Planned Parenthood Controversy Continues

August 26th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE RELEASE OF a series of controversial videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the organization’s fetal tissue donation program continue to stir up dissent. The videos, which were filmed undercover by the Center for Medical Process, have led to a battle over Planned Parenthood’s funding. Social conservative members of the Republican Party have promised to not support any funding bill which includes financial support for Planned Parenthood, potentially leading to another government shutdown with current funding set to expire on Sept. 30, 2015. According to The Hill, Presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has vowed to lead the fight against the organization, saying, “the Department of Justice needs to investigate and prosecute Planned Parenthood for any potential criminal actions of commercial trafficking of fetal organs.”

Similarly in the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is facing an uprising from conservative members of his party who, like Sen. Cruz, refuse to vote for a spending plan that includes funds for Planned Parenthood.  Politico reports, Speaker Boehner would prefer “prefer to build bipartisan opposition to funding the group through a series of high-profile Congressional investigations.”

Speaker Boehner’s office itself became embroiled in video scandal when it was reported that Charlotte Ivancic, Speaker Boehner’s health policy director was related to Cate Dyer (they are sisters). Cate Dyer is the founder and CEO of StemExpress, and she was also featured in the videos released by the Center for Medical Process due to her organization’s connection to Planned Parenthood. On August 5th Charlotte Ivancic left Speaker Boehner’s office to work for lobbying firm Tarplin, Downs & Young according to reports from The Hill.

Planned Parenthood, which Politico reports has spent nearly $1.3 million on lobbying during the first six months of 2015, according to federal disclosures, has hired public relations firm SKDKickerbocker to help manage with the on-going situation. The organization also has Capitol Council, a D.C. based lobbying firm on retainer.

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Who’s Backing Hillary?

August 20th, 2015 by James Cameron

 DONALD TRUMP AND the Republican primaries have dominated the news cycle recently, but Hillary Clinton has quietly outraised any other candidate on K Street, as The Hill reports.  Clinton received more than $600,000 from more than 300 different registered lobbyists and PACs in the first half of 2015, outpacing the next closest candidate (Jeb Bush) by nearly $200,000 and by double the number of contributors. More intriguing, though, is which industries have contributed the most to Clinton’s campaign so far.

As The Intercept notes, private prison companies have been among the top donors and organizers for Hillary Clinton’s campaign fund. Although Clinton has increasingly moved leftward, particularly with regard to her views on police and criminal justice reform, advocates are growing concerned that the contributions from private prison companies will color her views in that regard. Indeed, we’ve expressed concern about the pernicious influence of private prison companies on the criminal justice system in this country. It remains to be seen how much their contributions will impact Clinton’s views and policies, though.

Despite her unequivocal support of climate change reform, including naming it as one of her top priorities should she be elected President, Clinton has also received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, as Mother Jones reports. Clinton has called climate change “consequential, urgent, [the most] sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.” Despite this, she has been hammered by activists over her perceived support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, as well as the speaking fees she accepted by Canadian banks that support the pipeline. On the other hand, the fossil fuels industry has some of the deepest pockets around, and it’s unlikely that any candidate in this election hasn’t received money from the industry at one point or another.

So, how concerned should criminal justice reformers and climate change advocates be about the apparent contradictions between Hillary Clinton’s policy positions and her campaign contributors? At this juncture, not too concerned. Clinton isn’t the first candidate to hold positions that directly oppose the interests of her campaign contributors, and she certainly won’t be the last in this election cycle. Even so, reformers should stay informed on who’s giving money to whom, and Lobby Blog will continue to track these issues for key candidates leading up to the next Presidential election.

Grassroots Advocacy – The Key to Your Success

August 13th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

Now that presidential campaign 2016 season is in full swing, not only have we started to see a flood of advocacy efforts on behalf of the candidates, but from an enormous and ever increasing pool of different organizations and interests groups. For example, by now we are all familiar with advocacy groups such as Veterans Against the Deal, which has launched an ad campaign opposing the Iran nuclear deal and groups like Global Zero, which has also launched a series of ads, but in support of the deal.

But in today’s highly competitive and well-funded advocacy environment reaching the right audience, building a strong coalition of support, and achieving your goal is no easy task. So, how will you get your voice heard? The answer is through a successful grassroots advocacy campaign, a quintessential tool for today’s advocacy and government relations professionals. However, the nature of grassroots advocacy is constantly changing and adapting. Where does one start today?

This is where Lobbyists.info and Association TRENDS comes to the rescue with their new online e-learning course, Grassroots Advocacy Strategies & Techniques Deep Dive. In this 8-week course, Stephanie Vance—one of America’s foremost experts on grassroots advocacy—teaches today’s best grassroots advocacy strategies.

From where advocacy fits into your government relations program and policy agenda, to how to deploy your plan far less expensively than through traditional lobbying, you’ll actually build a plan for engaging more members and achieving change.

