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.

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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


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.