The Campaign Finance Reform Argument Revived

July 20th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

This week, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is introducing a new campaign finance bill. According to Politico, “the legislation, as in previous versions, would require super PACs, nonprofits, corporations, and unions that spend money in elections to disclose donors that have given $10,000 or more each time they spend at least $10,000 on political activity. The bill would also prohibit domestic corporations under foreign control from spending money in elections and force shell companies to make their funders public.”

Two years ago, Senator Whitehouse’s website posted an article on the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The website claims it was a “disastrous decision, which opened the floodgates for unlimited, secret spending in American elections.” It goes on to explain the DISCLOSE Act, which would require political groups to disclose where their money is coming from. The DISCLOSE Act would require any organization which spent over $10,000 during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours.

This week’s act is an updated version of the DISCLOSE Act. The full bill can be found here. However, campaign finance reform has not been on the radar of Washington elite in some time. Whitehouse and his backers will have to work hard to have the bill get any attention, especially before August recess. Most Senators are far more concerned with healthcare at the moment. Shortly after Citizens United, the media was flooded with articles such as one Time magazine article which grappled with the topic of whether money can buy power.

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Draining the Swamp, or Lining the New Tub with Gold?

July 13th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

According to Mark Leibovich of the New York Times, “the swamp feels anything but drained; more like remodeled into a gold-plated hot tub.” Much of this is due to Trump’s personal style with which he communicates. For example, the Trump White House has associated access with power.  However, “getting close to him requires less sucking up than it did with pre-Trump presidents.”  The term “access” is morphing with the Trump administration. Where once getting close to a President required judicious planning, now it may only require a compliment on Twitter.

However, getting close to Trump is just the first step. Because his decision making has been unpredictable thus far, lobbyists and corporations have been forced to tread lightly, for fear of “doing something to agitate the White House.” Along with presenting new challenges for players off the Hill, Trump also is changing the game within his own party. Republican members of Congress are being forced to defend the President more than usual, especially due to his Twitter activity.

One friend of the President who has managed to navigate being close but not too close is Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski is one of Trump’s former campaign managers and confidant. He manages to steer clear of day to day issues, while remaining in Trump’s inner circle. Most of the other loud Trump supporters are columnists or former politicians who no longer have to face voters.

The communication style in Washington is changing, and not just due to Trump’s tweets, but rather how the administration deals with allies versus adversaries. Unfortunately, the Republican party is not updating their communication style as quickly as the administration is.

 

Documentary Film and Advocacy

July 6th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Earlier this summer, a report was released which detailed the relationship between documentary films and public policy. The report begins by explaining that policy does not change quickly, therefore a film’s impact may not be fully understood until years after it premiered. However, it stresses the importance of choosing effective associations and advocacy groups as partners and understanding a story’s unique value.

According to the New York Times, funding is one major road block for advocacy films. However, one director said, “If these funders weren’t funding activist films, they would be funding some other form of activism- not some other form of filmmaking.”  Therefore, finding the right source of funds for a project is crucial. The aforementioned report rebuts this claim by arguing that groups can find an ideal match when both sides agree that they do not have to make money from the film, but rather, ensure that the film is as widely distributed as possible. The report also explains a general recipe for success. These steps include finding the crucial timing for an issue, strategic marketing, and policymaker screenings with specialized versions of the film.

Documentary film makers must also consider their entry point such as: raising awareness, growing a coalition, winning an election, holding a congressional hearing, introducing legislation, passing legislation, issuing regulations, and carrying out the law. Any of those events can drum up attention for the social issue which is the focus of the film. Further, it is essential to work with congress, especially knowing committee assignments and chairmanships, local angles, new members of congress, and congressional staff.

Similar to when organization organize fly ins, documentary films must have an agenda which aligns with the political and social goals of the film.

Shadow Lobbyists on the Rise?

