The Seven Deadly Sins of Lobby Days

February 15th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

If you’re planning an advocacy day in spring 2018, you’re not alone. From February through early May, an estimated ten and fifteen thousand advocates come to DC per week to meet with their legislators and staff. Yes, that’s per week. How can you rise above the crowd and get the meetings you need? Avoiding the following “sins” is an important first step!

Sin #1 – Non-Constituency

You’ll waste a lot of time if you don’t focus on constituency-based meetings. Legislators and staff rarely meet with anyone outside their district, particularly when they receive dozens of requests per day. If you’re scheduling for a group of advocates, each of whom have multiple locations in multiple districts (for example, businesses with headquarters in multiple locations), be sure to collect those addresses as well.

Sin #2 – Non-Written Requests

You’ll generally be asked to submit your initial request via e-mail, web form or—in the case of one office that shall not be named—fax.  It could even be carrier pigeon. To find out the best method, check the contact tab on the Congressperson’s website (accessible through www.house.gov and www.senate.gov).  Whatever you do, use that method.

Sin #3 – Assumption

Never assume that your request actually got to the office or that the scheduler will just magically get back to you. With hundreds of requests to go through a day, things get lost. Often.  When you call to follow-up, be sure to say “I’m calling regarding a scheduling request I already sent in.”  That way you can avoid the discussion about how to send in a request.  Also, be sure to take notes about when they’ll be able to look at the request.  It’s a waste of your time and theirs to call them every week if they’ve told you they won’t be able to consider the request until the week before the event (which is common).

Sin #4 – Member-itis

Recognizing advocates can be a little prickly about meeting with staff, never, ever insist on meeting only with the member, unless you’re willing to give up the meeting altogether. Getting legislator meetings 20 to 25% of the time is an outstanding percentage for any group. If you’re offered a meeting with a staff person, go ahead and set it up, and see Sin #6 for tips on helping your advocates not be disappointed with the outcome.

Sin #5 – Inflexibility

This is particularly a problem when it’s combined with high expectations. Too many groups offer a very small meeting window and then are irritated when staff or members are not available in the 12:00pm to 2:00pm time slot they’ve designated for meetings. Try to have an entire day available – and ask your advocates to bring a good book.

Sin #6 – Training Only on Policy, not Process

Yes, it’s important that advocates understand the asks.  You want to be sure they can walk into an office to state with some confidence that they are asking for $6 billion for such-and-such program or for the legislator to cosponsor such-and-such bill.  But remember that advocates are intimidated by this information.  They become concerned that if they forget the bill number or the appropriation amount they will look stupid and ruin the entire experience for the whole organization.  Unfortunately, many groups leave out some of the most important knowledge – how to have an effective meeting.  Your tips in this area should include details on how to deliver a message, making the constituency connection, telling a personal story and, of course, the value of meeting with staff.  And teaching them to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you,” is helpful as well.

Sin #7 – Abandonment

Once your lobby day is over, your advocacy for the year isn’t finished. In fact, it’s just started. Be sure you’ve provided your advocates with specific ideas on how to work with the office on an ongoing basis.  This might include training them on how to attend a townhall meeting, conduct a district visit or connect via social media.

 

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The New Tax Bill and its Implications: An Interview with Guy Sheetz

February 7th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

Guy Sheetz is the Chief Financial and Administrative Officer for the Futures Industry Association. He has many accomplishments, including helping in the association’s merger with Futures’ associations in Europe and Asia and refocusing the organization from a national body to a powerful global voice. Additionally, his work with the FIA Technology Services, a for-profit subsidiary, has saved the industry an estimated $200 million over the past seven years.

Having first worked in the for-profit world, he joined FIA eight years ago. Since that time, he has seen greater pressure put on finance professionals to make their nonprofits more transparent. Especially since data has become easier for the public to access. Sheetz recently discussed what nonprofit finance professionals face today.

“Managing a nonprofit, we have to have good controls, to ensure they are transparent,” Sheetz said. He cited the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as a new concern for nonprofits. With this legislation comes uncertainty because it will be such a major change, though more so for donor-based organizations than (c)6 groups, such as FIA. Many analysts predict overall deductions to charitable nonprofits will be lower because of changes included in the law.

