Archive for August, 2010

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Cigar Aficionado Edition

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 by Vbhotla

Cigars: Unethical?

Reports about the “Congressional Cigar Association,” an organization that reportedly includes both Congressional staffers and former staffers who are now lobbyists, with cigars donated to the group by lobbying entities, draws questions about whether or not the group should be accepting, or allowed to accept, such gifts under the House gift rules.

The Huffington Post reported on a meeting of the CCA recently and called the group a “front” for lobbyists.

Is the CCA, its membership, or groups sponsoring the events  stepping over the line?  Let’s look first at gift rules, and second at social engagements.

1. Gift rules: No lobbyist or lobbying entity may provide any thing of value (including small items, such as cigars), without a specific exemption. If the groups sponsoring the events are registered to lobby, they may not provide anything of value to Congressional staffers unless such gifts fall under an exemption. According to the CCA, they have cleared their events with the ethics committee. See here for definition of “lobbyist.”

2. Social engagements. If lobbying entities are sponsoring these events,  under the exemption of a “widely-attended event,” they must fall under a category of a widely-attended event. At such an event, Congressional staffers or members may accept entertainment, offered to all guests, presumably including the entertainment of smoking a cigar. However, premium “entertainment” is not necessarily covered.)

A widely-attended event is defined as: “One of the exceptions to the Gift Rules of the House and Senate. Organizations employing lobbyists may sponsor a widely attended event  which must contain a diverse audience of more than 25 people and must be related to a Member’s or staffer’s official duties in order for a Member or staffer to attend for free.”

It is impossible to make a judgment on the appropriateness or legality of the CCA’s events and sponsorship without knowing more information on the fees and dues provided by members to the organization, the structure of their events, and the sponsoring entities.

That being said, it doesn’t look extremely good to hold such closed-door events as the one “crashed” by the Huffington Post. It creates an appearance (even if that wasn’t the intent) of access to staffers being bought by cigars. A better method of advocacy for the groups sponsoring such events might be to bring in citizen advocates to lobby their members of Congress on behalf of district-based efforts.

(And since we suggested that, here’s a plug for our upcoming audioconference: Lobby Days & Fly-Ins: Time and Money-Saving Tactics for Managing the Unmanagable,” with the outstanding Stephanie Vance.)

Burson-Marsteller Social Media Study

Monday, August 30th, 2010 by Vbhotla

I know this is a bit older (it was published almost a month ago!), but here’s an interesting report for your edification – Burson-Marsteller did a study on “Social Media Use By U.S.-Based Political Advocacy Groups.”

The report, downloadable on SlideShare, covers social media use and its effectiveness in partisan political advocacy groups, as well as non-partisan advocacy groups. Check out the slides below.

It’s FREEBIE FRIDAY!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, August 27th, 2010 by Brittany

It’s Freebie Friday!!!! Order Washington Representatives Directory by midnight tonight and get FREE shipping and a FREE US Congress Handbook. That’s two free things! Yep, we know we’re awesome.

Call 1-888-265-0600 to place your order today. Don’t forget to mention code TGIF when ordering.

The Washington Representatives Directory helps you quickly and easily locate profiles for:

  • 18,000 federal lobbyists with complete contact information
  • 2,700 lobbying firms with contact information, client lists, and lobbying income dollars
  • 12,000 corporations and nonprofits involved in lobbying complete with the issues they are lobbying on

Don’t wait! Call 1-888-265-0600 to place your order before this offer expires at midnight. Don’t forget to mention code TGIF when ordering.

For Re-Trial Of Ex-Lobbyist, Jurors Questioned on Opinion Of Lobbyists

Friday, August 27th, 2010 by Vbhotla

As former Jack Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, who is accused of bribery, moves to the jury selection phase of his

Kevin Ring (Photo credit: National Journal; Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

retrial, federal Judge Ellen Huvelle is asking some interesting questions of prospective jurors.

Though it’s not unusual to ask jurors of their political beliefs should the trial relate to a political matter, in this case the jurors are being asked their opinions of the profession of lobbying as a whole.

Here’s the seven-part question that’s drawing attention:

48. Which of the following, if any, fits with your view of lobbying? Answer either yes or no.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is the exercise of the democratic right of American industries, businesses, and individuals to influence lawmaking, government policy and decision making that affects their interests.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is influence peddling on behalf of wealthy people or businesses.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying, whether on behalf of rich people, the middle class, or poor people, should be prohibited.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying can help ensure that government officials make decisions that are in the best interests of the United States.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is a fancy term for trying to get government officials to do what the lobbyist wants even if it is not good for the country.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is paying off politicians and government officials to get them to do something.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is legitimate business.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is a necessary part of democratic society based on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

One wonders if the same would be asked if a truck driver or fire fighter stood accused. (And as a sign of the times, they’re also being asked if they tweet or have a Blackberry).

