DAVID URBAN has one goal today: Run out the clock.
It shouldn’t be hard. The lame-duck session of the 111th Congress is already awash in chaos, and the chances of anything substantive passing before law-makers adjourn in a few weeks appear, at this point, infinitesimal. But there’s still uncertainty. And David Urban doesn’t like uncertainty.
Uncertainty means that unfriendly legislation could get tucked into an eleventh-hour bill, which Urban might not be able to head off. Worse, no one — from senators to their staffers to the lobbyists scurrying around the Senate’s hallways this December morning — has a clue as to the ever-fluxing state of play. Anyway, Urban didn’t get where he is by taking victories for granted.
So the 46-year-old president of American Continental Group, a multi-
million-dollar lobbying firm that represents a who’s who of Pennsylvania powerhouses, will spend the day on Capitol Hill, mining for information and marshaling his troops. His target is a little-known piece of legislation championed by the Federal Trade Commission that would end the practice known as “pay for delay” — patent agreements that keep generic drugs off the market for a few extra years. According to the FTC, these agreements cost consumers $3.5 billion a year. Urban’s client, a Philly-area pharmaceutical company, wants the legislation banning the agreements spiked — or at least punted to the 112th Congress, which will be considerably more Republican and, presumably, more amenable to the pharmaceutical industry’s concerns.
In a series of brief meetings — “If you can’t state your case in under five minutes, you shouldn’t be here,” Urban says as we walk briskly from one powwow to the next — with the staffers of four northeastern Democrats, Urban reiterates his argument that the bill isn’t a good one.
This is “an assault on the patent system in general,” he tells the glazed-eyed staffers. He implores them “to stiffen everyone’s spine,” to lean on their party’s leader-ship not to let this thing sneak by. And then everyone gets up, and he’s onto the next meeting, which will be almost exactly like the last one, except with new glazed-eyed faces around the table.
These meetings don’t occur in a vacuum. They’re the end products of months of groundwork and years spent cultivating relationships. After all, David Urban is no stranger to these corridors of power: Like many of the 12,488 registered federal lobbyists roaming Washington, he once sat on the other side of the tables — as Arlen Specter’s chief of staff. Before that, he was a public finance attorney at politically connected Philly law firm Ballard Spahr. Since leaving the government in 2002, Urban — a burly, booming man whose outsize personality sucks all the oxygen from whatever room he’s in — has built a small lobbying empire from those long-ago-forged relationships and political connections. He has become, in so many words, our guy in D.C. — if by “our” you mean the companies and government agencies that can afford his retainer: Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, SEPTA, to name just a few.