Facing Waxman, the Goal Is Survival

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JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WR H ow many lawyers, lobbyists, and publicists does it take to plug a congressional investigation? Thankfully for Washington's K Street, a heck of a lot. With 460 full committee and subcommittee oversight hearings having already taken place in just the House since January, the legal business is exploding to handle the new business sparked by the Democratic takeover in Congress and one chairman in particular: Rep. Henry Waxman, head of the Oversight and Government Re form panel. "We call it the 'Waxman Industrial Complex,' " says one lobbyist. "It's a little bit like being a kid in a candy store," Abbe Lowell of McDermott Will & Emery says.

Unlike a normal court, Hill hearings pose a web of problems for the defense, drug, energy, and financial firms now under the microscope. "Nobody wins," says Ty Cobb of Hogan & Hartson. "The goal is survival." A slip-up by a CEO, and the stock could plummet, business dry up, and jittery workers leave. PR agencies are brought in to help save a company's image. "Headlines happen to a lot of people," says Dale Leibach, head of Prism Public Affairs, a PR firm, "but most of our best work never appears." Being Washington, connections count. Lowell, who has worked for Democrats and defended shamed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, says "you can't substitute for knowing people."