Robert Novak

 Trying to probe the internal decisions of these massive lobbying firms is tougher than delving into the Mafia or the old Kremlin. Nobody talks on the record, and what is said on background is carefully parsed. At Akin Gump, I was referred to the firm's "ethics officer," who asked me not to use his name. He said the firm had decided in April not to renew an arrangement with Chevron that included work on "legislation" (though not as a registered lobbyist).

 Trying to ascertain how Chevron felt about getting dumped by Akin Gump, I telephoned the head of the California-based oil company's Washington office: Lisa Barry, a veteran government and corporate official. Informed that she never talks to reporters, several hours later I was contacted by a Chevron public relations officer. He told me Chevron had no hard feelings about being dumped by Akin Gump in favor of CNOOC.

 That would be inexplicable had not the Akin Gump ethics officer informed me that his firm still represented Chevron in litigation he would not identify. In the Washington world of big-time lawyers and lobbyists, there are no permanent alliances or enmities.

 China's oil bid raises serious policy questions that are being debated at high levels of the Bush administration. But CNOOC treats its efforts as another special interest campaign in Washington. It has hired Public Strategies, the firm of Mark McKinnon, the former Democratic advertising whiz who worked for George W. Bush's presidential campaigns and has committed to Sen. John McCain in 2008. Money talks in Washington, and it does not matter much who does the paying.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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