The highly interactive course includes video clips, readings, and a 24/7 discussion board with fellow attendees. You’ll take graded quizzes each week, fill out worksheets for homework assignments, and have weekly call-in times where you can speak directly with the instructor if you desire. Not only will you come away with an actual advocacy plan built on today’s absolute smartest strategies, you’ll have Stephanie Vance’s feedback on that plan. Each student will also receive a copy of the Advocacy Handbook (a $329 value) as a course reference guide.

Jeb Is Bringing Home the Bacon

August 5th, 2015 by James Cameron

AFTER WEEKS OF JOSTLING for a position in Fox News’ first presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle,  the results are in.  According to Fox, based on an average of the five most recent national polls, the candidates in the 9:00PM, prime-time debate will be, “real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Despite trailing Donald Trump in the polls, Jeb Bush should feel confident about his position going into the debate. Discussing the prospect of debating Trump and the other Republican contenders Bush said, “I’m a big boy… I’ll be showing up with my big boy pants on.”

So far Bush has run a very successful financial operation with his dedicated Right to Rise Super PAC raising an enormous $103 million in contributions during the first six months of the year. The Washington Post reports that this also includes “$811,000 from lobbyists and lobby firms.” This accounts for less than 1% of the PAC’s total fundraising, but is still very impressive when one takes into account the strong stance Bush took on lobbying, which Lobby Blog has previously reported on. His suggested industry reforms have not seemed to affect his support among the industry as the Post reports, “Right to Rise brought in $523,325 from lobby firms and $282,850 from 107 lobbyists, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures filed Friday.”

Among Republican candidates Bush received the most amount of support (over three times more) from the lobbying industry followed by Chris Christie and Scott Walker. Christie raised “$219,000 from 42 lobbyists and nine lobby firms” and their affiliated PACs while Scott Walker raised “$102,000 from three lobbyists and firms — $100,000 of which came from Elizabeth Dunn of the consulting and communications firm FTI Consulting, which has a lobbying division.”

 

 

Highway Bill in the Slow Lane

July 29th, 2015 by James Cameron

AS CONGRESS ADJOURNS for its August recess, a much needed highway spending bill is left in limbo. Advocates, particularly at the state level, have been urging Congress to pass a bill for months, but partisan bickering, as well as infighting within the GOP majority, has left highway funding in the lurch.

Since the beginning of 2015, advocates have stressed the importance of investing in infrastructure for the deteriorating highway system. The Washington Post reported back in February that at least 42 state Chambers of Commerce urged Congress to extend the Highway Trust Fund and authorize other key transportation funding. Congressional dysfunction, perhaps unsurprisingly, has left lawmakers with less than two months after they return from recess to address these pressing issues. Because, according to the Sunlight Foundation, federal funds account for approximately half of all new infrastructure construction (such as bridges and new roads), local budgets highway budgets would be stretched to the breaking point.

Even if a bill is passed, the Sunlight Foundation points out that the ban on earmarks will make it more difficult for state officials to secure funding for their own infrastructure projects. As a result, local municipalities are banding together to create regional coalitions, in the hope that presenting a united front will make it easier to secure federal funding for crucial roadways that would benefit the whole region.

Congress has until the end of October, when highway funding is set to expire, to pass a new bill, but the Hill notes that other pressing legislative issues loom which could put a potential spending bill in jeopardy. For now, the state of America’s highway infrastructure remains in limbo.

Presidential Candidates and Lobbying–Where They Sit

July 22nd, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

WITH THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL campaign season fully underway, the candidates have begun to outline their vision for the future of the country. In a policy speech in Tallahassee, Fla. on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush outlined a series of reforms that he would enact if elected president. Among the policies that were announced by Bush were reforms for the lobbying industry, saying, “If I am elected president, I will use all of my influence to enact into law an immediate, unequivocal six-year ban on lobbying — a full Senate term — for ex-members of the House and Senate,” reports Politico. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), which was signed into law by Jeb’s older brother President George W. Bush in 2007, currently requires Senators to undergo a two year cooling off period and  members of the House of Representatives to undergo a one year cooling off period. Jeb also voiced support to force members of Congress to post details of any meetings with lobbyists online.

Other 2016 presidential candidates have also voiced similar opinions on lobbying. In his announcement speech, George Pataki announced, “Today, there is one former member of Congress lobbying for every current member and the first thing I would do is ban members of Congress from ever lobbying. If you serve one day, you are banned, go home.” Donald Trump also called the lobbying industry out 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. Hey, I have lobbyists. I have to tell you. I have lobbyists that can produce anything for me. They’re great. But you know what? It won’t happen. It won’t happen. Because we have to stop doing things for some people, but for this country, it’s destroying our country. We have to stop, and it has to stop now.”

What effect does this type of statement have on their campaign contributions from lobbyists? None. In February Bush raised more than $250,000 for his Right to Rise super PAC headlining a fundraiser hosted by the prominent lobbying firm BGR Group. According to Politico “Several lobbyists who have actively raised money for presidential hopefuls said they’ve become such predictable punching bags that the negative comments have no effect on their decisions about campaign donations.”

Nevertheless, campaign finance reform, transparency and lobbying are all poised to potentially be major 2016 presidential campaign issues. As more candidates release their policy goals and platforms, Lobby Blog will continue to monitor and report the latest lobbying news.