Blog of Legal Times has the whole questionnaire that jurors were required to fill out, if you’re interested. (PDF) Ring’s trial is expected to last until the end of November.

Pot Lobbying Not a Recent Phenomenon

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 by Vbhotla

So since Politico’s recently posted interview with ‘pot lobbyist’ Aaron Houston has been making the rounds, we thought we’d share what we know about lobbying for marijuana on the hill.

Pot lobbying: not just for your slacker ex-boyfriend

Pot lobbying is certainly not a recent phenomenon, although it has gained strength in recent times, given the departure of the Bush Administration and the relatively friendlier attitude of the current administration toward legalization. Libertarians also tend to support legalization, and those of the libertarian persuasion have come out the woodwork a bit with the ascendence of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), one of two top marijuana advocacy organizations in DC, registered to lobby back in 1999. The Marijuana Policy Project, Houston’s former employer and another leading group, registered in 2005. Based on registrations filed since then, MPP and NORML seem to be the only two registered lobbyists for marijuana laws (Aaron Houston’s current organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, has yet to register).

Both NORML and MPP are headquartered on the hill, operate PACs, and lobby on issues ranging from alcohol/drug abuse laws, to taxation and even banking. As every marijuana lobbyists will tell you these days, legalizing marijuana is not just about going easy on the DUI arrests anymore. It’s about the economy, dude (this will be our sole attempt at making a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure joke).

While one of MPP’s two PACs is an ‘unauthorized PAC’ (meaning it is not officially authorized by a candidate) and the other the Medical Marijuana PAC (total campaign contributions this year = $26,000), NORML’s total federal contributions in the last two quarters go up to $200,000. The PAC has consistently made campaign contributions since it launched its qualified non-party PAC in 2001.

Analyze This!

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Which lobbying firms are the most profitable?

Which firms are making the most income with the fewest number of lobbyists?

How do D.C.’s largest firms compare to the lesser known ones?

Find all these answers and more in’s first Factors of Influence Data Analysis. Our editorial team has reviewed statistics from over 2,900 lobbying firms and is now releasing the results of our findings. Check out the full report and decide for yourself which firms have the most sway on Capitol Hill.

And when you’re done, click on over to the newly updated Factors of Influence chart and figure out which changes are taking place in the lobbying community.

Industry Moves and Changes

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Aron Griffin has joined Tenet Healthcare Corp. as director of federal affairs.

Hilary Rosen is jumping from the Brunswick Group, where she heads the Washington office, to SKDKnickerbocker.

Angelo Amador has been named vice president of labor and workforce policy at the National Restaurant Association.

Eric Wohlschlegel is American Petroleum Institute’s new director of media relations

Suzanne Zurn is now vice president, digital advocacy, for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide in D.C. Zurn most recently worked at Xenophon Strategies.

Compliance Q and A: Association PAC Reporting

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Q: Our association has a PAC but our treasurer is not a lobbyist and our assistant treasurer is a lobbyist.  Do we still need to file an LD-203 report for the PAC?  And if so, who must file and by when must the filing occur?

A: The individual lobbyist will have to file his or her own individual contributions.  On the association’s semi-annual report (LD-203), the association would list the name of the PAC. It does not matter whether your treasurer is or is not a lobbyist for the purposes of the filing by the association.

The association would indicate the name of its PAC and indicate contributions of $200 or more from the PAC to any federal candidate, any leadership PAC or any one of the six national party committees that were made during the six-month reporting period.

On the lobbyist’s separate filing, the lobbyist may have to indicate – if he or she has a controlling say in where PAC contributions are spent – that he or she is the assistant treasurer. If the lobbyist has a responsibility for allocating PAC funds, he or she would have to list contributions from the PAC that he or she was responsible for having made in the individual lobbyist report.

So it’s a fact-specific situation depending on how the PAC is set up,  and who its officers are, as well as who controls contributions.

Have a question for Compliance Q&A? Send your questions to

Recess: Not just fun and games

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Brittany

an excerpt from The Advocacy Handbook

It’s recess time for Congress, but while “recess” sounds like fun and games, these times are district work periods for congressional members. Congress will be in recess for the month of August, and advocates can be involved in several types of activities to connect with their elected officials while they are home.

District-Based Lobby Days / Weeks 

What is it?
Under this approach, advocate leaders work with advocates to coordinate meetings with policymakers in their own district offices.  An organization might, for example, ask members of the advocate network to set up meetings with relevant members of the U.S. House when those members are in their legislative district during a district work period. 