June 29th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Trump promised to drain the swamp, and by the numbers, he has done just that. 448 individuals who lobbied in the third quarter of 2016 did not report activity during the next two quarters. However, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and Open Secrets, “for the first time in five years,” the amount of money spent by organizations that were already registered went up in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period the previous year.”

While the lobbying firms are spending more money, and over half of the lobbyists are working for the same employer, twelve percent of the registered lobbyists are unaccounted for. Companies are claiming that their employees are moving to other parts of the company. David Whitrap, Vice President of corporate communications for Vertex Pharmaceuticals claims that, “it is quite common for our employees to move from department to department as they see opportunities to expand their experience and skill set.”

According to Bloomberg Politics, Trump’s ethics pledge could have opened the door to increased shadow lobbying. While many on Trump’s team came from lobbying backgrounds, such as Taylor Hansen and Byron Anderson. His pledge requires all appointees to not engage in lobbying activity for five years after they leave the federal government. However, many federal government employees have yet to sign the agreement.

The Center for Responsive Politics concludes that even though the number of registered lobbyists is decreasing, that does not mean that lobbying activity is declining. Rather, many lobbyists are continuing to work with the same employer, regardless of both former President Obama’s and President Trump’s attack on lobbyists. They also claim that “although we do find some differences by partisanship, the bigger picture is that despite denunciations of lobbyists by senior politicians in both parties, more and more lobbying goes on beyond public scrutiny, making it harder to hold those in power to account.”

The Future of Digital Advocacy

June 22nd, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

This year, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg vowed to use Facebook as a tool to increase civic engagement among users.  According to Tech Crunch, in part, this decision is a reaction to the role that Facebook played in U.S. elections, especially the 2016 Presidential election.  In March, Facebook released a new feature called “Town Hall,” which allows users to easily locate, follow, and contact their representatives at the local, state, and federal levels.

Because Facebook was accused of helping Donald Trump win by “doing nothing to prevent the spread of fake news and disinformation across its network,” Zuckerberg and his team have released new controls. These include PSAs on how to identify inaccurate reporting and downranking unreliable news stories from its Trending section.

In addition to the new censoring system, Facebook is making it easier for constituents to contact their representatives.  Now, you can share your rep’s contact information on your posts.  Elected officials can also communicate directly with constituents, and better understand them based on their digital footprint. Facebook has done this through the addition of three new features: constituent badges which allow elected officials to track constituent activity, constituent insights which allows elected officials to stay current with local news stories in their district, and district targeting which allows elected officials to receive feedback from constituents through Facebook directly.

Many in Washington now claim that “social media and digital advocacy, not traditional lobbying, as the fastest-growing segments of the influence industry according to a recent survey of Washington lobbyists, lawyers, association executives, and think tank leaders.” The greatest percentage of respondents- 38%- said they expect organizations to increase their social media presence to influence policymakers. The next largest percentage- 21%- believe organizations will increase their digital capabilities over the next five years.

Lobbying in the Wake of the GOP Baseball Practice Shooting

June 15th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

According to an AP Report, following the shooting, the lobbying effort and a related hearing on gun silencers were canceled following the shooting on Wednesday. However, gun control lobbyists have not given- both on the federal level and the state level. They do not have a specific strategy moving forward to challenge the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress. After the shooting, gun-control groups immediately showed support for the victims, then called for Congressional action. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011, also tweeted her support for her former colleagues.

The National Rifle Association has gone on the offensive stating that the Capitol police were the “good guys with guns [and] kept this from getting worse.” The NRA plans to push gun-friendly legislation at the state and federal level and argue against new gun-control measures. Trump allies appear to agree with this sentiment, including Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who has a permit to carry a gun. He also claimed that he will be carrying his gun with him at all times from now on. According to the LA Times, Rep. Mo Brooks, who was shot at this Wednesday, continues to be pro-gun, pro-2nd Amendment. Further, according to a Washington Post report, the guns the shooter used were purchased from licensed dealers.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., introduced the Hearing Protection Act to remove silencers from the National Firearms Act, which has regulated silencers and machine guns for more than 80 years. It is backed by the NRA. However, gun-control groups claim the bill puts gun manufacturer’s profits over safety. President Trump also signed a bill in February which blocked a rule that would have kept guns out of the hands of certain people with mental disorders.

