Archive for May, 2010

Weekly Lobbying News Round-Up

Friday, May 28th, 2010 by Vbhotla

The U.S. Chamber is not at all pleased about the Disclose Act, and they’re not afraid to say so. But House Dems say they’ve got the votes, and they’re not afraid to use them. So who will win? It’s tough to say, but a House Administration Committee hearing on the bill was abruptly cancelled on Thursday. When Members come back from their Memorial Day recess, maybe they will jump right in to campaign finance.

K Streeters, it seems, jumped the gun in writing the obituaries of Republican trade association chiefs following the 2008 elections“, according to Roll Call.  But the actual article indicates that the associations are hiring (and have hired) more Democratic government relations staff, to keep up with the political environment.

The FEC (again) couldn’t come to a conclusion on Soft Money. The Commission has been trying to decide “whether candidates and members of Congress should be allowed to raise money for separate nonprofits including ballot initiative committees that exceed $20,000.” (CQ Politics)

…and since you have Monday off, catch up on your Campaign Finance updates! The FEC June 2010 Record is now available. (PDF)

Connecticut Office of State Ethics penalized G. Kenneth Bernhard, for making three political contributions while serving as a Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board member (press release at CTOSE’s website).

Meanwhile, in Indiana, former Sen. (and former lobbyist) Dan Coats (R-Ind.) gets backlash for his spin through the revolving door. Sen. Coats is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

This Memorial Day, take some time to honor the men and women who have given their lives in defense of our country. If you’re in the D.C. area, be sure to check out the National Memorial Day Parade and the National Memorial Day Concert (which you can also catch on PBS!).

Lobbying winos go undercover

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by Brittany

Frank Sinatra, Mclovin, Bruce Wayne and more! These are just a few of the code names high profile lobbyists are using on their wine lockers at local Washington Restaurants in order to fly under the radar. While reading the article Pour relation: Key figures behind Washington’s wine lockers are a rich mystery from the Washington Post this morning, I kept thinking to myself, what’s the big deal?? So they have a wine locker at the Capital Grille. At $350 a pop, I would hardly say it is outlandish.

There comes a point when lobbyists need to catch a break. Is it really that much of an issue if they happen to enjoy expensive wine? I certainly enjoy a nice glass of wine although I don’t think there’s any way I’ll jump to the front of the 10 year wine locker waiting list! Sometimes I think people forget that these individuals are hard workers too, and are in many cases fighting for causes you support! Interestingly, it seems that no one is upset that Ovechkin (he has a bottle of Opus One for goodness sake!) and his coach Bruce Boudreau are both proud owners of wine lockers.

ALL to host training session on LDA, HLOGA, FARA

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Brittany

When: June 7, 2010
Where: Hall of States, Washington DC (teleconference available)
LCP Credits: 1 (required for completion of certificate program)
Register online:

Required as part of the Lobbyist Certificate Program (LCP), this core session arms you with the practical know-how to comply with today’s lobbying regulations and keep the media and opponents from using your filings and disclosures against you.

From bundling regulations (which recently tripped up several PACs), to gifts, events and communications, you will learn how to avoid pitfalls in registering and filing the LD-1 form, as well as what information to provide on the quarterly LD-2 and semiannual LD-203 reports. You’ll also learn how FARA regulations apply to lobbying on behalf of foreign government and political entities.

Disclosure Blunders

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Vbhotla

In April, the Government Accountability Office released its report to Congress on lobbyists’ compliance with federal disclosure requirements.  Much to my chagrin, the GAO failed to highlight some of the common filing mistakes that continue to haunt me day in and day out.   So, here are a few of the common mistakes I often encounter while reading lobbying reports.

  • The “Covered Official Position” box is where you enter any previous federal positions you may have held, NOT your current job title.  Federal positions that meet the requirements of a covered official position must be reported for 20 years. Do not enter “Director of Government Affairs at XYZ Lobbying Firm” on line 18. That is clearly not a federal position. While you may be proud of your recent promotion to Lobbying Head Honcho, the Clerk of the House doesn’t care (for purposes of Line 18). But if you were recently the Under-Under-Under-Under Assistant Secretary for Peanut Butter Consumption at the Department of Defense, that may need to be disclosed.*
  • Each firm-client relationship should receive its own report form.  And don’t post a vague client name. That goes for you too, Firm-That-Will-Not-Be-Named who registered to lobby for the client “Various Japanese Companies, Governmental Entities, Trade Associations & …” That is really not an acceptable disclosure. Unless of course, the actual, legal name of your client is “Various Japanese Companies, Governmental Entities, Trade Associations & …” but somehow I doubt that is the case.
  • In the section marked “Specific Lobbying Issues,” lobbying issues must be specific.  Entering “Provisions relating to the passage of HR 2454 Climate Change/Clean Air Act” is specific.  Entering “Environmental Issues” is not. Entering “HR2847, S1406: Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Act for Fiscal 2010 – provisions related to NASA” is specific. (Good job, Filer-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named!). Entering “HR 2847 Approps Act” is not.

