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.

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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

 

Fighting Disease, Fighting for Funding

May 6th, 2015 by James Cameron

MOST PEOPLE WOULD AGREE that AIDS research is an important  target for government dollars, but digging deeper reveals the desperate scramble that advocates for various diseases must undertake to secure competitive research funding.

Particularly disadvantaged in this fight are advocates for rare diseases. The Wall Street Journal reports that rare diseases have received between 3 and 15% of NIH funding per year from 1998 to 2008. Much of that funding, according to a study by Management Science, is thanks to lobbying; in that sense, rare disease lobbyists are succeeding. Critics, however, protest that more of those funds should be given to research diseases that have the largest negative impact on the populations, so even rare diseases are not without controversy.

By contrast, AIDS is one of the largest disease beneficiaries of government funds, both through NIH and the Bush administration’s PEPFAR initiative, and the funding, by most measures, has been tremendously successful. In a 2013 report, the UNAIDS initiative reports that 26 countries reduced the number of new HIV infections by 50% since 2001, with a similar global reduction targeted for 2015. Likewise, antiretroviral treatments, reduction of HIV transmission via drug injections, and closing the global AIDS resource gap all enjoyed varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, though, the successful trends that the fight against AIDS is enjoying may come to the detriment of other causes.

Because advocates are often competing for the same money, someone will inevitably lose out. In a recent article, The Hill notes that Alzheimer’s disease is eating up an ever-increasing portion of the Medicare and Medicaid costs: from 18% this year to an estimated 31% by 2050. As a result, Alzheimer’s research funding for the National Institutes of Health has increased to $600 million, but advocates hope that will increase to as much as $2 billion. Still, Alzheimer’s must compete with “scarier” diseases such as AIDS and cancer for funding; as Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) points out, “Are we going to wait until we figure out a vaccine for [AIDS/HIV] before we begin shifting to a new battle?”

There seems to be no easy answer to the conundrum of what portion of NIH funding diseases should receive. Until the social and economic toll of Alzheimer’s reaches an untenable peak, or until Alzhiemer’s lobbyists find a sufficient receptive Congress, Alzheimer’s research may not see the success that AIDS has enjoyed.

Lobbying for Trade

April 29th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

DURING HIS ON-GOING TRIP to Washington, D.C. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met yesterday with President Barack Obama at the White House and discussed many issues from cyber threats to trade. However, trade seemed to be the focal point for both leaders with Prime Minister Abe saying, “We welcome the fact that significant progress was made. We will continue to cooperate to lead the TPP talks to its last phase,” reports the Wall Street Journal. President Obama added that, “The politics around trade can be hard in both our countries…It’s never fun passing a trade bill in this town.”

The TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal that is currently being negotiated between 12 nations. President Obama announced the United States intention to participate in the agreement in 2009. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “The TPP is the cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s economic policy in the Asia Pacific. The large and growing markets of the Asia-Pacific already are key destinations for U.S. manufactured goods, agricultural products, and services suppliers, and the TPP will further deepen this trade and investment.”

Today (Wednesday, April 29, 2015) Prime Minister addressed a joint session of Congress, a first for any leader of Japan. In his address Prime Minister Abe stated, “The trade agreement would help ensure the security of an area that accounts for 40% of the world economy, and one third of global trade.” The Prime Minister Abe sought to use his address, at least in part, to persuade members of Congress to support the trade deal.

However, convincing U.S. law makers will be no easy task. Trade has become a divisive issue, particularly among democrats with the more left wing members of the party such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposing such legislation. Issues over the trade deal have also started to seep into the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton so far has come out as noncommittal on either side of the deal, stating, “Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security.” However that may change as Sen. Sanders is expected to enter the race against Hillary Clinton this week.

In an effort to help convince lawmakers of the merits of TPP the Japanese government has employed around 20 different lobbying and public relations firms to work advocate on behalf of the trade deal. According to The Hill, Japan “spent more than $2.3 million on U.S. consultants from 2014 through the beginning of this year.” Among the many firms that Japan has on retainer are the powerful Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and the Podesta Group, both of which ranked in the “Top 10 Most Influential Lobbying Firms” in Lobbyists.info’s most recent Factors of Influence Report at numbers 6 and 2, respectively.