From all the staff at Lobbyists.info, our thoughts are with all the victims, including lobbyist Matt Mika.

The Administration and Lobbying Activity

June 9th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

While Lobbyblog.com previously reported that President Donald Trump had a negative view on the lobbying industry on the campaign, the administration now finds themselves at the helm of three lobbying skirmishes.  First, which could prove to be positive, the administration has floated the idea of including solar panels on the planned Mexican border wall.  According to Politico, the solar power lobby is on board with the idea. The Solar Energy Industry Association appreciates President Trump’s apparent appreciation of the benefits of solar energy. While the border wall has not yet been approved, Trump may now have the support of the solar lobby.

Second, Democrats are starting a new nonprofit in the wake of the Obamacare debate. The nonprofit, Consumers for Quality Care, will be led by former Del. Donna Christensen and Jim Manley, former senior advisor to Sens. Harry Reid and Edward Kennedy. Scott Mulhauser, who was senior adviser to the Senate Finance Committee and former Vice President Biden, will also be involved.

Regarding the Travel Ban and Open Skies conflict, the Air Line Pilots Association accused U.S. Travel Association of essentially lobbying on behalf of the UAE. ALPS is now calling on U.S. Travel to register itself as a foreign agent and list the UAE on lobbying disclosure forms. Trump’s travel ban appears to have caused some controversy among the travel industry.

All three examples are tied to Trump administration policies or efforts. However, Trump is also involved in lobbying on a personal front.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump Hotel received $270,000 from a lobbying campaign tied to Saudi Arabia. The contribution was disclosed to the Justice Department, however it has sparked the interest of many in Washington. Lobbyblog will follow the story.

Mixed Results for Lobbyists So Far Under Trump

June 1st, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

After the outcome of the 2016 election many in Washington, D.C. expected a flurry of lobbying activity under the new 115th Congress and Administration. Republicans finally had control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. Many industry experts talked about the end of gridlock and a steady flow of legislative accomplishments. In fact, LobbyBlog has previously posted about the need to re-write one’s lobbying playbook under the Trump Administration. Some evidence, does point in this direction. As previously reported, “the lobbying industry has recorded its highest earnings in the first quarter for the past five years as many companies have invested heavily in lobbying activities aimed at the new administration and the Republican controlled congress.” However, per a new report in Roll Call, “clients have been hiring lobbyists at a reduced rate compared to 2009.”

According to the report, “Lobbyists and organizations that employ them filed 1,578 disclosure forms to indicate new client relationships beginning between January and April of this year. That’s only slightly higher than the number of clients in the same time period in 2015 — after the 2014 midterm elections — and 2013 — after Obama’s re-election victory. In both those years, the president’s party did not have a majority in both chambers of Congress. The last time one party controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, the number of new clients was noticeably higher. Lobbyists took on 3,433 clients in 2009 in the months after Obama won his first presidential election — more than double the amount after President Donald Trump won.”

Not only has the rate of companies looking to hire lobbyists reduced when compared to 2009, “From January to March, the number of registered lobbyists dropped 10.3 percent compared to 2016’s first quarter, with only 9,175 official lobbyists on record. That number has been declining in recent years, but this is the biggest drop since lobbying reports started being reported quarterly,” according to Center for Responsive Politics report.