For donor-based organizations, Sheetz says, “(the answer) is transparency in how you’re benefiting your donors. The first thing to do is to make sure your in-house operations are as good as possible.” Still, with the new law affecting executive compensation and UBIT, Sheetz maintains, “this will be more complicated to arrange and measure internally,” with the need to have “more discussions with boards.”

According to an article by GKG Law published by Association TRENDS, the Tax Act potentially increases association taxes by creating a new code that imposes an excise tax on executive compensation. While this will increase the taxes of certain associations, the final version of the Tax Act eliminates the provision that would have extended penalties to organization’s exempt under sections 501(c)(5) and 501(c)(6).

As for UBIT, the Tax Act includes several changes that will increase the amount of association income that may be subject to tax as unrelated business income. However, the effect of the increase in the amount of taxable income may be partially offset by the Tax Act’s reduction in the corporate tax rate.

In this time of change, Sheetz’s relayed his advice to up-and-coming nonprofit financial professionals. First and foremost, keep your principles. “Having a good process, internal control, leadership team and board engaged with, always gets you ahead of the game.” Additionally, the beginning of the year is often a time for executive transition at the highest level. Sheetz advises incoming association CEOs, “take the time to understand the core metrics, finance status of where you are and spend time getting into the numbers. Make sure you outline what your expectations are for short-, medium- and long-term growth or development patterns within the organization, and work with the CFO to meet those objectives.”

 

The Lobbying Community’s Response to the State of the Union

February 1st, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

According to Politico, many on K Street were disappointed that, “the speech did not expand much on the President’s 2017 joint address to Congress,” especially involving infrastructure. Stephen Martinko, Government Affairs Counselor at K&L Gates said, “the president set high expectations but was light on details…while the State of the Union was a strong signal that after more than a year of waiting, it’s now time for real work to begin on infrastructure.” On Tuesday night, Trump called for $1.5 trillion in funding for infrastructure, but the “trillion-dollar question” is how those projects will be funded. Lobbyists and Congress alike are especially concerned, given that, at first, President Trump previously called for a $1 trillion plan.

Some lobbyists are optimistic, such as Mike Ference, a partner at S-3 Public Affairs, who said that, “Trump recognized that ‘the path forward on legislation this year must be bipartisan [by] outlining his framework for an infrastructure package.’” However, others realize that one of the hurdles will be whether “the White House will be able to compromise and work with Democrats to get the votes they need to enact the legislation,” Lisa Kountoupes, President of Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid said.

Some question that an infrastructure plan will happen at all. Squire Patton Boggs wrote a memo to its clients that said, “the political imperative that enabled the GOP to unify around tax reform last fall has given way to a familiar intraparty debate about what the party’s next priority should be…meanwhile, Congress continues to struggle…” on a multitude of issues.

Organizations who were particularly happy with the State of the Union included Apple, Toyota, Mazda, Chrysler and Staub Manufacturing Solutions, who all received recognition from the President. The National Association of Manufacturers quickly noted that Staub Manufacturing Solutions is a member. Mazda, on the other hand, believes they “didn’t do anything special” to get mentioned in the speech.

Tech Spending in 2017

January 25th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

According to Bloomberg Politics, “Google outspent its tech rivals in lobbying in 2017, as Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. set company records for the year, federal disclosures show.” The increase in tech lobbying has faced a fair amount of backlash, however, the tech companies are attempting to capitalize on “a tax overhaul and regulatory rollback in President Donald Trump’s first year in office.”

Although companies are upping their lobbying spending for financial gain, lawmakers continue to scrutinize “the companies over questions including Russia’s use of their platforms to try to influence the 2016 election, the disclosures show.” Facebook, Google, and Twitter all acknowledge that their users were exposed to Russian ads, fake news reports and “fraudulent social media posts.” The three companies testified in front of Congress in October, and have pledged to improve their “content screening techniques before the 2018 midterm elections.” During the fourth quarter of 2017, “Google also beat our all other companies, spending more than $4.6 million, although some trade groups and think tanks spent significantly more during the period.” Amazon spent $13 million in 2017, and more than $3.3 million in the fourth quarter. Amazon also faced criticism from President Trump because their owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post.