Why is it useful?
District lobby day / week events can be a great way to connect advocate network members with their policymakers, but without extensive travel expenses.  Meeting with policymakers while they are home also further strengthens the message about the impact of state or federal level policy issues on the home district.  

When should it be used?
As with traditional lobby days, any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating a district lobby event, either individually or in concert with a coalition partner.  Lobbying events are most successful, however, when the organization has a specific policy agenda and core ask.  Advocate leaders should work to coordinate the timing of the event with key legislative initiatives as well as other advocacy activities.  For example, holding a district lobbying event during the work period directly after a national lobby day can serve to reinforce messages that were delivered in conjunction with the national event.

Site Visits 

What is it?
A “site visit” is an in-person visit by a policymaker or member of his or her staff to facilities, groups and individuals in their district or state.  These might include visits to:

  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Business headquarter offices to meet with key personnel
  • Hospitals, school, libraries, recreation centers or other community service providers
  • Local chapter meetings of interest groups
  • Special events held by local groups

In essence, a site visit occurs whenever a policymaker or staff person goes to see something or meet someone in the district.  These are different from district lobby events only in that the policymaker generally goes to see the advocate, as opposed to the other way around. 

Why is it useful?
These visits help policymakers connect what sometimes seem like esoteric policy issues to the needs and concerns of individuals in their districts or states.  When conducted properly, site visits help “bring the issue alive” for the policymaker.

When should it be used?
Any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating some type of site visit program.  Those organizations with a network that already has some experience with other advocacy techniques, such as lobby days or written campaigns, may have more success.  This is because arranging a site visit often takes a bit more time and commitment on the part of the advocate.

Townhall Meetings 

What is it?
Policymakers often arrange what are called “townhall” or “community” meetings to hear from people in their districts and states.  They generally occur when the legislators are at home, such as during the district work periods of the U.S. Congress, although “telephone townhalls” (see notes below) are gaining in popularity.  The meetings may be scheduled to address specific topics, such as economic issues or a local concern, or they may simply be arranged as general “listening sessions.” 

Why is it useful?
Townhall or community meetings are generally pretty sparsely attended.  Those advocates who do attend can often get some one-on-one face time with both the policymaker and key staff people.  This face-to-face connection serves to build a strong relationship with the policymaker and delivers the message that the advocate really cares about the issues.  Attending a townhall meeting is a relatively easy way for an advocate to raise the profile of an issue and make the connections necessary to achieve change.

When should it be used?
Any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating some type of townhall attendance program.  The commitment on the part of the advocate can range from simply attending (either in-person or through a telephone event), to connecting briefly with the policymaker and staff before or after the event, to raising an issue publicly.  It should be noted, however, that a public townhall meeting may not be the best venue to raise new or controversial issues.  Advocate leaders should provide detailed instructions and talking points to ensure that messages are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible.  In some cases, this may mean talking directly to the staff as opposed to raising the issue with others.

Lobbying for Love

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Brittany
Elizabeth Gilbert

Credit: Erik Charlton, Menlo Park

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, will be lobbying in Washington next month. 

Gilbert will be on Capitol Hill supporting the organization Immigration Equality, and their work on the Uniting American Families Act. The act would give foreign-born, same-sex partners of US citizens the same rights currently reserved for straight couples in the same situation.

Gilbert herself married a Brazilian man (played by Javier Bardem) whom she met during her travels. While they were able to secure a visa for him via marriage, this would not have been possible for same-sex couples since their marriages are not currently recognized by federal law in the US.

Bauer Takes Over White House Ethics

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Vbhotla

Norm Eisen, who has been a thorn in the flesh of some Washington lobbyists, is heading to Prague as President Obama’s ambassador to the European nation. The administration’s “ethics portfolio” will be split, with the White House Counsel, Robert Bauer, taking the lead.

According to the Washington Post, “responsibilities for lobbying, transparency, government reform and a host of other government operations issues” will be transferred to the former head of Perkins Coie’s political law practice. Bauer has served as President Obama’s personal attorney, as well as holding positions at Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee.

Steven P. Croley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, will head a six-member legal team to cover ethics, government reform, whistle-blower protections, lobbying reform, and other issues.

Several groups have pointed to this as a “step back” for the administration, which started out with a strong emphasis on ethics. The Sunlight Foundation wrote that “instead of having single touch point within the Administration we will now be working with one person who already has more than a full-time job, and an academic with no government experience.”

And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (which Eisen co-founded), was also not enthusiastic. “In our view, taking the full-time responsibilities of a high-level White House official and divvying them up suggests ethics, transparency and government reform will get substantially less attention, not more.” But others see this as a potential for good – Fred Wertheimer, who heads Democracy 21, said in the New York Times that “I hate to see Eisen leave because he’s done a phenomenal job … but I believe the pieces are there to continue with the commitment this administration has said it would make in this area.”