The Administration vs. OGE

May 24th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

While on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump had quite the negative view of the lobbying industry. As early as in his announcement of his presidential bid, President Trump targeted the industry saying, “They [Politicians] will never make America great again. They don’t even have a chance. They’re controlled fully — they’re controlled fully by the lobbyists, by the donors, and by the special interests, fully. Yes, they control them.” After winning the election, President Trump had his transition team sign a code of ethical conduct, which included terms such as “During my service with the PETT, I will not, on behalf of any person or entity, engage in regulated lobbying activities, as defined by the Lobbying Disclosure Act, with or before any federal department or agency with respect to a particular matter for which I have direct and substantial responsibility as part of the PETT.” Then, once in office, President Trump issued an Executive Order, which included terms like “I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.” Nevertheless, his administration has come into conflict with it’s own Office of Government Ethics (OGE) over the issue of lobbying.

Per the New York Times, “The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose the names of former lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies.” In response to the OGE’s request from every federal agency to provide copies of the waivers it had granted lobbyists, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney sent a letter to OGE Director Shaub questioning the legal authority of the request.

Director Shaub, who was appointed by President Barrack Obama, responded to Director Mulvaney in a “scalding, 10-page response to the White House late Monday, unlike just about any correspondence in the history of the office, created after the Nixon Watergate scandal,” reports the New York Times.  In the letter, Director Shaub writes, “OGE declines your request to suspend its ethics inquiry and reiterates its expectation that agencies will fully comply with its directive by June 1, 2017.”

The New York Times reports that, “Ethics watchdogs, as well as Democrats in Congress, have expressed concern at the number of former lobbyists taking high-ranking political jobs in the Trump administration. In many cases, they appear to be working on the exact topics they had previously handled on behalf of private-sector clients — including oil and gas companies and Wall Street banks — as recently as January.”

LobbyBlog will continue to monitor the latest developments of this story.

Lobby Groups Optimistic Over Healthcare Bill Changes in Senate

May 19th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

After the House of Representatives passed H.R.1628 – American Health Care Act of 2017 to repeal and replace Obamacare, the bill was sent to the Senate, where many groups are hoping for major changes to the legislation. The Hill reports that, “industry groups felt largely cut out of the House’s drafting and passage of the American Health Care Act and now are clamoring for action to fix what they view as serious defects in the legislation.  Major hospital and doctor associations, for example, want people with health insurance to stay covered and are pushing to ensure adequate funding for the Medicaid program. Characterizing this wish list, one healthcare lobbyist put it simply: “Coverage, coverage, coverage.”

Groups wishing for major changes to the House bill are optimistic as Republican senators quickly suggested changes would be required. “We’re writing a Senate bill and not passing the House bill,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) in a Politico report. “We’ll take whatever good ideas we find there that meet our goals… There will be no artificial deadlines in the Senate. We’ll move with a sense of urgency but we won’t stop until we think we have it right.” said Alexander, who will be a leading figure in the Senate’s overhaul effort.”

Major outside influences such as the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, and AARP have all been critical of the House bill. AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond, wrote in a letter sent to every Senator earlier this week that, “The deeply flawed House bill would add an Age Tax, increasing health care costs by thousands of dollars each year we grow older, and put millions of American families at risk of finding health care unaffordable or unavailable…AARP urges you to ‘start from scratch’ and craft health care legislation that ensures robust insurance market protections, controls costs, improves quality, and provides affordable coverage to all Americans.”

Questions Swirl Over Transition Lobbyists

May 4th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

Following his electoral victory in November, President Donald Trump issued a set of lobbying rules for those coming to work on his transition and for his administration. According to the President-Elect’s Transition Team (PETT) Code of Ethical Conduct, transition team members agreed “For 6 months after I leave, I will not on behalf of any other person or entity, engage in regulated lobbying activities, as defined by the Lobbying Disclosure Act, with respect to a particular matter for which I had direct and substantial responsibility during my service with PETT.” However, a recent Politico report has found at least nine members of the transition team, who have now registered as lobbyists.