Campaign Finance: Who Cares?

April 23rd, 2015 by James Cameron

CRITICS OF THE INFLUENCE GAME are quick to go after lobbyists, but campaign finance is another area where nearly unlimited amounts of money (via Super PACs) can drastically influence elections and, by extension, the political system as a whole. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in extremely wealthy individuals on both sides of the aisle throwing their financial clout behind particular candidates. These campaign financiers include the Koch Brothers, George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, and Tom Steyer.

However, politicians are typically hesitant to reform campaign finance; after all, they’re the beneficiaries of all of this cash—until this year. According to the Washington Post, the answer is yes; in fact, it’s poised to become a major campaign issue. The Post notes that Hillary Clinton recently promised to reform the campaign finance system as part of her Presidential platform, while other potential candidates, such as Chris Christie, have also paid lip service to the idea.

Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call argues, however, that the Post if way off base. Rothenberg contends that in other major election years, such as 2012, voters will ultimately overlook campaign finance and vote for the candidate based on partisanship and mood, even if they care about campaign finance reform. After all, both the GOP (the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson) and the Democratic Party (George Soros and Tom Steyer) have billionaire donors backing candidates.

The real answer probably falls somewhere in between. While it’s true that in the past, neither voters nor politicians have seemed inclined to take action on campaign finance, but the fact that the issue is being discussed so early in the Presidential election cycle suggests that change is happening. It remains to be seen whether this is just lip service or if we’ll see substantive election finance reform.

Proceed With Caution! – Relationships Involving K St. & Capitol Hill

April 15th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

RELATIONSHIPS ON THE HILL can be a tricky thing. The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into whether Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.) violated any rules because of his staff’s work with his wife, Constance Harriman-Whitfield, a senior policy adviser for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, who is a registered lobbyist.

According to a Politico report, “The Office of Congressional Ethics found that Whitfield’s office helped set up “as many as 100 meetings” for his wife’s organization and that he “conducted joint meetings with her “to promote [the HSLF’s] legislative priorities.” The Ethics Committee has formed a special subcommittee for the investigation and  it will begin looking into whether Rep. Whitfield “violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities, with respect to allegations that he failed to prohibit lobbying contacts between his staff and his wife, improperly used his official position for the beneficial interest of himself or his wife, and dispensed special favors or privileges to either his wife, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, or the Humane Society of the United States.”

Both Rep. Whitfield and his wife have denied any wrongdoing.

The investigation has prompted questions over government officials and their interactions with people they are in relationships with and family members who are lobbyists. Roll Call reports, “Data is scant, but a 2014 report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington identified 30 senators who have family members who lobby or work in government affairs. The most recent House data is from 2012, when a CREW report found 44 members who have family members working as registered lobbyists or in government relations.”

With interactions between lobbyist and government officials under such strict scrutiny, lobbyists must ensure their compliance with all of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) regulations and requirements, which cover a huge array of interactions, including dating.  Lobbyists.info provides lobbyists with a clear guide on the dating rules between a lobbyist and a government official in chapter 6 of The Lobbying Compliance Handbook.

 

 

The Advocacy of Incarceration

April 9th, 2015 by James Cameron

PRIVATE PRISONS HAVE LONG been a dirty secret in the American criminal justice system, but in recent years their downsides have increasingly come to light. Last week, OpenSecrets.org reported on the economic costs for local municipalities when a private prison fails. Willacy County, a small rural county in Texas, is facing a serious budgetary issue after a riot devastated a local prison that had been run by a private prison company, Management Training Corp.

