Archive for July, 2011

Can FARA Registration Preempt Espionage Charges?

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 by Vbhotla

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai was accused last week of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and was arrested for working to influence Congress and develop White House and State Department contacts on behalf of the Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence.  Had he not also been accused of hiding millions of dollars for his illegal lobbying, he may have been able to avoid arrest by registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The Act, which is housed under the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section, was intended to counter German propaganda agents in 1938.  It respects freedom of speech, and simply requires disclosure of “any person who acts…at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a foreign principal,” which is defined as being any foreign government or political party, or person outside the U.S., or an entity organized outside the U.S.

There is no doubt that his activities constituted “political activity” under the FARA definitions; the Act defines “political activity” as “[A]ny activity that the person engaging in believes will, or that the person intends to, in any way influence any agency or official of the Government of the United States or any section of the public within the United States with reference to formulating, adopting, or changing the domestic or foreign policies of the United States or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party.”

Indeed, it is not illegal for foreign governments to contract lobbyists in the U.S. (Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai is an American citizen) to petition their interests.  And the Inter-Services Intelligent unit for which he was accused of spying is cooperative with the US on some issues, including terrorism.  The arrest could have been avoided with a simple registration and better accounting practices.

Facebook #1 in Congress

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 by Vbhotla

According to a recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation, nearly three out of every four staffers surveyed say social media allows Members to reach people they had not previously communicated with, and over half (55%) believe that the benefits of social media outweigh the risks, both indicative of a sweeping trend on the Hill.  As such, “[m]ost members of Congress have thoroughly integrated social media into their communications operations, and are using new media tools to gauge public opinion, communicate with constituents, and reach new people.”

A new study by the Congressional Management Foundation found congressional staff say Facebook is most effective social network for connecting with constituents.

Of these social media platforms, Members and staffers look to Facebook as the preferred method of connecting with constituents online.  With 74% of those surveyed saying Facebook is somewhat or very important for communicating Members’ views, the social network has a slight edge over YouTube (72%), which has been popular as video becomes an increasingly prevalent forum for disseminating messages.  Just over half of respondents (51%) say Twitter is somewhat or very important for the same purpose.

While offices seem to value all three networks for getting their own messages out, the impact of social media on the Members’ ability to gauge the needs of those they represent is lessened.  When asked about the importance of the online tools to helping Members understand constituents’ opinions, 64% say Facebook is somewhat or very important to this task, 42% say the same about Twitter, and only 34% feel YouTube is an important tool to collect constituent beliefs.

District visits, individual communications, and other more tangible forms of communication are still preferred, the report says, but “it is clear that congressional offices are taking Members’ Facebook friends seriously.”

Bradford Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told USA Today that social media tools are more prevalent and have been more readily adopted by members of this Congress than email or fax communications.

“These technologies are starting to change how Congress communicates with their constituents and is allowing members to reach citizens who otherwise might not engage in democratic dialogue,” he told USA Today.

There is, however, still a generational divide over the topic of social media in Congress: two-thirds of staffers under 30 say engaging on social media is worth the offices’ time, compared with only one third of those 51 and older.

Young Lobbyists Give Back by Building Home in Northeast D.C.

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 by Brittany

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Saturday, July 23, 20 members of the Young Lobbyists Network (YLN), a subgroup of the American League of Lobbyists (ALL), grabbed hammers and nails and helped to build homes in Northeast Washington, D.C.  In addition to giving their time, these energetic volunteers also raised more than $1,880 for Habitat for Humanity.

YLN is committed not only to providing networking opportunities and professional development for government relations professionals, but it is also dedicated to bettering the community in which we live.

“Saturday’s YLN Day of Service was an amazing experience,” noted Dakotah Smith, Government Affairs Representative for Bayer MaterialScience LLC and a Habitat for Humanity participant. “Habitat for Humanity is a great organization, and it was very rewarding to have the opportunity to contribute to the hard work that they are doing every day here in the District. As young lobbyists, we are all invested in our community, and this was a great way for us to give back.”

This YLN Day of Service is another example of ALL’s commitment to community involvement.  Since professional lobbyists represent the unusual pokies and puffies galleries full spectrum of interests within every town and city in the nation, ALL will continue to be involved with those in need of a home, clothing, tutoring help, and mentoring that shows young men and women that they have real options in choosing a productive career over a life with little future.  “The future of our profession is in great hands with this kind of attitude,” said ALL President Howard Marlowe.  “Our Young Lobbyists Network is more active this year than ever before, and really raised the bar with this event.  It is encouraging to see the enthusiasm and commitment they have for ethical advocacy as well as for their community.”


The Young Lobbyists Network is a group of lobbyists and government relations professionals who are dedicated to professional development, peer-to-peer networking opportunities, and charitable activities throughout the National Capital Region. The YLN is part of the American League of Lobbyists, which has represented the lobbying profession for over 30 years.

On the web:

Photos of the YLN Habitat for Humanity project are available upon request.

Summer Camp Training Advocates

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 by Brittany

When training advocates, it is important to bear in mind that these individuals do not need the same level of policy or process expertise as a professional lobbyist.  In most cases, advocates will not be determining strategy, negotiating delicate matters of legislative language or counting votes.  As such, much of the basic information about “how a bill becomes a law” or the section-by-section ins-and-outs of a particular policy issue will be of little relevance.  Yet, many advocacy training courses focus on legislative process and procedure as a means to introduce advocates to government.  Unfortunately, this approach sometimes leaves advocates feeling overwhelmed and under-motivated.