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Its Fallout

July 16th, 2015 by James Cameron

ON JULY 14th, PRESIDENT OBAMA achieved perhaps his biggest diplomatic victory in brokering a nuclear deal with Iran. Predictably, reactions in Congress and by 2016 Presidential candidates were mixed. But perhaps more relevant are the reactions of advocacy groups and diplomatic allies, both for and against the accord.

POLITICO reports that Obama swiftly convened a conference call on Tuesday with prominent Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy groups in an attempt to contain the fallout from the nuclear deal. Per POLITICO, the message was clear: “chill out and read the agreement.” Of particular concern to the administration are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the pro-Israel Jewish advocacy group AIPAC, both of whom are likely to criticize first and ask questions later.

As Vox notes, the Iran deal is a massive blow to Netanyahu, who has staked his political reputation, as well as his relationship with the United States, on preventing the deal from happening, at least in its current form. Netanyahu plans on lobbying Congress to kill the agreement, but he is almost certain to fail. AIPAC, similarly, is “deeply concerned” about the deal, According to the Washington Post.  POLITICO reports that the group is already planning to mount a public awareness campaign. They will likely make a lobbying push as well. But other Jewish groups have praised the deal as an important step for stability in the region.

J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israeli group, lobbied in support of the deal leading up to the announced agreement on Tuesday. The group praised the deal, saying that it “meet[s] the critical criteria…that verifiably blocks each of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.” POLITICO notes that another group, the left-leaning New Security Action, also supported the deal, and it has launched a public relations campaign, including a Funny or Die Video, to support the agreement.

According to the Huffington Post, it seems a virtual certainty that Congressional opponents of the deal will be unable to override it, much to the chagrin of Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC, but with such powerful foes opposing it, nothing is truly certain. It’s a good bet that opponents of the deal will continue to fight it in favor of a harsher deal for Iran or scrapping the current deal altogether.

I Was a Teenage Unlobbyist: An Interview with Norman Ball

July 7th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

I was  a Teenage Unlobbyist

On Lobby Blog we have often discussed “unlobbyists,” or those who participate in lobbying activities without ever formally registering as a lobbyist.  In October 2014, we wrote about Tim LaPira, a political scientist from James Madison University whose research suggests that the $3.3 billion spent on lobbying in 2012 was actually closer to $7 billion due to the massive number of unregistered lobbyists. Further, as noted in the Lobby Blog post “Registration Crackdown”, unregistered lobbyists have rarely, if ever, been pursued by the Office of Congressional Ethics or the Department of Justice. Between 1995 and 2010, only three lawsuits filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against lobbyists were settled, and since 2010, at least five suits have been filed related to Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) and Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) violations.

There are, however, signs of heightened awareness and enforcement interest emanating from within the Department of Justice. Interested parties may wish to register their concerns with Bill Miller, Media Contact for the DC Attorney’s Office who handles this issue at DOJ.

Perhaps there are some of you amongst our readership who have experienced business/revenue loss at the hands of an unregistered competitor. If so, we’d like to hear from you, maybe even publish your story in future blog installments. Self-policing is an effective tool. Today on Lobby Blog we have the pleasure of talking with Norman Ball about “unlobbyists,” and his particular experiences in this arena. Norm is a business developer and Program Management Professional (PMP) as well as a writer in Northern Virginia. After encountering some of his recent lobbying-related articles on-line, we felt he had a story worth sharing with our readership. So we asked him to sit down with us for an interview. Here is the result of that meeting.

Matt: First of all Norm, thank you for helping to shed light on a long-overlooked and shadowy area of lobbying known as ‘unlobbying’. I know our readership will be interested to learn more about this strange subgroup in their midst.

Norm: No problem, Matt.

M: I should also say that, while we loved your graphic, it’s fair to say you’re not a teenager, yes?

N: The cobwebs behind ‘teenage’ are there for a reason Matt (laughs). I felt my stint as an Unlobbyist Assistant qualified as a monstrous transformation. Hence the hairy cuffed claw. I’m better now.

M: Well that’s good to hear. First, we should probably familiarize folks with just what we mean by an unlobbyist. We took a swing at defining an unlobbyist above. What’s your definition?

N: By way of analogy, I would only add that an unlobbyist is like a practicing attorney who isn’t state-barred or an individual who practices medicine without a license. These folks are often employed by their clients via business development contracts. In some cases, the client hasn’t performed the necessary due diligence to ascertain the professional legitimacy of the individual. In fairness, how many people would think to question an attorney’s bona fides when they encounter him in the ‘Attorney’ section of the Yellow Pages? Many unlobbyists exploit this naiveté.

M: Of course.

N: Other times, the clients are either unaware of HLOGA’s ethical implications, or perhaps turn a blind eye because they feel they’re getting an insider on the cheap. But again, the onus rests with the individual who’s essentially orchestrating the deception. Most clients, I believe, are unwittingly implicated.