Management Training Corp.’s economic model with the Willacy County prison is similar to many across the country: the local, state, or Federal government contracts a private prison company to run a prison, and then the prison company pays local municipalities to house prisoners at that facility and for the utilities the prison uses. When a company like MTC pulls out, the local government loses a steady source of revenue and now must staff and run the prison themselves. This arrangement sounds like it makes sense for both the local government and the prison company, but it raises some serious ethical questions.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that private prison companies have a financial stake in keeping incarceration levels high (and indeed, the incarceration rate in America is 5-10 times greater than in Western Europe, per the Wall Street Journal). Indeed, as Salon reports, several states have contracts with private prisons that guarantee 95-100% occupancy rates in prisons run by private companies. This gives states incentive to incarcerate (disproportionately African American) individuals for petty crimes.

Private prison companies’ lobbying activity does little to disabuse the notion that they have a financial stake in high incarceration rates. Salon reports that Corrections Corporation of America has spent more than $13 million in state lobbying efforts, while the GEO Group, another private prison company, has spent more than $3.1 million. Meanwhile, OpenSecrets notes that private prison companies have spent more than $2 million lobbying Congress in 2014 alone.

Private prison companies’ lobbying efforts reveal the unsavory side of advocacy. While most companies will attempt to frame their goals as ultimately beneficial to the American public, few industries have a financial stake in ensuring that more Americans go to (and stay in) prison. While there may be cases where privately-run prisons can be beneficial, Willacy County’s situation and America’s astronomical incarceration rates show the perils of relying too heavily on privatizing public services.

Corporations: Spending Money Where It Counts

April 1st, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

IN THE 2010 CITIZENS UNITED CASE, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections. As a result of that decision people on both sides of the aisle feared that corporations would flood campaigns with vast amounts corporate money, forever changing the world of campaign finance and the political landscape of this country. However, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, recent changes in American political spending have come from the rise of Super PACs backed by hugely wealthy private individuals such as Tom Steyer or the Koch brothers. Instead of pouring money into political campaigns, corporations have focused on lobbying efforts. Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the political reform program at New America, argues that this is because“Lobbying offers a much better return than election spending because real power lies in influencing how policymakers think about the world, not in getting them elected.”

In her recent article in the Washington Post Ms. Drutman observes, “From 1998 onward, as far back as there is good data, corporations have consistently spent about 13 times more on lobbying than they have on campaign contributions. That’s not to say they don’t spend on campaigns. In the 2013-14 cycle, corporations, trade associations and business associations spent a combined $381 million through their political action committees. But that’s small potatoes compared with the giant $5.2 billion pot roast of reported corporate lobbying expenses over this period. And about half of lobbying doesn’t even get reported.”

There are two main reasons why corporations choose to spend their money influencing lawmakers via lobbying rather than spending large amounts of money on political campaign and election activities such as campaign and Super PAC contributions. “First, it could create unnecessary enemies. If the candidate you opposed wins despite your efforts, you’ve just made somebody mad at you. Likewise, if you give big to a Republican or Democratic super PAC, you’ve just angered an entire party. Second, hefty election spending runs the risk of upsetting consumers outside the Beltway. If some of your customers are Democrats and some are Republicans, a really big check could be more trouble than it’s worth. Target learned this when it gave $150,000 to a group supporting conservative Tom Emmer in the 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial race, alienating its many customers who opposed Emmer’s anti-gay-marriage stance.”

 

The Obama Administration’s Lobbying Legacy

March 25th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

WITH THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S clock reading less than two years left in office and the next round of presidential campaigns kicking off, some have started to look at which of the current administration’s policies will carry over into the next. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin explored the legacy of Obama’s stand against the lobbying industry.

On his second day in office President Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential directives which set restrictions on lobbying, According to the Washington Post article, “the rules have had a major effect on how government functions. The measure prohibits those who have been registered lobbyists in the past two years from working at an agency they had lobbied, or on an issue they had worked on, and bars appointees from accepting gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying groups while serving in government. It also prohibits administration appointees who later register from lobbying other executive branch officials or senior appointees for the remainder of Obama’s time in office.”

With these actions President Obama aimed at closing “the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely and lets them use their time in public service as a way to promote their own interests . . . when they leave.” However, the President’s actions did have some unintended consequences for the lobbying industry. “Some lobbyists — who under federal law are required to register only if they spend at least 20 percent of their time lobbying — chose to deregister once the rules took effect. The number of registrations dropped from 13,367 when Obama took office to 11,509 last year, according to an analysis by American University government professor James Thurber.”

