELICS: Washington’s lobbying firms have long brushed aside criticism over who they take on as clients — whether they’re an industry player hobbled by scandal or an autocratic foreign regime. And with consensus in Washington growing (though not yet to a critical amount) about rolling back federal prohibitions on marijuana, some of K Street’s top firms are beginning to step out onto a new limb of advocacy on a new thorny issue: loosening restrictions on psychedelic drugs like MDMA and psilocybin.

— Advocates for rescheduling psychedelics like psilocybin, the hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms, to allow for investments in research of the drug, are finding some powerful allies for the cause. Earlier this week the firm founded by former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle registered to lobby on behalf of Reason for Hope in support of the Breakthrough Therapies Act.

— The bipartisan bill, from Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in the Senate and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) in the House, would make it easier for the DEA to reschedule classes of substances designated as a breakthrough therapy like psychedelics — which, similar to marijuana, is classified federally as a Schedule 1 substance with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse — as Schedule 2 drugs. That would remove a key barrier for researchers and patients alike while maintaining DEA oversight.

— Other firms around K Street have begun lobbying on psychedelics issues in recent years, according to a PI analysis of disclosures, with business really picking up since President Joe Biden was sworn in. His administration is reportedly “exploring the prospect of establishing a federal task force to monitor” such treatments. This week, The Vogel Group also registered to lobby for the Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition, working to win Republican sponsors for the Breakthrough Therapies Act.

— Earlier this year, the Psychedelic Medicine Coalition hired The Conafay Group, and also launched a political action committee to back lawmakers supportive of investing in research on psychedelics. Capitol Counsel last summer registered to lobby for the Healing Advocacy Fund, a nonprofit working to shape the implementation of state-level psilocybin therapy programs approved by voters in Colorado and Oregon.

Van Scoyoc Associates, which has represented New York University’s Langone Medical Center for more than a decade, reported lobbying on psychedelics research issues for the first time in 2021. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, another top firm on K Street, has been lobbying on issues related to federal oversight of psychedelics research since last year on behalf of the veterans mental health group Coalition to Heal Invisible Wounds.

— The shift comes on the heels of the opioid epidemic and in the midst of a global mental health crisis, and lobbyists are building on growing research that shows psychedelic-assisted therapy has serious promise in that space. But those dynamics, as well as generational evolution on the issue, don’t mean lobbying on the issue doesn’t come with awkward moments.

— “Right now the main focus of our advocacy is breaking stigma,” Daschle Group’s Charlie Panfil said in an interview. “I’ve literally been in in-person meetings where a staffer has looked at us in the eye and said that ‘I took this meeting because I couldn’t believe what you guys were talking about.’ And by the end of the meeting, they’re a convert.”

— Unlike the push to loosen regulations around cannabis, which for a long time was championed primarily by social justice-minded groups and Democrats, many of the clients turning to K Street now are veterans groups — a population that would be a key beneficiary of psychedelic-assisted therapy to treat PTSD.

— The Department of Veterans Affairs is conducting its own research on such treatments, Akin Gump’s Roger Murry noted. “But it’s nascent, and we’re trying to help Congress understand how the VA can be a resource for this.”

— It helps that veterans are so universally respected and that their struggles are so prominent, said Dashcle, who told PI that he’d undergone his own shift in attitude since the days of the war on drugs. They “really have become very effective spokespeople for these challenges and these issues,” he said.

TGIF and welcome to PI, where we present you with your must-read for the long weekend. A reminder that we’ll be off Monday for the Memorial Day holiday, but that’s no reason to keep the good stuff locked up: [email protected]. And be sure to follow me on Twitter: @caitlinoprysko.

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DRONING ON: Four of the country’s top sports leagues are pressing lawmakers to do something about drones in this year’s FAA reauthorization bill, our Playbook colleagues reported this morning.

— “Our organizations collectively host thousands of events for millions of fans each year,” the NFL, MLB, NASCAR and the NCAA wrote to congressional leaders Thursday. Despite restrictions on aircraft flying over major sporting events, “drone incursions at sporting events and other mass gatherings have been occurring for years — and they are increasing in frequency,” they said.

— The leagues are pushing for the extension and expansion of counter-drone measures already in place — in particular, they want to give state and local law enforcement greater authority to detect and mitigate drone threats. “Although federal authorities can and do contribute to the safety of some mass gatherings like sporting events, it is simply impossible for federal officials to provide counter-drone capabilities at all of the thousands of sporting events conducted by our organizations,” they note.

— Meanwhile our Alex Daugherty reported yesterday that airlines, states and unions are feuding over related issues concerning drones: “The airline industry wants Congress to make it crystal clear that the FAA’s authority over the airspace and its operations is absolute, as they try to head off state and local laws seeking to regulate drones and air taxis, as well as potential state-level expansions of labor protections for flight crews.”

— “Without such statutory clarity, they say, state and local laws seeking to regulate aircraft operations — such as restricting where a drone might operate or how long a flight attendant can rest — would create a confusing mishmash of laws.”