These issues may seem minor when compared to the reporting of financial contributions.   But when you’re filing, you need to make every effort to be compliant and accurate.  And since filing errors must be corrected through amendments, being aware of common mistakes found on lobbying reports prior to filing could be a real time-saver.

* I really hope there isn’t a Under-Under-Under-Under Assistant Secretary for Peanut Butter Consumption at the Department of Defense. Also, if you have questions about what is and is not a “covered official position,” check out our Compliance Center.

Tuesday Ethics Tip: LD-203 Edition

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 by Vbhotla

In last week’s ethics tip, we discussed registering as a lobbyist. This week we’ll take a look at another form that all lobbyists must contend with: the LD-203.

Background: The LD-203 was first required as part of HLOGA, and unlike the LD-1 and LD-2, the LD-203 is filed by both organizations and individual lobbyists. It is submitted on a semi-annual basis,  on July 30 and Jan. 30.

Information filed: Organizations and lobbyists are required to disclose the following:

  • Any PACs that are “controlled” by the org/lobbyist
  • Contributions of $200 or more made to federal candidate committees, national party committees, and leadership PACs
  • Lobbyists serving on a board of a “non-connected” PAC are also required to disclose the contributions made by the PAC
  • Donations to presidential libraries of $200 or more
  • Donations to inaugural committees of $200 or more

Payments of any amount for the following:

  • Events which “honor or recognize” a covered executive branch or legislative branch official
  • Entity named for a legislative branch official
  • Entity financed, maintained, established or controlled by legislative branch or executive branch official (only applies to entities that are established while serving as covered official)
  • Meeting held in the name of covered legislative branch or executive branch officials

Finally, and very importantly, registrants must state compliance with the House and Senate gift rules:

“Registrant has read the House and Senate rules related to gifts and travel and has not provided, requested, or directed any gift including a gift of travel to a member, officer, employee of the House or Senate with the knowledge that giving that gift or the receipt of that gift by the House or Senate member or employee would violate Senate Rule XXXV or House Rule XXV.”

For more information on the gift and ethics rules, see our Lobbying Compliance Handbook.

New travel rules for the House

Monday, May 24th, 2010 by Vbhotla
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tightened up travel requirements for House members and staffers last week, after reports surfaced of some Representatives enjoying perks on taxpayer funded delegation travel.

The House has had rules governing travel in place since the 1970s, but the Wall Street Journal recently reported that some Representatives had enjoyed extensive perks on the taxpayer dime while traveling overseas, including purchasing alcohol, gifts, and items for family members, or pocketing leftover per diems.

The main changes to the rules include a provision forbidding lawmakers on official travel from flying business class on trips shorter than 14 hours, and requiring them to return any unused travel funds to the Treasury. Members and staffers travelling on official business are also prohibited from using funds for personal reasons. Certain aides are also now prohibited from accompanying members on overseas junkets. Attempts at making Congressional delegations bipartisan are also now required to be documented.

Members’ official travel (using government funds) is restricted to committee delegations. However, Members are also able to travel on private trips with approval; such trips fall under a strict, highly regulated approval and guidance structure. Speaker Pelosi has the authority to make changes to the travel rules unilaterally.

The rules from Speaker Pelosi can be found here, and Roll Call’s coverage of the new rules is here.

(This post from our free bi-weekly Government Relations Alert. Sign up to receive your copy here!)

Maximize District-Based Lobbying Efforts

Monday, May 24th, 2010 by Brittany

On June 15 is hosting an audioconference on developing a district-based lobbying program. Speaker Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates will reveal a step-by-step plan for creating a district-level advocacy program that engages members of Congress in discussions about how new policies will affect local interests and the future of the community. You’ll come away with practical guidance on everything from the logistics of planning events, to strategies for getting time on representatives’ busy schedules.

For more information and to register click here.

Weekly Lobbying News Round-Up

Friday, May 21st, 2010 by Vbhotla

The American League of Lobbyists is launching a PR campaign to help educate the public on the good things that lobbyists do. NPR has the story. Key quote from the ALL’s president Dave Wenhold: “Most people are represented by lobbyists, and they don’t even know. I mean, to give you an example: The second you get up in the morning you’re represented by a lobbyist. You go to have your toast, the wheat lobbyists love you. You have your eggs, the poultry farmers love you and their lobbyists. You get in your car, if it’s a Toyota, you have a lot of lobbyists right now.”

(See our post on Lobbying in the Public Interest, too).