Another significant issue for internet tech companies in 2017 and 2018 is net neutrality. Google opposed the bill, whereas Comcast and AT&T lobbied in favor of the Federal Communications Commission’s rescinding of open internet rules. At the same time, AT&T was battling for its merger with Time Warner Inc. AT&T also fought for Trump’s tax bill and spent more than $3.6 million.

Tech companies also lobbied on immigration and taxes. “Apple spent more than $7 million during the year.”

Shutdown or no Shutdown

January 18th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

To avoid a looming government shutdown, the GOP is using the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as a bargaining tool. The one-month package House GOP leaders are proposing includes “six more years of funding for CHIP while delaying the implementation of several Obamacare taxes,” according to Politico. However, there is no long-term funding in the bill for community health centers. The National Association of Community Health Centers said, “Congress’ inability to respond to the health care center funding cliff has unnecessarily destabilized the health center network, and has jeopardized care for the 27 million Americans who rely on them for high quality, affordable care.”

Therefore, to avoid the blame for no funding for CHIP, Republicans are using the lack of funding to preemptively blame Democrats. Two GOP senators have said they will vote no on the spending bill and the “number of Democrats saying they’ll vote no has been rising by the hour,” according to The Hill. For now, the GOP stands firmly on the side of securing the border, whereas the Democrats want more funding for DACA. With 12 senators still undecided, the possibility of a shutdown is still looming.

If the spending bill, which would keep the government open until February 16th, does not pass through the senate, the government will shut down and midnight on Friday. Some GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, do not want to pass another stopgap bill, like the one passed in December, because they do not want to waste more taxpayer money. Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.) said, “he would oppose the House bill in its ‘current form’ adding: ‘It’s a matter of defense and it’s a matter of trying to make sure in the future the message is ‘let’s get our work down on time.’” It is unclear how Sen. Jeff Flake and Sen. Mike Lee will vote.

The Return of Earmarks?

January 11th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

On Tuesday, according to the Washington Post, President Trump fully endorsed earmarks as a “lubricant to grease the gears of government.” Trump himself said that “a lot of the pros are saying that, if you want to get along and if you want this country really rolling again, you have to look at [earmarks].”

However, the days of earmarks were not as great as Trump thinks they were. For example, “former Congressman Randy Cunningham literally had a ‘bribe menu’ that told defense contractors exactly how much they could pay for him to deliver earmarks to their businesses.” The ‘menu’ included things like a yacht and prostitutes. Further, in 2005, Congress earmarked $223 million to build a “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska. In 2007, Nancy Pelosi “imposed a one-year moratorium on earmarks when she became speaker.” Then in 2011, John Boehner banned them altogether.

While President Trump alluded to the past abuses on earmarks, he said, “we have to put better controls because it got a little bit out of hand, but maybe that brings people together.” Conservative groups are furious with the president’s statements. It appears that Trump is not aware of the previous disasters caused by earmarks including the incidents with Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney, Jack Murtha and Ted Stevens. There is general concern brewing that the President lacks the basic historical knowledge to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The only action on the earmarks issue so far is that the House Rules Committee will hold two hearings next week on ending the moratorium. The chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions, “said he thinks it can be done in a ‘transparent and meritorious’ way.” Senator Jeff Flake, on the other hand, played a key role in killing earmarks and thinks it is not a good idea to bring them back. Killing earmarks was one of Sen. Flake’s proudest political achievements. However, he realizes that “his brand of principled conservatism is falling out of favor in the Republican Party.” Many Democrats believe running on an anti-earmark platform in 2018 could boost their popularity.

The Campaign Finance Loophole that’s Often Overlooked: Governors Associations

January 4th, 2018 by Allison Rosenstock

While companies can’t donate large amounts of money to candidates in many states, they can donate unlimited sums to governors associations. Therefore, “in October 2014, the Republican Governors Association needed help in Maryland, where the gubernatorial race was tight. So it called Mountaire, Corp., one of America’s largest suppliers of chicken products,” according to The Wall Street Journal. In exchange for help on impending environmental regulations in Maryland, Mountaire agreed to donate $500,000 for an ad campaign for then-candidate Larry Hogan. When he was inaugurated, Governor Hogan “blocked the proposal opposed by the poultry industry.”