— “States, meanwhile, say they need to retain the ability to regulate drones in their backyards over privacy and noise concerns. And unions are vowing to fight any attempts to weaken blue state labor laws.”

TALES FROM THE SWAMP: “Officials who work for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration — not his campaign — have been sending text messages to Florida lobbyists soliciting political contributions for DeSantis’ presidential bid,” NBC News’ Matt Dixon and Jonathan Allen report, “a breach of traditional norms that has raised ethical and legal questions and left many here in the state capital shocked.”

— “NBC News reviewed text messages from four DeSantis administration officials, including those directly in the governor’s office and with leadership positions in state agencies. They requested the recipient of the message contribute to the governor’s campaign through a specific link that appeared to track who is giving as part of a ‘bundle’ program.”

— DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News, though one administration official defended the practice as an exercise of First Amendment rights. And while doing so might not be illegal, “NBC News spoke with 10 Republican lobbyists in Florida, all of whom said they couldn’t remember being solicited for donations so overtly by administration officials — especially at a time when the governor still has to act on the state budget.”

— “That process that involves DeSantis using his line-item veto pen to slash funding for projects that the same lobbyists whom they are asking for political cash have a professional stake in. Most of the lobbyists said they felt pressure to give to the governor’s campaign.”

NO LABELS TURNS ON ONE OF ITS OWN: “A group of House Democrats with ties to No Labels is turning on the centrist group after it attacked one of their founding members,” Daniel reports.

— “On Tuesday, No Labels texted people who live in the district of Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), criticizing the congressman for scoffing at their idea for a unity presidential ticket and claiming it could result in Donald Trump’s return to the presidency.”

— “In its message, No Labels said it was ‘alarmed to learn that your U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider recently attacked the notion that you should have more choices in the 2024 presidential election.’ They called Schneider ‘out of step’ with his voters.”

— “The missive did not go over well with Schneider, who is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus that No Labels helped start on the Hill,” and who told Daniel the organization’s admonishment is “the kind of division the country needs less of right now.” He “was quickly joined by other members of the Problem Solvers Caucus in chastising No Labels for attacking one of their own and pushing a unity ticket.”

SPOTTED on Thursday at a conversation on promoting authentic Hispanic representation hosted by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and the Walt Disney Company, per a tipster: Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), producer Yvett Merino, Jose Antonio Tijerino, Juana Pacheco, and William Campos of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Estuardo Rodriguez and Carla Rynerson of the Raben Group, Marco Davis of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, Jaqueline Serrano, Fred Sottnic, Katie Rosborough and Adrienne Chistolini of Disney, Nigel Sanchez of the House of Representatives, Rafael Ulloa of El Planeta Media, Jeyben Castro of the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Nate Beltran of the office of Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Isabel Sanchez of Future Forum and Ahmed Elsayed, Lewis Myers, Patricia Zaragoza and Carlos Condarco of Cárdenas’ office.

— And at a fundraiser for the Beltway-Belfast Boxing Program Project at Bobby Van’s Grille, per a tipster: Sean Brebbia of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Tucker Foote of MasterCard, Ed Hill of Bank Policy Institute, Jack Cline of Northeastern University, Patrick Lyden of CurrentStrategic LLC, Tim Curry of Stryk Global Diplomacy, Stephanie Quinn of American Academy of Family Physicians and Eammon McConville of the Northern Ireland Bureau.

Jobs Report

Alex Heathcock is now government affairs manager at the Economic Innovation Group. She previously was a senior associate at Cornerstone Government Affairs.

Ellen Dully recently started as the deputy director at the electrification nonprofit Forth, per Morning Energy. She was previously senior finance manager for Multnomah County in Oregon.

New Joint Fundraisers


New PACs

The Election Trust PAC (PAC)
MD-06 Republican Nominee Fund 2024 (PAC)


Envision Strategy: City Of Rye
Holland & Hart LLP: US Composting Council
Holland & Knight LLP: Astranis Space Technologies Corp.
Holland & Knight LLP: Clark Street Associates On Behalf Of Ionq, Inc.
Holland & Knight LLP: Megafire Action
Holland & Knight LLP: Nauticus Robotics, Inc.
Holland & Knight LLP: Pacific Defense Strategies, Inc.
Holland & Knight LLP: Quantum Corridor LLC
Mercury Public Affairs, LLC: Fortenova Grupa D.D.
Monument Advocacy: International Franchise Association
Monument Advocacy: United Catcher Boats
Port Side Strategies, LLC: Moveon.Org Civic Action

New Lobbying Terminations

Capitol Energy Advocacy, LLC: Bull Moose Tube, Inc
Capitol Energy Advocacy, LLC: Veloce Energy
Lawrence J. Smith, P.A.: City Of Pembroke Pines
Miller & Wenhold Capitol Strategies: Profile Products, LLC
Perry, White, Ross & Jacobson, LLC: Wrap
Sherman Strategic Affairs, LLC: Port Of South Louisiana
Warner, Norcross + Judd LLP: Business Intermediary Education Foundationc

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