Update on Illinois lobbying: a significantly lower fee structure is approved. Some background on the story here, at the ACLU’s site. (h/t: Political Activity Law).

The Compliance & Ethics Institute will host its annual conference in Chicago this year. Some topics to be covered include: building ethics and compliances systems, anti-corruption and anti-bribery systems, managing expectations, and more. Look at the full list of sessions and register here:

The anti-lobbyist mood does not extend to lobbyist checkbooks for some legislators. (At Roll Call, subscription required).

The Post seems to do one of these articles once every 3 months or so, but there’s talk that K Street is no longer the lobbying hub. Not to worry, they’re staying in the D.C. area. (Washington Post free registration required).

National Journal‘s Bara Vaida writes on the revolving door with Sen. Michael Bennet.

If you’re not attending the Disclose Act mark-up…

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 by Vbhotla

You can watch it live at the House Committee on Administration’s website.

The mark-up will also be archived, and you can watch the hearings the Committee has held on the issue, at the same site.

PACs and Campaign Finance Training Event Monday

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 by Vbhotla and the American League of Lobbyists are hosting our second Lobbying Certificate Program session this year on PACs & Campaign Finance this coming Monday, May 24, from 8:45am-1:15pm.

Our sessions include a detailed presentation on rules, reporting, and thinking through an ethics situation in regard to a PAC; legal implications of LD-203 filings and other campaign finance laws; a look at the different types of PACs and Q&A with PAC experts.

In attendance to talk about registering, reporting, fundraising, staying on the right side of the FEC, and all things PAC, we’ll have:

  • Officials from the FEC
  • Caleb Burns, Wiley Rein LLP
  • Gregg Knopp, American Council of Engineering Companies
  • Wade Williams, PAC Outsourcing LLC
  • Latasha Kindrick, PAC Outsourcing LLC
  • Gordon Reel, Enterprise Holdings

Join us for a great session! Register here. More information on the Lobbying Certificate Program is here at the American League of Lobbyists’ site.

Yes, You Can (Register to Lobby if You’re a Nonprofit)!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Lobbying by nonprofits and charitable organizations is kind of a touchy issue on K Street. Regardless of how noble the cause they’re lobbying for is, many government relations representatives for charities skip on registering. Part of it is just trying to escape the term “lobbyist” for the usual reasons, but more often than not, it’s because of confusion over two different sets of rules for lobbying by charities adopted by IRS and the Congress.

Here’s something charities should take comfort in: the government likes you. Both laws are not as complicated or scary as perceived, and with a little bit of due diligence, it’s entirely possible to lobby while staying legally within all the limits. But bear in mind that, if your activities and expenditures meet the thresholds, you must register under the LDA – whether you want to be a lobbyist or not.

The LDA (and as amended by HLOGA) states that in addition to reporting all lobbying expenditures on their Form 990, nonprofits may also be required to register with Congress and report their activities, but only if they meet these two thresholds:

  • You have an employee who is a “lobbyist,”* defined as someone who spends 20% or more of his/her time engaged in lobbying activities and the same employee makes one or more lobbying contact in the same quarter
  • Your total federal lobbying expenses are expected to exceed $11,500 during a quarter

501 (c) (3) public charities can also invite members of Congress and their staff or families to attend fundraising events free of charge, so long as they extend the invitation themselves (and not through corporate sponsors or non-employees), the primary purpose of the event is fundraising, and any entertainment offered to the Members or their staff is provided to all attendees equally.

As for keeping track of lobbying activities for IRS purposes (which you must do in order to file your 990), two options exist. Either an organization must submit to the “substantial part” test, where the IRS looks at activities and expenditures to determine how much time and money you’re spending on lobbying, or the organization may elect to an expenditures (501 (h) ) test.

The 501 (h) test is often the best way to go for most 501 (c) (3) charities – just file this one-page form – not just because it provides generous limits on how much they can spend on lobbying, but also because it gives very clear and helpful definitions of what legislative activities do not constitute lobbying. Note that this election is in fact a limitation on the amount of time and money that the organization can spend on lobbying – but for most nonprofits, whose primary purpose is not lobbying, this election makes sense.

Note that private foundations are prohibited from attempting to influence legislation or participating in partisan politics.

*For more on the definition of “lobbyist,” see’s free lobbying glossary.

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Registering as a Lobbyist

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 by Vbhotla

HLOGA is a complex law and can be tough to fully understand. So it’s back to basics with today’s Ethics Tip: registering as a lobbyist.

Who must register as a lobbyist?

Merely making one contact with a lawmaker does not mean that an individual must register as a lobbyist. There are several triggers that must be met before registration.

To file an LD-1 (registration form), a lobbying organization (including an individual doing business as a lobbyist), must meet certain triggers. Triggers depend on whether the organization retains clients (reports lobbying income on registration forms) or employs its own in-house lobbyists (reports expenditures on registration forms).