Companies have found a campaign finance loophole because now they can donate an unlimited amount to a Governors association by merely claiming they have an interest in the matter. Both the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and the Republican Governors Association (RGA) have “tallys” to help keep tabs on how much money a particular governor brings to the association to then allocate the money in the future.

Why are companies donating to the RGA or DGA instead of to a super PAC or another outside group that supports candidates? Those donations to super PACs and other organizations, which are also not limited, are usually disclosed. However, if a company donates to the RGA or DGA, the money is labeled as coming from the RGA/DGA when it gets to the candidate. Multiple “former RGA and DGA officials described the practice of guiding donations as an open secret.”

The RGA claims that a Florida power company “didn’t give to the RGA to ‘circumvent’ Florida state limits on contributions or to ‘support Gov. Scott’…as RGA does not earmark any contributions for any race or candidate.” This could mean a number of things for campaign finance and the transparency of the current system.

12 Days of Lobbying

December 21st, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock
Richard E. Cohen

On the 12th day of lobbying, we bring you twelve drummers drumming alongside all the other musicians whose creativity and financial vitality are protected by the lobbying efforts of The Recording Industry Association of America.

James A. Barnes

We’ll need more than eleven pipers piping to address the nation’s crumbling water and sewage infrastructure, in fact an estimated $300 billion within the next decade- and both plastic and iron industry groups are vying for a piece of the action. The American Chemistry Council has lobbied 5 bills in 5 states, which would require states to open up bids for municipal water projects to plastic pipeline companies.

Charlie Cook

Day or night, if a problem arises Locke Lord Strategies will have ten lords a-leaping to your aide. Locke Lord Strategies has a bipartisan team of government affairs problem solvers who can assist you in issues including health care, financial services, international relations, energy, agriculture, education and appropriations.

James A. Barnes

Supporting nine ladies dancing? Why not visit The American Dance Therapy Association’s Arts Advocacy Day next March at the Grand Hyatt Washington? The organization has been dedicated to dance/movement therapy since 1966.

James A. Barnes

This year the eight maids a-milking decided to join the International Dairy Foods Association, to  work with legislators, regulators and the public on issues affecting the dairy processing industry and is committed to facilitate growth of the industry. This year, the organization’s overall spending reached $4.5 million, maintaining a sizable decline from a peak of over $8 million in 2013.

James A. Barnes

At this time of year it is a lucky treat to witness the majesty of seven swans a-swimming in what we hope is pristine water, but Clean Water Action have been vocal in their concern about recent activity within Congress. Its grassroots Congressional Tracker allows its supporters to monitor and take action against detrimental legislative action.

James A. Barnes

If you’re searching for six geese a-laying we recommend checking with Schiltz Goose Farm Inc., which is represented by Moran Government Relations LLC.

 

James A. Barnes

If it’s five gold rings you’re after, you should put your true love in touch with the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association, which represents the interests of manufacturers, supplies and retailers of jewelry and accessories. With more than 225 member companies, the FJATA will certainly be able to point you in the right direction.

James A. Barnes

The tech industry has seen more than four calling birds tweeting their interests this year. In the third quarter, the big 5 tech companies increased their lobbying spending by 24.3% compared to the same quarter last year. In the first three quarters of 2017 alone, Microsoft alone hired 81 lobbyists, from 16 different firms, to influence Congress specifically on tax issues.

James A. Barnes

Need a suggestion on where to find those three French hens? Well you’re not alone, The National Chicken Council‘s recent research shows that Americas now eat twice as much chicken as they do pork or beef. Organic chicken sales alone rose by a staggering 78% last year, to a whopping total of $750 million.

James A. Barnes

The American Bird Conservancy works to achieve four goals: halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation, ensuring we are all able to enjoy two turtle doves.

James A. Barnes
Far from the festive chirps of partridges in pear trees, the Northwest Horticultural Council have had their mind on NAFTA. The deal eliminated 20% tariffs on fruit, and industry groups are lobbying hard on recent negotiations to maintain access to their crucial Mexican and Canadian market, to which Washington state alone exports over 20% of its pear production.