Industry officials, such as James Hickey, president of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, have often questioned the logic and wisdom of the ban on lobbyists returning to government service as lobbyists can be some of Washington’s most experienced and knowledgeable professionals. Hickey argues, “Way back when the Oklahoma gold rush took off, there were a lot of people who realized they needed trail guides to the Rockies. A lot of those who didn’t use trail guides . . . expired in the Rockies. To a certain extent, the government relations professionals are trail guides.”

The next administration, regardless of party, will face the difficult predicament of deciding to take comparable actions either by adopting President Obama’s lobbying industry policies or creating their own similar policies, or deciding to reverse the executive order. However, the deck seems stacked. Former White House counsel Robert Bauer argues, “Any administration now is going to have to implement a similar policy or explain why it won’t, or explain what changes they will make. It puts on the table an issue that every administration has to grapple with.” Vin Weber, a senior Republican strategist expressed similar thoughts on the issue saying, “if I were asked by a presidential campaign, I’m not at all sure I would tell them to reverse the executive order. Not because the rule’s good, but because it’s an enormously politically difficult thing to explain.”

 

Playing ‘Moneyball’ In the Influence Game

March 19th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

HISTORICALLY, INFLUENCE  in Washington has been based on one’s network of connections, knowledge and experience. The more people you know in high positions, the more likely you’ll accomplish you goal. However, now more than ever, lobbyists, corporations and interest groups are more frequently turning to companies that  “sell data-based political and competitive intelligence that offers insight into the policymaking process,” according to the Washington Post, giving a largely relationship-based industry a scientific edge.

Services such as Lobbyists.info digitally compile information from a multitude of different sources, including legislation, contacts at committees and congressional offices, lawmakers’ voting records, press releases, floor statements, etc. The information is then made searchable and packaged into formats designed to optimize the user’s experience. In the past, such information gathered from personal connections, knowledge and experience would take years of careful cultivation, but can now be accessed by anyone with just a few seconds on a computer or smartphone.

Embracing this more scientific approach to lobbying has given government relations professionals a tremendous edge in answering some basic questions that they face on a regular basis including: Whom should I meet with? How likely are they to care about my issue? Who are their most likely allies?

The use of technology and data to monitor political activity is also being embraced internally by some large organizations. According to Politico, “The Chamber of Commerce has launched a revamped site – Friends of the U.S. Chamber – to let its members track Congressional votes and decide whether the lawmakers they’re watching are supporting their agenda. Eventually, the results will be synthesized into data and analysis that will inform which lawmakers the group backs in 2016.”

It remains unclear the exact affect the use of data-based platforms will have on the lobbying industry. However, as technology continues to develop and more companies turn to data-based platforms for information and analysis expect to see this industry continue to grow and develop.

Sharing a Slice, Congressional Republicans and the Pizza Lobby

March 11th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE PIZZA LOBBY, which has come under scrutiny from healthy food advocates over past few years, is seeking to turn the tide of battle in their favor now that the Republican Party is firmly in control of both houses of congress.  According to a Bloomberg report both the fresh and frozen pizza industries “tend to support Republicans. In the last two election cycles, Republican federal candidates received about $1.3 million from the industry, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics of major companies and those listing “pizza” in their name. Democrats received just $157,000.” Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Schwan and Dominos each overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates contributing 98.9%, 86.8%, 78.3% and 79.3%, respectively, of their total political contributions to Republican candidates and groups in the 2012 and 2014 elections.

One of the main battles over the past few years in the “war on pizza” has been over federal nutrition standards for school lunches, which were introduced in 2010. The regulations targeted pizza’s dominance in school cafeterias where almost $500 million worth of federally subsidized school lunch pizza is served each year. When the Department of Agriculture released the details of the regulations in 2011, it included a provision that increased the minimum amount of tomato paste required to be counted as a vegetable serving.  The reason for including this provision was “under the existing rules, tomato paste is given extra credit toward a vegetable serving because it’s made of concentrated tomatoes. So 2 tablespoons of tomato paste — roughly the amount on a slice of pizza — is counted as a half a cup, or the equivalent of one vegetable serving” and therefore, “for school lunch purposes, a slice of pizza was considered a serving of vegetables.”