If retaining clients, one person (or entity) must

  • Make more than one lobbying contact and
  • Spend more than 20% of time on lobbying activities  and
  • Must receive more than $3,000 in lobbying income in quarter

If employing lobbyists for own issues, one person (or entity) must

  • Make more than one lobbying contact and
  • Spend more than 20% of time on lobbying activities  and
  • Must spend more than $11,500 on lobbying activities in quarter

Registering as a lobbyist:

Once the thresholds are reached by the organization or individual filing, an LD-1 form must be filed at the earliest point, either…

  • Within 45 days of being retained/employed to make lobbying contact
  • Within 45 days of first lobbying contact

What must be filed:

  • Organizations are required to report the issues upon which they are lobbying or being retained to lobby, and the lobbyists expected to be lobbying for the organization / client.
  • Organizations required to file quarterly income and expenditure reports (Form LD-2) .
  • Organizations AND individual lobbyists are required to file semi-annual report of political contributions / other payments (Form LD-203).
  • All lobbyists are subject to compliance with the House and Senate gift and ethics rules, and must certify on their LD-203 form that they have read and understood the ethics rules.

These disclosures are filed with the House Office of the Clerk and the Secretary of the Senate.

Congress Views: Sens. Bennet & Tester

Monday, May 17th, 2010 by Vbhotla

From time to time, we’ll post “Congress Views” on lobbying. These will be opinions published by or attributed to members of Congress, on lobbying, lobbyists, and the lobbying community as a whole.

First up, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.):

Sen. Bennet, in introducing his bill to ban former members of Congress from the “revolving door” (moving from Congress to lobbying):

“The need for reform in Washington is glaring when 1,500 Wall Street lobbyists can drown out the voices of the American people and block a bill that reforms the big Wall Street banks,” Bennet said. “By preventing Members of Congress from lobbying when they leave Capitol Hill and preventing congressional staff from going back and forth through the revolving door, public officials can get about the business of helping the country.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has co-sponsored the bill. In his press release on co-sponsoring, Sen. Tester used similar language to Sen. Bennet:

“When Montanans sent me to the Senate, I imposed strict ethics rules on myself and my staff because Montanans expect open and honest government,” Tester said.  “It’s about time for all of Congress to make sure decisions are being made based on what’s right for our country, not based on who hires well-connected lobbyists.”

Weekly Lobbying News Round-Up

Friday, May 14th, 2010 by Vbhotla

CQ Politics reports on a favorite campaign game: “Kick the Lobbyist.” Former members of Congress who transitioned from the legislature to lobbying often face a tough road after deciding to hit the campaign trail again. (CQ Politics subscription required).

The White House, as part of their attempt at greater transparency in the executive branch, is posting ethics waivers and other types of disclosure, on their blog. Bob Bauer gets an ethics waiver, since in his role as President Obama’s personal attorney, and as the former attorney for the Democratic National Committee, he may have worked on issues of interest to parties on various sides of an issue. Read about the decision here (also includes a link to the text of the waiver).

An Atlantic interview with National Journal reporter Peter Stone, on his book on Jack Abramoff, Heist (2006), and his role in the new documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money. See our review of the new movie here. Interesting note: the Atlantic article contains a link back to the very first story on Abramoff’s casino schemes, from way back in 2004.

The Economist profiles a citizen-lobbyist – who ran into grassroots lobbying disclosure rules in Washington state.

May FEC Record and Other Updates

Thursday, May 13th, 2010 by Vbhotla

The Federal Election Commission has released their May edition of the Record newsletter. Some highlights from this issue:

  • Background and continuing coverage of Speechnow v. FEC, RNC v. FEC, and FEC v. Novacek
  • An announcement that the FEC Record will soon be web-based, rather than print / PDF
  • Final rules on debt collection
  • Stats on PAC activity: “The 4,618 federally-registered political action committees (PACs) raised $555.7 million, spent $464.6 million and contributed $174.4 million to candidates, according to reports filed with the Commission for January 1 through December 31, 2009, the first calendar year of the 2009-2010 election cycle.”

The FEC now has a section on their website “which provides downloads of itemized disbursements reported by U.S. House and Senate candidate committees for the 2010 election cycle.” See the new database over here at the FEC.

The Center for Competitive Politics is not a big fan of the DISCLOSE Act, and shows an interesting look at White House Counsel Bob Bauer’s previous statements on campaign finance disclosure requirements. Read about their views over on their site. (A taste of the post: Brad Smith makes up a new acronym for DISCLOSE: “Democratic Incumbents Seeking to Contain Losses by Outlawing Speech in Elections”).

Covington & Burling takes a detailed look at the DISCLOSE Act (including definitions). A PDF is available here.