M: Everybody wants bang for their buck as long as it’s on the right side of the law. (Chuckling) I still don’t know how one who is engaged in the world of lobbying can still be unaware of HLOGA, especially with such fantastic compliance resources out there such as Lobbyists.info’s Lobbying Compliance Handbook.  Why don’t the organizations tasked with the enforcement of lobbying make unlobbying a higher priority?

N: Interestingly, the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House tend to focus their attention on those who conscientiously register and file the necessary reports. Thus unlobbyists often travel under the radar on Capitol Hill. I liken it to the police stopping a bank robber just outside the bank only to let him go when they discover he’s not a registered bank robber.

M: You might say that much of our readership is held to a higher standard simply because they do the right thing by disclosing their profession. That seems a tad unfair, especially given the image problems lobbyists must already contend with.

N: An image problem created in part by unlobbyists.

M: Exactly. So in order to get your own arms around the lobbying universe, you decided to conduct a series of interviews. They’re very good by the way.

N: Thank you. Although we haven’t gotten to the particulars of my situation, I came to suspect that, contrary to the assurances of the individual I was working with, he was in fact operating outside of the law.  So as you say, this led me on my own quest for information.

M: In your interview with Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen and a driving force behind the drafting and passage of HLOGA, he implies there may be ethical and legal implications for both the Congressional staffs and clients who, knowingly or otherwise, engage with unlobbyists.

N: Yes, he does. Look, I’m not sure whether a ‘carding system’ is required. But transparency and full disclosure are critical to the democratic process. Surely some sort of verification protocol is warranted in order to protect, not only the integrity of the system, but those who register as the law requires of them.

For the elected official and his staff too, they have a right to know whether they are sitting across the table from a citizen petitioning a genuine civic grievance, a registered lobbyist or a businessman with an undisclosed economic interest who’s sort of unethically ‘playing the gap’. As an elected official, I think I’d be upset if the latter posed himself as the former since it could rebound back on my office, creating at the very least the appearance of impropriety.

M: That makes sense. Appearances can be everything in politics.

N: As for the unlobbyist and his client, if the former has misrepresented his professional credentials to the latter, that seems more of a contractual or business risk issue. The analogy would be hiring an individual to audit your books who you subsequently discover is not a CPA. We’re in the realm of effective due diligence or, in the event of lapsed due diligence, potential grounds for dismissal upon subsequent discovery.

M: We at Lobby Blog share your concern about the troubling opacity of the lobbying profession. Unfortunately the ‘Casino Jack’ (Abramoff –whom I note you interviewed recently) stereotype is embedded in the public psyche. No one would argue the vast majority of lobbyists fulfill a crucial role in the legislative process and are hard-working and ethical professionals. It’s a shame a few rotten apples create an image problem for the majority.

N: I concur fully with that, Matt—both with the necessity of the lobbying function for the promulgation of good law and with the competency and integrity I’ve encountered in my dealings with industry professionals. For example, Meredith McGehee, Policy Director at the Campaign Legal Center and a long-time registered lobbyist herself was a great source of information as was the Sunlight Foundation’s Jenn Topper.

Clearly, the issues facing the government today are simply too complex to be dealt with, absent competent expertise. One current debate is whether this expertise should reside within government itself or should instead be ‘fed’ to it by external conduits such as lobbyists. Lee Drutman (Senior Fellow at New America), whom I interviewed recently, makes an excellent (and highly readable) case for the absolute criticality of the lobbying function in his new book, The Business of America is Lobbying. However he feels this information-gathering function should be brought more under the direct auspices of Congress itself.

Then you have Abramoff who’s ideologically a small government guy. Perhaps not surprisingly, his current reform efforts focus more on a ‘less government equals less lobbying’ theme. Another angle arrives via Public Citizen’s Holman, a huge advocate for increased transparency and accountability. These varying approaches notwithstanding, you’ll find little argument from any of them that traveling salesmen in the Senate cloak room are not conducive to the public interest.

M: We’re seeing more energy on the HLOGA enforcement side. What are you seeing?

N: There’s no doubt the secret TPP trade bill has stoked populist ire against hidden corporate hands. But even before that, DOJ spokesman Bill Miller, who I’m speaking with (and who’s requested a copy of this interview by the way), said that, “the issue of illegally unregistered lobbyists isn’t outside the purview of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.” So while Congress may be more focused on registered lobbyists, DOJ recognizes a broader mandate.

M: There is movement within this broader mandate to be sure.

N: Yes indeed. I am speaking with some advocacy groups who are eager to put more fire beneath the unlobbyist issue. They just needed some case studies and a ‘poster child’ or two. That’s where my story’s helpful. These sorts of ethics drives tend to galvanize around an Abramoff-type figure.

M: Great background. Now to your story. How did your involvement all come about?

N: Well, without delving all the background details, I got involved with a gentleman who had had extensive prior consulting experience with the Department of Energy, specifically the nuclear division. He’d secured a business development contract with a manufacturer of patented dissolvable nuclear suits or what the industry calls Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Unlobbyist

M: Sort of like DuPont’s Tyvek suits?

N: Exactly. In fact, part of the initiative involved attempting to dislodge Tyvek suits from the Federal space as well as the traditional laundered, or reusable, suits. This company had achieved a commanding market share in the private sector. However they’d had limited success with Uncle Sam.

