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Wynn lobbying for company accused of ties to Sudan genocide

Sarah Palin's surprise decision to walk away from her job as governor of Alaska held special resonance for at least one group of Marylanders.

Not long ago, their congressman did pretty much the same thing.

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Rep. Albert R. Wynn, one of the state's senior lawmakers in Washington, abruptly quit his post last year. Shortly after earning lame-duck status, he announced that he was abandoning the job, even though he still had more than one-fourth of his term left to serve, to join a big-time lobbying firm.

Unlike Palin, who made a personal decision not to seek re-election, Wynn became a lame duck involuntarily. He was resoundingly unseated by the voters of his own party, who picked Donna Edwards over Wynn in the 2008 primary.

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After announcing his decision to quit and join one of Washington's biggest lobby firms, Wynn said his decision to quit early would enable his successor to get a head start on seniority in the House.

Critics blasted the decision, in part because it forced taxpayers to shell out money to pay for a special election to choose his replacement. Published estimates pegged the cost between $500,000 and $2 million.

For the departing congressman, however, the decision was a win-win.

First, it allowed him to escape a job he'd been forced to give up eventually. Second, and more important, it gave Wynn a head start on lining his pockets in his next, more lucrative, career: peddling influence to his former colleagues in Congress.

Under House ethics rules, an ex-representative must wait a full year before stepping through Washington's revolving door and registering as a lobbyist. Of course, though there was nothing in those rules to prevent Wynn from helping clients in his new job as a "special advisor" at Dickstein Shapiro.

Wynn grabbed that job almost immediately after he failed to persuade voters in Montgomery and Prince George's counties to return him to Congress for a ninth term. Had he served out his term, as defeated representatives usually do, he could not become a lobbyist until 2010.

Instead, he's perfectly positioned to grab a share of this year's biggest lobbying bonanzas. One potential money pot: the high-stakes fight over rewriting the rules of the road for energy companies. As Democrats try to pass sweeping climate change legislation, companies who stand to win or lose big from the proposed legislation are shelling out hefty bucks for Washington lobbyists to help them carve out special provisions.

Wynn has registered as a lobbyist for Wartsila North America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wartsila OYJ, a Finnish company that manufactures power generating systems and ship engines. Wartsila is also a U.S. defense contractor that does business with the Navy.

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Wynn is not specifically listed as a lobbyist on the energy bill. But he registered in the "energy/nuclear" area.

According to the lobbying registration form, filed by Dickstein Shapiro and dated June 30, 2009, Wynn became a lobbyist for Wartsila on May 18. That is exactly one year to the date of the election held to replace him. However, it is slightly earlier than the official May 31 resignation date announced by Wynn last year, when the one-year "cooling off" period for lawmakers headed for the lobbying world was expected to begin.

Joining Wynn as a lobbyist for Wartsila is Curt S. Clifton, who was Wynn's top aide in the House. Clifton became a lobbyist for Dickstein Shapiro in 2008.

Neither Wynn nor Clifton responded immediately to emailed requests for comment.

Wartsila, the company Wynn now represents, has been criticized for its business dealings in Sudan, where violence in the country's Darfur region has been condemned as genocide.

The Genocide Intervention Network, a human rights group, has said that business transactions by Wartsila OYG and other international companies have helped the Sudanese government. Wartsila OYJ has sold power plants for oil projects in Sudan.

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Last week, after a two-year review of its investments with companies that failed to provide adequate responses about their dealings with Sudan and Iran, the New York State pension fund announced plans to divest more than $86 million in holdings from nine companies, including Wartsila OYJ.

"We don't expect our investments to benefit regimes that support genocide and terrorism," said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

In a strange coincidence that brings this story full circle, last fall Palin announced that she was divesting herself of an investment in a mutual fund from Legg Mason, Inc. of Baltimore that owned shares in Wartsila OYJ.

Palin held shares in the Legg Mason International Equity fund, with a value of up to $15,000, when it was brought to her attention that the fund's holdings included companies that human rights activists said were assisting the government of Sudan. The Republican vice-presidential nominee immediately said she would dump the investment.

Palin "is committed to doing everything she can to stop the genocide and atrocities in Darfur," a campaign spokesman told ABC News at the time.


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