New York Times article is here. Sunlight Foundation and CREW statements are here and here. A Washington Independent article is here.

DeLay Investigation Is Over, According to DOJ

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Vbhotla

The government has ended a six-year investigation of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay’s (R-Texas)’s ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The news was relayed by DeLay’s lead counsel in the matter, Richard Cullen, chairman of law firm McGuireWoods, who said he received a call from the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section informing him of the decision and letting him know that it was approved for public knowledge.

The extraordinarily long (more than 6 years) and expensive probe marked the rise of a wave of lobbying scandals that helped Democrats regain the House majority in 2006. In 2005, a Texas court charged DeLay with criminal violations of state campaign finance laws and money laundering. He pled not guilty, citing political motivation for the charges.

Once one of Washington’s top power brokers, DeLay now spends most of his time at his home in Sugar Land, Texas, and recently starred in the reality show, ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ He is also founder and president of a strategic political consulting firm, First Principles, which he launched after he stepped down from his Congressional seat in 2005.

Abramoff was released to a Baltimore half-way house in December 2009. Another figure in the case, ex-Rep. John Doolittle, was cleared in June. Kevin Ring, a former staff for Doolittle, and then a lobbyist for Abramoff, was refused an injunction on his own corruption case by Federal Judge Ellen Huvelle last week; Ring’s attorneys sought to get his case thrown out after the Honest Services Fraud statute was weakened by the Supreme Court in June.

A timeline of charges against DeLay is here from National Journal. A POLITICO article on the DeLay case is here.

Is DISCLOSE On Its Way Back?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Vbhotla

Will Washington once again see action on a signature piece of Democratic legislation? According to National Journal’s Hotline On Call, Senate Democrats are planning to reopen the campaign finance issue after the August recess – in the hope that the delay will mitigate some moderate Republicans’ objections to the hurried legislation.

Although the process from conception of the legislation to passage in the House took more than 4 months, Sen. Harry Reid chose to bring up the issue for a cloture vote on July 27 in the Senate. It ultimately failed, with Sen. Reid voting no ultimately to preserve his right of cloture. Moderate Republican Senators Scott Brown (Mass.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), and Susan Collins (Maine) are the swing votes on this issue – all have expressed reservations about what they view as the majority’s unseemly haste – seemingly in order to influence the November elections.

Since passing the bill in September or October would mean that it would not impact this year’s pivotal elections, Democrats hope that the moderate Senators, who may have supported campaign finance reform in a different format, will be able to overcome their skepticism. Express Advocacy’s William McGinley reports that Sens. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Leahy (D-Vermont) sent a campaign email specifically mentioning the DISCLOSE Act.

Story from Hotline on Call is here: “DISCLOSE Act will get second look.”

Industry Moves and Changes

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Vbhotla

Douglas Troutman has been promoted to senior director of government affairs at ACI. Before joining ACI, Troutman served as senior manager of legislative affairs at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. He also worked as senior manager of government relations at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, and as a legislative aide to Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (D-Pa.).

Miller B. Girvin has been hired as vice president for communications for The Hawthorn Group LC, an international public affairs firm. Girvin served as a senior policy associate and lobbyist for Capitol Management Initiatives LLC. Before that, she worked as a policy assistant for Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. (1987-2007).

Fruzsina M. Harsanyi is joining the Public Affairs Council as a senior adviser.

Greg Crist has been hired as vice president of public affairs at the American Health Care Association.

Weekly Lobbying News Round-Up

Friday, August 20th, 2010 by Vbhotla

We’ve talked about it before… but thank heavens the DOJ cleared DeLay from his corruption charges, or the DC newspapers would have nothing to report on during recess.

Interesting Fox News report on the House Ethics Committee, what indictments and trials and hearings and investigations mean for the body. Here at The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Ethics Process in the House. (h/t Eric Brown).

More on what happened with Target Corp. in Minnesota in this New York Times article, Voter (and customer) beware.

The Office of Government Ethics warns the executive branch about granting ex-post-facto waivers: “Ethics office warns about waivers.” (From the Washington Times).

Paul Magliocchetti entered a not-guilty plea at the federal court house in Alexandria, VA on Friday. He has been charged with, among other things, making illegal campaign contributions. Read a longer story here at the Blog of Legal Times.

Quote of the Week:

“There is no nefarious handshake meeting that is being kept secret… Some participants prefer not to take a high profile… Some like to stay under the radar. But the point here is to get the right answer, and full disclosure and debate is the best way to achieve that.” – Scott E. Talbott, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, on financial services lobbying, NYT, August 13