As you mention Tyvek, another important point is that DuPont sustains a significant Government Affairs effort which, one suspects, operates within the law. There’s something patently unfair about a legally compliant and significant investment (Est. at $9 million in 2014 according to Open Secrets) being undermined by what amounts to an underfunded, unregistered competitive rearguard action.

M: That almost goes without saying. Non-compliance shouldn’t enjoy a built-in competitive advantage. What gives here?

N: Again, the profession could do more to amplify its concerns. Hopefully this interview will help raise awareness. Anyway, the game plan was to break the bureaucratic impasse by sending letters to various Congressmen and Senators in an effort to coax a letter from one of them to Secretary of Energy Moniz, urging him to initiate a departmental review that would include the represented product. To that end, I undertook research, visited Congressional offices, DOE nuclear field facilities such as Hanford and the manufacturer’s facility down south, co-wrote explanatory letters and white papers, developed marketing materials and videos, accompanied and overseen in most instances by my colleague.

M: What was your economic or business interest?

N: None during this formative phase beyond the expectation of reaping future compensation via public sector sales. Our agreement was to share any commissions that followed on from this effort. However for other reasons beyond just the lobbying, the endeavor was starting to ring alarm bells in my mind by the end of 2014. So I commenced my own side-research.

M: What did you conclude?

N: Well, the structure of the letters to Congress and the whole meeting approach was, I felt, less than above-board. I had deferred to my colleague’s long history of interfacing with Congress, and had even asked him on one occasion whether he was a lobbyist (he wasn’t) and whether that presented a problem. He assured me he was acting in the capacity of a concerned citizen and thus was merely petitioning Congress in that capacity.

M: How did you feel the letters were misleading?

N: They would begin by describing my colleague’s background interfacing with DOE in order to imply—or at least suggest—his professional standing and the source of his expertise on the matter. From there, the letter would tout the advantages of the product he was representing and end with an appeal to have the relevant Congressional office contact, as I mentioned above, the DOE Secretary. Stapled to the back of the letters was the company’s sales literature. So the sales objective was barely camouflaged. However the implicit economic self-interest was never discussed, and at times deflected altogether.

M: That’s interesting. How did the various Congressional offices respond to these letters? Are there any specific occasions that stick out in your mind to give our readership a sense of how ‘direct sales lobbying’ works?

N: Well, more often than we’d speak with a mid-level staffer who’d sort of forward the information into a black hole. This came about often by talking our way into the office based on a previously sent letter.

M: Can you relate any of the more fruitful meetings?

N: One occurred in mid-2014 with Rep. Charles “Chuck” Fleischmann (R) of Tennessee’s 3rd District and his Legislative Director, Alek Vey. The Congressman is on the House Energy and Water Subcommittee and has been a committed and passionate leader in nuclear waste cleanup. DOE’s decommissioned Hanford Site is also in his district. It was a very interesting meeting.

M: How so?

N: My colleague launched into his pitch about going back a long way on Capitol Hill as a page, having an Uncle who was a former Senator, etc. As a 79-year-old with a cane, my colleague strikes a grandfatherly pose which gets him more time than probably you or I would on our own. The persona was that of a retired grandfather concerned about the nuclear waste problem and wanting to leave a better planet behind for his grandchildren.

M: And yet, stapled to the back of the letter were un-grandfatherly sales brochures?

N: Yes.

M: How did this selfless appeal go over?

N: You have to think these guys get hit on all the time for one favor or another. So I think their antennae are always up for just about anything. Fleishmann was clearly listening, as you might expect, given his interest in the subject matter. Yet as he and Vey flipped though the pitch material, they would sort of glance back and forth at one another, asking at regular intervals who exactly we were and what our interests were, to which my colleague would revert back to grandfather mode and regale them with tales of yesteryear.

M: …all the while avoiding disclosure of his ‘official unofficial’ capacity as unlobbyist.

N: I found it all vaguely humorous though troubling at the same time. In fact it was after this meeting that I pointedly asked him whether he was a lobbyist and if not, did he perhaps need to be one? He conceded he wasn’t, but again dismissed the necessity of it. As he’d been involved on the Hill for decades, I deferred to his greater knowledge. Throughout the meeting, Congressman Fleischmann and Vey were polite, respectful, attentive, but in the end, I would say, a little confused over the purpose and intent of our mission. Who could blame them? But that’s entirely my own impression. To the best of my knowledge as of December, nothing had come of the contact.

M: All in all, it sounds like a deliberately mixed message. Caveat emptor.

N: It felt a little sideways to me. On the Executive side, we had meetings with what HLOGA defines as Covered Officials. By the end of 2014, I was feeling uncomfortable about the whole undertaking. My discomfort morphed into resentment and annoyance as I realized I’d been conscripted into what amounted to a legally dubious undertaking. It also prompted me to pursue a better understanding of Federal lobbying disclosure guidelines and sort of educate myself.

M: Well you’ve certainly done that, and educated others in the process too, I might add.

N: Thank you, Matt. I appreciate that. If my efforts help others, that’s great.