 

 

 

For Republicans: No More Moore

December 13th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

By: Richard E. Cohen, Chief Author, The Almanac of American Politics

The victory by Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate contest was disastrous for Republicans. But the alternative likely would have been much worse for the GOP.

First, their bad news: Most notably, Senate Republicans lost a seat, which will reduce their majority to 51-49. That may be virtually unmanageable after lame-duck Republican Sen. Luther Strange steps down, as expected, by early January.

At least as significant in political terms is that their lost seat was in Alabama. In the deeply polarized nation, Democrats had virtually given up on Senate seats in the South. Aside from what have become the swing states of Florida and Virginia, the twelve other states in the South Atlantic, Mid South and Deep South have one Democratic Senator of the total of 24: Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Plus, Senate Republicans have a virtual lock in the 11 Plains and Mountain states, where they now hold 19 of the 22 Senate seats.

In a chamber of 100 Senators, that’s a deep hole for Democrats to seek to regain Senate control. Until recently, they had little hope of reversing those regional trends. (See maps in the 2018 Almanac of American Politics*, pages 6-7.)

The outcome in Alabama also is an ominous preview for Republicans of what lies ahead in next year’s congressional elections. The nationwide pattern of reinvigorated Democratic voters and discouraged Republicans jeopardizes GOP control of both the House and Senate.

Still, in many ways, Senate Republicans—and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—dodged a bullet. If Republican Roy Moore had won the Senate contest, the GOP would have faced a litany of horrors.

They would have included: a promised Ethics Committee investigation of Moore’s behavior with teen-age women, while he was a local prosecutor in his 30s; the political embarrassment of having to defend their Alabama colleague in more competitive states across the nation; and the prospect that former Trump White House official Steve Bannon would gain more financing and credibility from conservatives in his promised support of primary opponents to Republican “establishment” Senators and other candidates.

Even with their likely continuing challenge of running next year with the unpopular President Trump, Senate Republicans are poised to have credible contenders—without the baggage of Moore—against Democratic incumbents in several states that Trump won handily last year, including Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, plus Manchin. They also likely will be competitive in contests for Democratic-held seats in Florida and Minnesota, and perhaps others.

None of this would have happened, of course, if Trump had not nominated Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as his Attorney General—a selection that the President has publicly regretted for other reasons, following official actions taken by Sessions. That topsy-turvy contest was further evidence that special elections can be major headaches, as House Republicans discovered earlier this year when they managed to retain four seats vacated by other Trump appointees.

With a new round of congressional vacancies that is resulting from resignations of lawmakers charged with sexual harassment or other inappropriate actions, additional unexpected elections are being added to next year’s calendar. Some, including the seats of former Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, are in politically secure areas.

But both parties are gearing up for contests next year to replace Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, whose resignations resulted from their bad behavior. Although the Alabama contest made clear that the political climate is Democratic-friendly, other political circumstances seem less predictable.

*The Almanac of American politics is the gold standard of accessible political information, relied on by everyone involved, invested or interested in American politics. Highly regarded for its in-depth analysis and comprehensive profiles of every congressional district, state, governor and member of Congress, The Almanac is the tool you need to better understand the context of the people and perspectives shaping the issues that matter to you.To order your copy of the Almanac of American Politics, click HERE.

 

Talk of Tax

December 8th, 2017 by Chris Orange

Here on the LobbyBlog we’ve been keeping a firm eye on the implications on-going tax-code negotiations have been having across the lobbying community, last week discussing its impact on the renewable energy sector, but a report from Public Citizen last week has shorn light on the scale of importance it has had on the lobbying industry in recent months. Lisa Gilbert, vice President of legislative affairs at the group, described that ‘the mind-boggling number of lobbyists corporate America has hired to reshape the tax code is of almost biblical proportions and undoubtedly cost a fortune’. The report named ‘Swamped’, perhaps seeks to draw attention to the fact that despite Trump’s election pledge to drain the swamp, his promise of a historic tax overhaul has in fact seen the Capitol swamped with interest groups vying for a piece of the action.