The pizza industry quickly mounted a defense and “in testimony before Congress in August of that year, Karen Wilder, chief nutritionist for Schwan Food, said many foods packed with nutrients, including pizza, risked elimination from school lunch by the proposed rules. A subsidiary of Schwan supplies 70 percent of school lunch pizza.” In November 2011, Congress came to the pizza lobby’s defense, blocking the Department of Agriculture from making some of the proposed nutrition changes. ATVN reported that “Republicans on the House Appropriation Committee said their changes would ‘prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.’”

With Republicans, who as previously shown are overwhelmingly supported by the pizza lobby, now in control of both chambers of congress, the industry may seek to further reduce the rules and regulations of the food industry. Lynn Liddle, executive vice president for communications, investor relations, and legislative affairs at Domino’s Pizza and chair of the American Pizza Community (APC), “hopes Congress will consider tweaking the menu-labeling law to make it more favorable to pizza sellers. As for the American Pizza Community, she envisions a formidable, and enduring, champion for pizza, one capable of changing the food’s fortunes in Washington and elsewhere.”

Diving Deeper into Local Lobbying

March 4th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

HAVING PREVIOUSLY DISCUSSED state level lobbying, this week Lobby Blog dives a little deeper, looking at local lobbying oversight. City Ethics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides information and advice on local government ethics issues nationwide, has recently released the final draft of the chapter, “Local Government Lobbying,” from its free e-book, Local Government Ethics Programs. This chapter is a new resource on the subject of local lobbying, a subject that has received very little attention.

In the chapter Mr. Wechsler, Director of Research at City Ethics, discusses many topics surrounding local lobbying including: the ways in which local lobbying differs from state and federal lobbying; a consideration of the reasons for setting up a lobbying oversight program; a look at the all-important definitions of what constitutes “lobbying” and who is a “lobbyist”; an in-depth look at the disclosure requirements and the obligations and prohibitions that local governments have instituted; and a consideration of the oversight and enforcement processes that will ensure that local lobbying is done openly and without improper conduct. The chapter also includes a draft Model Lobbying Code for local governments.

The draft has been made available online with the goal of receiving feedback from lobbyists, academics, and lobbying programs and good government staff members. The 312-page draft is available for free in four digital formats on the City Ethics website.

Droning On

February 25th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE FLYING OF REMOTE DRONES has become a major domestic policy issue in the United States. Just last month drones made headline news as a federal employee accidentally flew a remote control drone onto the White House grounds, causing a mass security stir and furthering debate on the issue around the country.  On February 15, 2015 the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new regulations for drones with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx saying, “Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation.” The DOT and FAA also announced a 60 day period for the public to comment on the proposed regulations, which will begin from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

However, the proposed regulations have been met with considerable opposition in the business community as the regulations heavily restrict some potential business applications of drone use, such as delivery services. This prevents some companies, like Amazon.com, from capitalizing on the removal of the current near-ban on flying drones for commercial purposes. Amazon.com has a goal of establishing Amazon Prime Air, a “future delivery system…designed to safely get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Lobbyists representing businesses and supporters of drone technology will use the comment period to persuade lawmakers and regulators that new technologies employed by the drones will make some of the limitations proposed by the DOT and FAA unnecessary. Such technological innovations include allowing drones to “sense and avoid” obstacles including other aircraft and autonomous GPS navigation. Reuters reports that, “Spending on lobbying by special interests that list drones as an issue surged from $20,000 in 2001 to $35 million in 2011 to more than $186 million in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying activity.”

However, not everyone is excited about the prospect of an increased amount of unmanned drones flying overhead. A website, NoFlyZone.org, has been created with the goals of letting you establish a no-fly zone over your property. Despite the voluntary basis, a number of drone hardware and software firms have already promised to honor your request including:  EHANG, Horizon Hobby, DroneDeploy, YUNEEC, HEXO+, PixiePath and RCFlyMaps.