M: What advice would you give for industry participants, both government and client-side, to avoid getting tied up in questionable activities?

N: In two words, due diligence. When someone knocks your door offering to trim your trees, it’s good practice to request verification of their contractor license. Lobbying is no different. I know your organization maintains up-to-date lobbying databases. The Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) mandates that the Senate and House maintain databases too. Those can be found here and here, respectively. As a matter of course, these databases should be accessed by all parties. Congressional staffers tend to err on the side of openness and accessibility in the interest of providing responsive constituent services. However this openness can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous parties. At the least suggestion of commercial intent, a visitor’s lobbying credentials should be politely requested, in the spirit of fostering civic discourse and discouraging undisclosed special interests.

M: What further steps are you involved in to bring this issue to proper closure?

N: Well, I’m talking to a number of entities both within the Senate, House and on the Executive side as well as advocacy groups who’ve expressed an interest in raising awareness of the unlobbyist phenomenon. As a ‘prophylactic measure’, I was also advised to contact the various House, Senate and DOE offices I interfaced with in order to formally disavow my prior role.

M: Thanks so much for talking with me today Norm, it has been a pleasure!

N: You too Matt. Thank you.

Uber – Lobbying at a Place Near You

June 24th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

UBER, THE DISRUPTIVE RIDE SHARING/TAXI APP, has often been discussed due to its meteoric rise and massive $40 billion dollar evaluation. Still growing, Uber has faced many challenges along the way, not only from competitors like Lyft and traditional taxi companies, but also from municipal legislation at all levels. However, so far Uber has been able to overcome each of these obstacles in no small part due to its reliance on lobbying and over the past year it has “built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country,” according to an in depth profile into Uber’s strategy by Bloomberg.

This blog has previously discussed Uber’s strategy of using state and local level lobbying efforts to reach their corporate goals due to a regulatory environment that is constantly shifting in many municipalities. For example, Bloomberg reports last year “Colorado passed the first ride-sharing legislation in the country. Since then, about 50 U.S. jurisdictions have adopted ordinances recognizing Uber and Lyft as a new type of transit provider called ‘transportation network companies.’” Some states, like Virginia, have attempted to stop Uber from operating in their area but failed after significant backlash.  According to The Washington Post, “Uber’s approach is brash and, so far, highly effective: It launches in local markets regardless of existing laws or regulations. It aims to build a large customer base as quickly as possible. When challenged, Uber rallies its users to pressure government officials, while unleashing its well-connected lobbyists to influence lawmakers.”

Uber’s ability to implement such a strategy is in no small part due to the sheer size and spread of its lobbying operations. In the United States alone Uber employs 250 lobbyists and has 29 different lobbying firms registered to work on its behalf in capitols around the nation.  This may seem like a lot, but this doesn’t even include the number of municipal lobbyists employed by Uber. Using lobbyists who are familiar with the local players and policies has been another important tool in Uber’s lobbying strategy. Bloomberg reports that In Portland Uber “hired a new team of local lobbyists headed by Dan Bates, who used to work as Portland’s own lobbyist in the state capitol…In Kansas, it hired Governor Sam Brownback’s former campaign manager and another lobbyist who also works for Koch Industries. In Connecticut, it contracted with a former House speaker’s firm, and in Illinois it brought on the former governor’s chief of staff.”

It is impossible to calculate the total amount spent by Uber on lobbying as states, cities and local municipalities all have different reporting requirements however, from the reports that are disclosed we know that it is a costly battle at every level with Uber spending $208,000 in Maryland and $684,000 in California and more than $600,000 in Seattle and $314,000 lobbying in Washington, D.C.

Labor Playing Hard Ball on TPP

June 18th, 2015 by James Cameron

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP has faced a rocky road through Congress, in no small part due to the efforts of organized labor. As the Washington Post notes, passage of the bill would be a major legislative achievement for President Obama, akin to the North American Free Trade Agreement under the Clinton Administration. However, the Obama Administration has faced significant pushback from the AFL-CIO and from pro-labor Democrats, who argue that the TPP would weaken both fair labor conditions and wage equality.

From the outset, the AFL-CIO pledged to oppose the TPP; back in March, the Post reported that AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka vowed to fight the bill, saying “There is such a dramatic impact on the standard of living and a lowering of wages and a loss of jobs.” Labor’s staunch opposition seems to have been effective, with key Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren coming out against the bill in its current form.

But the AFL-CIO’s aggressive advocacy tactics has soured many Congressional Democrats, traditionally allies of organized labor. POLITICO reported this week that the union employed a “scorched-earth” approach, threatening Democrats vulnerable to primary challenges and promising to withhold fundraising should Democrats vote “yes” on the TPP. This approach has some Democrats seething, even those who were already opposed to legislation, such as Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Minority Whip, and Nancy Pelosi. Hoyer said of the AFL-CIO’s strategy, “I don’t think it’s helpful…[we] urged our friends in labor to have respect.”

