Private Citizens Take Troubles to Lobbyists

In what Madoff victims count as an early victory, the IRS eased its rules on theft losses to allow Ponzi scheme victims to claim tax dedications on the majority of their losses, enabling Ebel and others to collect refunds.

• Weld, the Republican former governor, hired Lanny Davis, special White House counsel to President Clinton, to lobby on his behalf. Weld alleges that an Education Department official unfairly triggered the demise of a trade college run by Weld. He has spent $50,000 on lobbying, records show.

Weld, a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, had led a criminal investigation against the former employer of the Department of Education official whose office supervised the Kentucky-based Decker College. Weld claims that an accreditation agency canceled its approval of Decker's programs under pressure from the official. When Decker lost accreditation, it fell into bankruptcy. Davis wants the department to investigate.

U.S. Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton told USA TODAY that the official's work was "unbiased" and said department officials "do not plan on taking any further steps."

For his part, Weld said he has discovered the limits of his political influence. "It's been very frustrating because you can't get answers," he said. "I had been accustomed to getting answers. But I guess when you are out, you are out."

Anderson, 44, a political newcomer, has seen his idea take off. On the recommendation of a business contact, he hired Larry LaRocco, a former Idaho Democratic congressman-turned-lobbyist.

LaRocco and a lawyer with banking experience helped turn the idea into a legislative proposal, which LaRocco took to aides on a House subcommittee that oversees consumer-credit issues. Ohio Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, a first-term Democrat, sponsored the bill. "People who are paying off medical debt should not be penalized," she said.

Not everyone supports the plan. Anne Fortney, a former Federal Trade Commission official who has testified against the change, said unpaid bills, including medical debts, that require the intervention of a collection agency help lenders predict whether consumers will pay future bills on time.

Anderson insists he's pursuing the project to help average people, such as Doug Wickwire, 57, from Lucas, Texas, who co-owns a company that builds trade-show exhibits. He discovered this year that he would be hit with $8,500 in fees to refinance his home because of three paid medical collections, all less than $200. "I feel like I'm getting screwed around by the system," he said.

"Is it going to be good for business? Potentially," Anderson said of the bill. "Am I going to make up my investment? Probably not."

LaRocco, who has lobbied for more than a decade, said he has never represented a private citizen before. Anderson has proved a quick study, going from political novice to checking the Library of Congress' bill-tracking site each day, LaRocco said. "Now, he calls me up to say, 'Hey, we've just added another co-sponsor.'

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