The key findings of the report show that in all, 6,243 lobbyists have been listed on lobbying disclosure forms as working on issues involving the word ‘tax’ through the first three quarters of 2017, this equates to a massive 57% of the 11,000 people who have reported engaging in any domestic lobbying activities at all in 2017. Equating to more than 11 lobbyists for every member of congress, the scale of operations becomes apparent. It is worth noting that not all tax issues reported in the lobbying disclosures have related specifically to Congress’s tax overhaul debate, but nevertheless of the 20 organizations who hired the most lobbyists on tax issues, all 20 reported lobbying specifically on ‘tax reform’.

The report has drawn attention to the diverseness of industry piling into the debate, twenty-six industries have hired at least 150 lobbyists each to work on tax issues in the first three quarters of 2017. The pharmaceutical industry alone deployed 653 lobbyists to work on tax within this period, and the Chambers of Commerce was the most active organization, with over 100 lobbyists working on tax issues. Across industry, corporate tax rates, repatriation of corporate profits, intra-organizational transfers of assets, depreciation rules and deductibility of interest were among the core focuses of activity.

Jeff Birnbaum, who covered the 1986 tax overhaul for the Wall Street Journal, noted that the current lobbying deluge is reminiscent, however in 1986 conferees spent a month hashing out differences between the House and Senate bills, now they have just a couple of weeks. The final-sprint has seen the lobbying community presented with two main options; influence senators and representatives who will make up the conference committee charged with finding a compromise, or work to persuade Republican members of Congress whose constituents may see their taxes go up if changes are failed to be made. Builders and real estate will continue the fight to save the mortgage interest deduction, and across wider business, a push to strip-out the preservation of the corporate alternative minimum tax will go into overdrive.

 

BEAT Implications for the Renewable Energy Sector

December 1st, 2017 by Chris Orange

With the GOP Tax Bill taking shape over the past weeks, advocates across an array of industries have been fighting hard. Some have perused their interests on the offensive, trying to tap into the administration’s appetite for a radical overhaul, and others on the defensive fighting to maintain existing benefits. For advocates and trade groups representing the solar and wind energy sectors, the latter has taken hold.

Whilst the Trump administration’s preference for fossil fuels and nuclear power has been no secret, initial House and Senate versions of the tax reform bill saw the solar industry breathe a sigh of relief. There appeared to be no provisions to change the step-down of the U.S. solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for Solar Substantially. However within the detail of the Senate bill, a provision called Base Erosion Anti- Abuse Tax (BEAT) has caused alarm for those in the industry, with advocates arguing that money for wind and solar power projects could dry up if Congress doesn’t alter its language in the tax bill that is designed to prevent banks from moving their profits aboard. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the problem has come in that ‘the formula for calculating multinationals under that new tax sweeps up the wind and solar credits too’.

The BEAT tax could see an additional dollar of tax levied for every dollar earned through a wind or solar credit. Solar and wind representatives in the Capitol have fought back against the proposals, a letter sent by key industry players including the American Wind Energy Association, the Solar Energy Industries Association and ACORE has urged senators to provide them with exemptions. The urgency of appeals was expressed by Peter L. Kelley, Vice President of public affairs at the American Wind Energy Association who stated that ‘plans could potentially ‘kill over half the wind projects in America, cause factory layoffs and break construction contracts already signed, and deprive farming communities of a cash crop they’re counting on’. Not only do those in the industry fear a drying up of investment, but organizations have also noted that BEAT provisions would apply retroactively to tax credits on operating as well as new projects, leading to fears of a mass sell-off that would flood the marketplace and further damage tax equity markets. Whilst lobbying efforts have achieved a degree of support from a number of GOP senators representing wind-swept states such as Iowa, Nevada and South Dakota, it remains unclear what the final implications will look like for the industry. If changes fail to be made to the initial bill, advocates are viewing the ‘manager’s amendments’ as the next route to exemption, as part of a number of amendments presented by Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, to be voted on as a bundle.