According to the report, “Many are registered to lobby the same agencies or on the same issues they worked on during the transition, a POLITICO review of lobbying disclosures found. A former “sherpa” who helped to guide Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos through the Senate confirmation process is now registered to lobby her department. The former head of the transition’s tax policy team has returned to his old company to lobby Congress on tax reform. One ex-member of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative team is now registered as part of a team lobbying on behalf of a major steelmaker.”

However, the White House has responded to the claim saying, “We have no reason to believe nor has the Transition been presented with any evidence that any individual who signed the six-month agreement as part of his or her service with the Transition is in non-compliance,” Ken Nahigian, the transition’s executive director, said in a statement, adding that the transition is “open to receiving” any evidence that does exist.

Highest Q1 Lobbying Spending Since 2012

April 26th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

Despite President Trump’s promises to drain the swamp under his administration, the lobbying industry has recorded its highest earnings in the first quarter for the past five years as many companies have invested heavily in lobbying activities aimed at the new administration and the Republican controlled congress. The Washington Post reports, “The first 100 days of the Trump administration have been extremely chaotic,” said Muftiah M. McCartin, a vice chair at Covington & Burling, which saw a 32 percent spike in earnings from lobbying, the largest growth of any firm. “As a result, companies across the globe are seeking assistance to help navigate the new administration.” The biggest spenders on lobbying were the pharmaceutical and health care industries. Per the Center of Responsive Politics the “industry spent the most at $78 million, about $10 million more than it did during the same period in 2016 for a 14 percent increase. (PhRMA did have the biggest spending spike of the top 10 spenders.)” Much of the activity by this industry can be attributed to the on-going battle to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Interestingly, despite the uptick in Q1 lobbying revenue, the number of registered lobbyists has decreased. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “From January to March, the number of registered lobbyists dropped 10.3 percent compared to 2016’s first quarter, with only 9,175 official lobbyists on record. That number has been declining in recent years, but this is the biggest drop since lobbying reports started being reported quarterly.”

Below are Politico’s rankings of the top lobbying earners in the first quarter of 2017.

  1. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld: $9.1 million
  2. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck: $6.6 million
  3. Squire Patton Boggs: $5.8 million
  4. The Podesta Group: $5.6 million
  5. Holland & Knight: $5.1 million
  6. BGR Government Affairs: $5 million
  7. Cornerstone Government Affairs: $4.5 million
  8. K&L Gates: $4.3 million
  9. Covington & Burling: $4.2 million
  10. Capitol Counsel: $4.1 million*
  11. Williams & Jensen: $3.9 million
  12. Van Scoyoc Associates: $4 million*
  13. Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas: $3.6 million
  14. Cassidy & Associates: $3.4 million
  15. Ernst & Young: $3.4 million*
  16. Peck Madigan Jones: $3.3 million*
  17. Fierce Government Relations: $3.2 million
  18. Capitol Tax Partners: $3.2 million*
  19. Ogilvy Government Relations: $2.9 million
  20. Alston & Bird: $2.7 million

GAO’s 2016 Compliance and Enforcement Report

April 20th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

Earlier this month the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its tenth annual report on compliance with and enforcement of the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). The GAO found that “some lobbyists were still unclear about the need to disclose certain previously held covered positions, such as paid congressional internships or certain executive agency positions. GAO estimates that 15 percent of all LD-2 reports may not have properly disclosed 1 or more previously held covered positions. However, over the past several years of reporting on lobbying disclosure, GAO has found that most lobbyists in the sample rated the terms associated with LD-2 reporting as “very easy” or “somewhat easy” to understand.”

In regards to enforcement Andrew Garrahan of Covington and Burling reports that, “Another interesting development is that the House and Senate have not referred any individual lobbyists to the USAO for LD-203 noncompliance since 2013, and have not referred any lobbyist employer for LD-203 noncompliance since 2014.”