Although the AFL-CIO’s tactics have been effective, it remains to be seen whether it can quash the legislation. This week, the House revived the bill by narrowly passing it, moving the debate to the Senate, where Obama and other supports hope that key Democrats can be mustered to pass the TPP. Regardless of the TPP’s outcome, as a key 2016 election year approaches, it’s likely in the interest of both Democrats and organized labor to mend fences, and soon.

Soccer Corruption Dribbling Down K-Street

June 10th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE ARREST OF SEVERAL prominent FIFA officials and its controversial President Sepp Blatter’s decision to resign from his office just days after securing re-election have sent shockwaves around the world in recent weeks. The arrests have started to shine a bright light on the systemic and rampant corruption in soccer’s governing body and highlighting the organization’s lack of transparency. As part of the investigation into abuses by FIFA Swiss prosecutors are set to investigate FIFA’s decision to award the hosting rights for both the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

In 2011 following an outcry due to FIFA’s decision to award to World Cup tournament to Qatar FIFA commissioned a report investigating Qatar’s bidding process for the tournament. The full report, which has never been published, cleared Qatar of any wrong doing. Yet, allegations of corruption and bribery still continue to surface. In response to the controversy the Wall Street Journal reports Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (the World Cup organizing committee) saying, “We conducted our bid with integrity and to the highest ethical standards,”  adding that it aims to leave behind “a positive legacy.”

From 2009, when the bidding process for the rights to host the World Cup began, to present Qatar has spent more than $8.8 million on U.S. based consultants. The Hill reports, “Although the money spent on public relations and advocacy services since 2009 includes a slew of issues surrounding U.S.-Qatari engagement, the World Cup 2022 Bid Committee paid Brown Lloyd James, now BLJ Worldwide, an estimated $982,339 from 2009 to 2011, according to filings with the Department of Justice.”

However, the bribery allegations may just be the tip of the iceberg in the scandal surrounding Qatar’s World Cup bid. Adding to the headache of U.S. based consultants Qatar also faces allegations of the mistreatment of migrant workers, many of whom are working to build the stadiums and facilities for the World Cup. A report in the British newspaper The Guardian from 2014 reports, “Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions.” However, some who oppose Qatar’s World Cup bid such as Sunjeev Bery, the Advocacy Director for Middle East North Africa at Amnesty International USA argue, “No amount of PR or lobbying can obscure the underlying realities of labor abuse and exploitation in Qatar.”

Since January four new firms (Mercury, LEVICK, and Portland Communications which sub-contracted with Gallagher Group) have signed on to work on behalf of Qatar with contracts totaling more than $1.9 million through June alone. Those firms as well as Squire Patton Boggs and BGR Group, both of which have for a longtime listed Qatar as a client, certainly have their work cut out for them in the wake of the developing FIFA scandal.

 

 

 

Privacy Advocates Spy A Ray of Hope

June 4th, 2015 by James Cameron

FOR ARGUABLY THE first time since Edward Snowden released government documents to the media detailing the NSA’s secret bulk collection surveillance programs, privacy advocates are bullish about the prospects of changing the way the government collects data for anti-terrorism and law enforcement purposes. This week, the Hill reported that the Senate Passed the USA Freedom Act, which is designed to rein in what was seen as indiscriminate bulk collection of U.S. phone records and internet browsing data.

Indeed, things are looking brighter for privacy advocates when Republicans—who generally condemned the Snowden disclosures as illegal, if not outright treasonous—are infighting over the issue. POLITICO reported this week that Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted Jeb Bush over his defense of the NSA’s data collection practices.  In fact, Paul was instrumental in delaying the renewal of the Patriot Act and, in doing so, caused the NSA’s bulk collection to lapse, as the Daily Beast notes.

Still, privacy advocates say that it isn’t enough. For one, the NSA still has the power to collect American e-mails and other communications without a warrant if they are associated with foreigners being surveilled under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Prism, Upstream, and others. Business Insider reported that advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation  and Mozilla (creators of the Firefox web browser) aggressively lobbied for the passage of the USA Freedom Act, but Chris Riley of Mozilla stressed that the bill “[isn’t] comprehensive” and that there is still significant work to be done to ensure free and open communication among U.S. citizens.

While passage of the USA Freedom Act is a significant step forward for a movement that badly needed one, it remains to be seen if the measures in the act will be enough to curb what privacy advocates see as illegal and out of control government surveillance. With loopholes like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the future is far from certain.

The Key Is Keeping Clients Happy

May 28th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE CLASSIC APPROACH TO evaluating the plethora of lobbying organizations that operate in Washington, D.C. is to simply compare the earnings of the different shops. However, boutique firms have always argued that this is unfair evaluation as it is disproportionately advantageous to the many large lobbying firms that occupy the district. To provide a more balanced and clear picture of the lobbying landscape other metrics must also be taken into account. In the Factors of Influence Report, Lobbyists.info utilizes more than ten metrics in its analytical model to more accurately assess the amount influence lobbying firms have.

Similarly, a new report by the Hill, it found that lobbying firms considered client retention and satisfaction to be the single metric that mattered most. Donald Pongrace, the head of public law and policy at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP supports this claim stating, “At the end of the day, the critical issue here isn’t what ranking you get, it’s client satisfaction and trust. If clients trust you with their problems, you don’t need to worry about your ratings or chasing the next piece of business.”