The Influence of the Gun Lobby

November 17th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Within just 35 days the country has seen two of the most deadly shootings in modern U.S. history, with 58 people dead in Las Vegas and a further 26 killed just five weeks later in a Texas church. Unlike Vegas however, the recent atrocity in Texas has in a tragic fashion ignited both sides of the pro and anti-gun lobby in the U.S. Whilst advocacy groups promoting greater gun controls have seen the tragedy to exemplify the need for greater controls and vetting, the NRA and pro-gun lobby found a voice in by-stander Stephen Willeford, the NRA member who used his training to conceal himself and fire shots back at the rampaging gunman. Speaking on the NRA’s online television network, the Conservative talk show host Grant Stinchfield illustrated the NRA’s take on events, claiming that ‘Sutherland Springs needed a brave, calm gun owner, an NRA instructor to stop the rampage of a deranged monster’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly however, recent events have not only poured fuel on the overall ‘gun debate’ across the United States, but so too the influence of the NRA and pro-gun lobby. In 2016 the NRA spent big, a massive $419 million, increasing its 2015 total by over $100 million. Critics of the NRA have particularly taken issue at the groups $140 million spending on legislative programs and public affairs, a massive $75 million increase, and representing what critics see as the growing lobbying efforts and campaign contributions which have come to represent a key part of the NRA’s political power. Open Secrets reported the electoral impact of the NRA’s campaign contributions, which focused the group’s resources on a select few tight races, spending big in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Indiana.

As the President faces pressure in the wake of Las Vegas and Texas, his own ties with the NRA have come under spotlight. Trump received the earliest ever endorsement for a Republican presidential contender, and proudly accepted the organization’s support when he spoke to the NRA convention in Kentucky, stating in his speech that ‘the second amendment is under threat like never before’. The NRA’s backing of Trump has gone far beyond convention speeches; in 2016 the group spent a huge $30.3 million supporting the President’s campaign, over half of the $12.5 million spent previously on Romney’s 2012 campaign. Spending over $1 million to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, it’s clear that beyond Congress and the President, the NRA has also firmly set its sights on influence in the courts, as McConnell leads a huge push to fill the record-breaking number of federal court vacancies. Endorsing nominees who ‘stand for gun rights’, the group clearly sees pro-gun judges as key to the long-term protection of gun rights. Despite clear success in candidate endorsement, there has been little tangible return on investment so far this year, with a failure to push votes on a measure to deregulate gun silencers, and a spate bill to loosen concealed carry permit requirements. Whilst at first sight it may appear the group faces a defensive lobbying campaign in the months’ to come, the NRA is clearly fighting on the offensive in its efforts to establish long term support across the nation’s power bases.

Tuesday’s Election: A Victory for the Cannabis Lobby

November 10th, 2017 by Chris Orange

Tuesday saw the Democrats celebrate decisive victories in Virginia and New Jersey’s governor elections, whilst also cutting GOP majorities in statehouses across the country. Democrats have hailed the results as a ‘liberal backlash’ against President Trump, but beyond the Democrat party, the marijuana lobby has also seen this weeks’ results as cause for celebration.

Both newly elected Governors, Ralph Northam of Virginia, and Phil Murphy in New Jersey, have spoken out strongly in favor of Cannabis reform. Murphey has openly stated his intention to sign legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, using his primary night victory speech to clarify his intentions once again, Ralph Northam, whilst not as clear on his position to recreational use, has nevertheless vocally stated his support for decriminalization, citing it as key ‘racial justice issue’. Whilst legalization attempts in Virginia may have failed in 2015, the marijuana lobby will see Northam’s election as a step forward to future reform efforts in the state.  Beyond the governor elections, voters in Detroit approved two ballot questions which will ease regulation on medical marijuana, and in California all seven local marijuana business measures put to voters were also given the green light.