Additionally, Garrahan argues that “based on GAO’s report, the USAO appears to have focused its enforcement efforts on “chronic offenders,” those lobbyists who “repeatedly fail to file reports.”  These chronic offenders are referred to an Assistant U.S. Attorney for follow-up action, and the USAO reports it has created a new notice for chronic offenders that lists all of their outstanding referrals.  Per GAO, the USAO has four chronic offender cases under investigation, and expects to resolve all of them this year.  Furthermore, it expects to open more chronic offender cases by the end of 2017.”

Revised LDA Guidance

April 7th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

Following the annual review of Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance, Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives issued revised guidance on January 31st, 2017.  Outlined below are the new updates included in the revised guidance. The full revised guidance can be found here.

Updated Registration Threshold

As required by the LDA, the lobbying disclosure thresholds referenced throughout the Guidance have been updated to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index (as determined by the Secretary of Labor) during the preceding 4-year period. After January 1, 2017, an organization employing in-house lobbyists is exempt from registration if its total expenses for lobbying activities does not exceed and is not expected to exceed $13,000 during a quarterly period. The $3,000 income threshold for lobbying firms remains unchanged. See Guidance Section 4 on “Who Must Register and When” for additional information.

The previous Guidance update included non-substantive grammatical changes throughout and revisions to sections that previously referred to Line numbers in the reporting forms, as the current online filing system no longer relies on Line numbers. References to the LDA were also revised to identify the citation from the U.S. Code, with Internet links added in the online Guidance document to the U.S. Code.

Identification of Client and Covered Officials

Clarification is added in Guidance Section 4 to reflect the requirement of lobbyists to identify their client and interest of foreign entities when making lobbying contacts, and the requirement of covered officials or their employing office to identify whether the individual is a covered official.

Outside Retained Lobbyists

Guidance Section 4 includes an additional example confirming that outside retained lobbyist names are not reported on the registration (LD-1) or quarterly activity reports (LD-2) of organizations that employ in-house lobbyists. The section re-affirms that outside retained lobbying costs must be taken into account when calculating lobbying expenses. Outside retained lobbyists file their own registration and quarterly reports.

Income and Expense Rounding and Reporting, Agencies Contacted

Guidance Section 6 includes a new example to clarify that income or expenses are required to be rounded to the nearest $10,000. Another example is expanded to suggest care be taken when an organization uses an entire office budget for reporting purposes, since additional lobbying expenses need to be factored in and may be overlooked when using such an expense reporting method. In the discussion of “Contents of the Report,” additional clarification is added to confirm that filers should choose the most specific Agency available from the reporting system list. If the list does not display the government entity contacted, the filer is advised to select the agency or department in which the entity is housed.

Lobbyist and Registrant Contribution Reports (LD-203)

An example is added to Guidance Section 7 to make it clear that sole proprietors, including those who register with their lobbyist name as the registrant name, are required to file two contribution reports each filing period—one report for the registrant and one report for the individual lobbyist.

Public Availability and Compliance

In Guidance Section 10, filers are encouraged to use the online public databases for compliance purposes, to verify that registrations and reports have been received and processed into the public databases. Registrations and reports are available online at the House website at http://lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov, as well as the Senate website at http://www.senate.gov/lobby.

 

Open Skies Issues Remain Under Trump

March 30th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes

This week the U.S. Travel Association flew in hundreds of travel executives to meet with members on a range of issues including the “Open Skies” agreements. According to Politico, Delta, American and United have been lobbying the Trump administration to take action against the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which they accuse of violating their agreements with the U.S. by subsidizing their state-owned carriers, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. The travel executives have taken the side of the Persian Gulf carriers and will tell members “that Open Skies agreements have been critical to America’s efforts to capture a share of the highly lucrative international travel market,” Cathy Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Association, wrote in an email.”

All three airlines are part of the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, a coalition of airline companies and related organizations. In 2015, under the Obama Administration, the group spent $6.1 million lobbying. The group has continued its efforts under the Trump Administration. Politico reports that the coalition has “sent letters to President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and has been running TV ads on the issue.”