In regards to client retention rate it seems that boutique lobbying firms have an advantage over larger, multifaceted firms. This is exemplified by the CGCN group, which preformed remarkably well with a 91% retention rate over one a year period and an 83% retention rate over a three year period. The Hill and Bloomberg Government found that “the data also separates pure advocacy operations from both law and lobby firms — finding the bigger policy and legal shops to have an overall lower three-year client-retention rate and less revenue per lobbyist.”

Clean Water Fight Gets Slippery

May 20th, 2015 by James Cameron

WATER: ALL LIVING THINGS need it, and it’s become a contentious policy issue for the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental advocates, as well as the developers, farmers, and other stakeholders on the other side. Last year, the EPA proposed a rule known as the “Waters of the United States” which would be part of the Clean Water Act and which is slated to be formalized soon. According to The Hill, the rule would expand the types of water that fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

However, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that opponents claim the rule is overly broad; it could be applied to virtually any body of water, including ones as small as ponds or even, supposedly, wet front yards. The EPA, on the other hand, claims that the rule is intended to protect vulnerable headwaters, which flow into other bodies of water and therefore are particularly impacted by pollution.

Naturally, the controversial rule has attracted significant lobbying; opponents include agricultural, mining, and electric utility interests, according to the Center. Some of these groups have spent more than a hundred million dollars opposing the rule.

But the EPA and its allies aren’t sitting idly by. According to the New York Times, the Obama administration gave EPA the go-ahead to mount a significant public outreach program in support of the rule, often in conjunction with supporters such as the Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund. Critics contend, however, that it’s both unusual and unseemly for an agency to conduct activities that are partisan in nature or in support of specific legislation.

The EPA has defended its actions, claiming that it violated no federal lobbying laws because it did not urge the public to lobby Congress, but rather conducted a public relations and awareness campaign. The Hill notes that the House passed a bill recently that would overturn the regulation, though it’s unlikely that the bill will ever be signed into law. Although it seems likely that the rule will take effect, the fight over the Waters of the United States and the Clean Water Act is far from over.

Because Money Matters

May 13th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

A GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY ORGANIZATION called “Women on 20s” began an effort 10 weeks ago to replace Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar bill with a one of 15 inspiring American woman. The organization enabled the public to vote for the final nomination in an online election in which more than 600,000 votes were cast. At the conclusion of the voting Harriet Tubman won election. Women on 20s has since sent a petition of to the White House and is now lobbying President Obama to instruct “Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to use his authority to make this change in time to have a new bill in circulation before the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020,” according to the group’s website.

The group asks that individuals “consider joining our ‘Virtual March’ to the White House to bolster the petition… All you have to do is use the hashtag #DearMrPresident in your social media posts and you’ll be helping us amplify the call for historic change.”

The movement has gathered a substantial amount of support from those in Washington, including the White House. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced S. 925 “The Women on the Twenty Act” on April 14, 2015 which would direct the Treasury Department to convene a panel of citizens to consider the issue of putting a woman’s face on America’s paper money and to make recommendations  regarding the likeness of a woman to appear on the face. In July 2014 during a speech in Kansas City, Mo. President Obama may have tipped his hand saying, “Last week, a young girl wrote to ask me why aren’t there any women on our currency, and then she gave me like a long list of possible women to put on our dollar bills and quarters and stuff — which I thought was a pretty good idea.”

On May 13, 2015 White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said “that Tubman was a ‘wonderful choice’ for the bill, but stopped short of saying whether the President backs putting Tubman on the $20,” according to the Washington Post. Harriet Tubman, who lived from 1822-1913 was an African-American abolitionist and a conductor in the “Underground Railroad” during the Civil War.

In an emailed statement Susan Ades Stone, Executive Director of Women on 20s wrote, “Our paper bills are like pocket monuments to great figures in our history…Our work won’t be done until we’re holding a Harriet $20 bill in our hands in time for the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.”

Below are the other influential and iconic women who were considered by Women on 20s.

  • Clara Barton‎, the founder of the American Red Cross
  • Margaret Sanger‎, who opened the first birth control clinic in the US.
  • Rachel Carson‎, a marine biologist who wrote the hugely influential environmental book Silent Spring
  • Rosa Parks‎, the iconic civil rights activist
  • Barbara Jordan‎, a politician who was the first black woman in the south to be elected to the House of Representatives
  • Betty Friedan‎, feminist author of the Feminine Mystique 
  • Frances Perkins‎, the Secretary of Labor under FDR, who was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet
  • Susan B. Anthony‎, women’s suffrage movement leader
  • Shirley Chisholm‎, the first African-American woman elected to Congress
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton‎, early women’s rights activist and abolitionist
  • Eleanor Roosevelt‎, human rights activist and former first Lady
  • Sojourner Truth‎, African American women’s rights activist and abolitionist
  • Patsy Mink, the first woman of color elected to the House, and the first Asian American elected to Congress
  • Alice Paul‎, women’s suffrage movement leader