With recreational use now legalized in eight states (and Washington D.C.), and medical use approved in 30 states, the success of cannabis reform groups is undeniable, and the relevance of the industry is set to continue to grow. Marijuana Business Daily has predicted that industry retail sales will hit over $6.1 billion this year, and whilst the industry has been weary of the Trump administration’s stance, investment in cannabis related firms is set to continue to grow rapidly. Greenwave Advisors have projected retail sales to grow by an eye watering $30 billion by 2021, and with growers scaling-up their operations, regulatory challenges will continue to manifest. Whilst individuals close to Trump, such as Attorney Jeff Sessions, have talked tough on cannabis use, those in the industry are hoping that through harnessing growingly liberal public attitudes, such a crackdown will become politically toxic. Not only this, but there is also a hope that the financial realities of a regressive shift on enforcement will also deter such actions. It’s clear nevertheless that the grassroots advocacy strategy pursued by pro-reform groups, and the harnessing of social media platforms to tap into public support, demonstrates the effectiveness such an approach can yield.

FARA Enforcement, or Lack there of

November 3rd, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Since the 2016 Presidential campaign, the influence of ‘foreign bodies’ within the U.S. political system has been in the spotlight like never before, and the indictment of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates this week is only set to further fuel speculation in the coming weeks. The pair stand accused of hiding their work, and money received, from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. While the law requires anyone that carries out ‘political activities’ for a foreign government or party to disclose this to the Justice Department, enforcement has been lax. Between 1966 and 2015 the Department of Justice bought just seven criminal FARA cases. Failure to properly enforce the law has led shadow lobbying, most notably on behalf of foreign governments, to become one of Washington’s worst kept secrets. But with such a high-profile indictment case, foreign lobbyists will feel the heat as prosecutors seek to dig deeper into the issue.

Bloomberg reported that the current Foreign Agent Registration Act database lists a total of 211 “foreign principals” from Russia that have hired the services of U.S. lobbying, public relations and law firms to represent them. Records also show “78 from Ukraine, 54 from Georgia, 44 from Azerbaijan, 34 from Kazakhstan and 19 from Uzbekistan” in what Bloomberg describes as the “avalanche” of post-Soviet cash that has hit Washington in the last two decades.

Manafort and Gates made more than $75 million working for Yanukovych and his Party of Regions “between ‘at least 2006 and 2015.’ Yanukovych is often called a pro-Russian leader, and while he tried to steer a middle course for Ukraine between ties to Russia and the European Union, his personal sympathies were with the like-minded regime of Vladimir Putin.” Tony Podesta’s the Podesta Group was also linked to Yanukovych, referred to as “Company B” in the indictment.

Amazon Steps Up the Offensive

October 27th, 2017 by Chris Orange

In early September Amazon’s shrewd announcement to open up bids for its new ‘HQ2’ has seen a wave of free publicity for the company amidst a reported 238 proposals. The often public displays of courting have come from all but 7 American states, cities and regions across the country, allured by the prospects of 50,000 highly paid jobs that Amazon has promised for its new site. Amazon has not held back in its demands; 8 million square feet of office space, direct access to mass transit, an international airport within close proximity, and of course access to a top pool of talent- all within a metropolitan area of over 1 million people.

But whilst Amazon continues to enjoy hyper growth, its recent takeover of Whole Foods, and subsequent growing power over the retail market, has seen the company face growing skepticism and spotlight, Trump himself publically critical of the company’s tax practices, and even personally accusing CEO Jeff Bozos of using the Washington Post as his own mouthpiece. Both on the right and left of the house, criticism has been mounted around issues of antitrust, privacy and public disclosure. Amazon’s response to this growing pressure has seen the company wage a courting campaign of its own in the nation’s Capitol.

The company has cemented itself as one of the largest corporate lobbying outfits in the Capitol, The New York Times reporting an increase in lobbying staff from 60 to 83, and spending is well on its way to surpassing its previous peak. At $6.2 million in the first two quarters of this year, Amazon has reached 11th in the charts of company spending, going beyond other retail giants Walmart and Exxon. But beyond just raw spending, the company seems to increasingly pursue a strategy which has seen its web of influence in Washington continue to broaden. In 2016 Amazon gave over $10,000 each to a range of 66 think tanks, lobbying groups and political organizations, of these over a dozen were new relationships. The stepping up of government relation efforts was laid out even further last month, when the company donated $50 million to a White House plan to promote computer science in classrooms. As the power of tech continues to explode, Amazon is far from alone in its mounting efforts, as growth across the tech sector will not only continue to fuel the power of the tech giants, but so too an increased level of scrutiny across a much broader range of fronts.