With the lines drawn, no matter the result, the drone debate is certainly setting itself up to be a highly contested and publicized issue for the coming year.

Walking Through The Revolving Door Without Your Wallet

February 19th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

In a controversial move, two congressmen have introduced bills which would prevent former members of Congress from receiving their federal pensions if they begin lobbying after their term in office, according to the Hill. Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) has introduced legislation to ban members of Congress from lobbying for five years after leaving office (H. R. 318) and eliminate their federal benefits if they choose to lobby (H. R. 319). Similarly, Rep. Steve Israel introduced the “Revolving Door Pension Prevention Act” (H.R.567) which makes former members of Congress receiving compensation as a highly-paid lobbyist ($1,000,000 or more as a direct result of lobbying activities) ineligible to receive certain Federal retirement benefits.

The legislation has angered many former members of Congress such as former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.) who has said, “Current members think they’re going to satisfy the beast by throwing this kind of red meat, and it doesn’t work…Some ill-informed members of Congress believe they can blame lobbyists for their poor standing in the public. That’s a joke. The only way they’re going to improve their standing in the eyes of the public is to do a better job…Some members of Congress have tried to blame lobbyists for their decisions. Whenever I hear something like that I want to just vomit. What a cowardly answer.”

Moreover, James Hickey, President of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, has argued that such legislation is ripe for a Supreme Court challenge as the right to petition the government is protected by the First Amendment.

Other former lawmakers such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) have provided alternative ideas for reform like extending the “cooling off” period that members of Congress must adhere too. Currently, former members of the House of Representatives are required to wait one year before they are allowed to register to lobby while former Senators are required to undergo a two year waiting period.

Whatever the result, this issue is likely to remain at the forefront of lobbying reform as many still have fresh memories of lobbying scandals like that of Jack Abramoff. However, legislators must be careful when implementing reforms in an effort to avoid creating more “shadow lobbyists” who do not register as lobbyists despite engaging in advocacy which would just exacerbate the situation.

Tax, PR Fight Fermenting Between Brewers

February 11th, 2015 by James Cameron

IF YOU READ LOBBY BLOG regularly, you know that even groups within the same industry don’t always get along when it comes to legislative issues. That’s the case in the fight that’s brewing between craft brewers and large “macrobreweries” such as Miller-Coors and Anheuser-Busch InBev. According to the OpenSecrets blog, the fight centers around two competing bills: The Small BREW Act and the Fair Beer Act, both of which offer differing definitions for how beer producers should be taxed.

The Small BREW Act is supported by the Brewers Association, a trade association which represents more than 10,000 key stakeholders in the American beer industry, with a focus on craft brewers. The association is relatively new to lobbying, with its first lobbying expenditures taking place in 2008. Currently, it spends 14.9% of membership dues it collects on lobbying on issues such as The Small BREW Act. The Act limits tax breaks only to beer producers headquartered in the United States and excludes importers; this would leave out such notable producers as Anheuser-Busch InBev. Further, it would expand the definition of small brewer to any organization that produces six million barrels of beer or less per year, again excluding the industry giants.

This restriction on overseas-based producers and importers is the key difference between the Small BREW Act and the BEER Act, which is supported by the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute, which represents both macrobreweries such as Miller-Coors as well as smaller producers and microbrewers. Both organizations reject the Small BREW Act in favor of the Beer Act, which the organizations claim is more inclusive and fair in its application of excise taxes.

But the fight between craft brewers and industry giants moved from Congress to the living rooms of millions of Americans when Budweiser ran an ad during the Super Bowl that was critical of craft beer, claiming that beer shouldn’t “be fussed over.” PBS notes that even as beer sales as a whole have fallen, craft beer sales have grown exponentially in the past three decades, even though they still represent a small portion of overall beer sales.

While it remains to be seen which (if either) bill prevails, it’s clear the legislative and public relations conflict between large and small beer producers is far from over. If craft beer continues to grow at its current rapid pace, the fight will only intensify.