To avoid this situation, advocate leaders should focus on the following key elements in their training curriculum and avoid long discussions about bicameralism, the subcommittee process or how the appropriation level of Program X has changed over the last 20 years.  These more minute details of legislative process and policy can certainly be addressed in advanced courses for those advocates interested in more information, but should not form the core of a basic course.

  • Why citizen voices matter:  Many individuals simply do not believe that their voice matters, in part because they do not fully recognize why an elected official or staff person might pay more attention to them than to anyone else.  Citizen advocates need to understand that most elected officials and their staff are eager and excited to meet with real, live constituents and will respond more readily to their requests than those of non-constituents.
  • A corollary – what influences elected officials:  Most participants in a training session will immediately answer this question with one word: “money.”  Advocate leaders should make clear that policymakers are influenced by a variety of factors, including their own principles and passions, their friends, family and staff, their play pokies free online party leadership and, most important, their constituents.
  • The importance of asking for something specific:  Having a vague or even positive conversation is ultimately far less useful than asking a policymaker to take a specific action, whether it is to support a piece of legislation or visit a facility in the legislator’s district.  Advocate leaders should help participants understand and practice the key policy asks as well as other “easier” asks (such as site visits and public statements) that will both capture a policymaker’s interest and support.
  • Understanding the audience and framing the message:  Advocates should have both a macro- and micro-level understanding of the audience with whom they are communicating.
  • Effective messages from advocates:  Advocates should recognize that their job is to make sometimes esoteric policy issues real for the policymaker.  They can achieve this goal by telling a personal story.  Hence, any advocacy training session should include opportunities for participants to develop their own compelling stories.
  • The importance of following up:  Most advocates do not follow-up on their communications with policymakers — and then wonder why their representatives don’t do what they were asked to do.  Advocate leaders should impress upon network members the context in which decisions are made in the legislature, pointing out that initial requests for action may not be followed up on.
  • Working with staff:  Most state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, along with their related executive branch agencies, utilize staff people to assist policymakers.  Advocates should understand that staff people are critical to the process of effective policymaking.  In too many cases, advocates are disappointed to meet or work with “just the staff.”  Instead, staff should be viewed as critical components of the policymaking process.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Social Media Advocacy: Get with it or get left behind

Monday, July 11th, 2011 by Vbhotla

There are conflicting viewpoints on the role of social media in political advocacy: dissenters believe that social media promotes “slacktivism,” and that those who claim to be engaged are actually less informed, merely voicing unfounded opinions because they have a forum on which to do it.  Others argue that social media opens the public up to more information, promotes democracy, and encourages political action among users who are already socially and politically engaged.

Whatever your viewpoint, one thing is sure: from Capitol Hill to the White House, elected officials are turning to social media as a way to cut costs, increase access, promote their platforms, or just meet the public where they’re already playing to solicit political donations.  President Obama’s Twitter town hall last week — the first, but surely not last of its kind — saw a number of lobbyists getting in on the conversation.  From the Chamber of Commerce to health groups, a large number of organizations used the #AskObama hashtag to make a point, ask online blackjack that uses checks questions, and generally interact.  And whether the questions were directly addressed by the president or not, the messages were seen by his staff and others using the hashtag, making this communication vehicle more effective than simply sending a letter.

Roll Call‘s Kate Ackerly reports, “Obama mostly took questions from individuals, not the lobbying groups, but he did have a message for well-heeled interests. ‘The debt ceiling is not something that should be used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners or oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars,’ he said.”

Whether it’s the president’s Twitter town hall, a Member’s being urged to cosponsor a bill thanks to redundant Facebook posts, the Obama Administration’s “white board” issue videos, Congress’ use of Skype and other video messaging services to allow virtual constituent meetings, social media is changing the way legislators legislate.  Be a part of the (digital) conversation or be deemed irrelevant.

Skype, Oovoo given green light in Congress

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 by Vbhotla

In an effort to “help enhance constituent communications,” the U.S. House of Representatives is authorizing the use of video chatting software Skype and Oovoo for Members and staff.  The sites, which were previously blocked as cybersecurity risks, are now permissible, following special licensing agreements designed especially to ensure that House rules are upheld and privacy and security are ensured.

From Skype’s “The Big Blog”:

Photo credit: AP/Getty images

“Skype’s engineers worked closely with the Congressional network security team to ensure that Skype is used safely for official business… In addition, Members of Congress and their staff Pokies can personally configure important privacy settings to provide the highest level of security available on Skype… We look forward to working with the U.S. Senate, as well as other government agencies and lawmakers around the globe to facilitate the use of Skype and other broadband-enabled applications. Skype will open up new channels of communication between government officials and the people they represent, and potentially help reduce costs, increase transparency, and improve communications, which is something I think we all agree is a good thing.”

Among Skype’s most vocal congressional supporters over the past year is GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).


What to Report on the LD-203

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 by Brittany

The single most significant change in HLOGA is the semi-annual filing of what is referred to as the “contributions reports.” The LD-203 is required to be filed individually by every registered lobbyist, as well as organizations that employ lobbyists, in addition to each registrant’s LD-1 and LD-2 reports. 

The LD-203 is known as the “Semi-Annual Report of Contributions” and is filed according to the following calendar.

Reporting Period                                                                             Filing Date

Jan. 1 through June 30                                                                   July 30

July 1 through Dec. 31                                                                    Jan. 30

The report is filed electronically and every lobbyist must obtain his/her own separate filing password from the Senate. Do not wait until the week or day before the report is due to obtain the electronic password for any newly registered lobbyist employee. It takes several days to obtain a password for the mandatory electronic filing. Obtain all required passwords – for both the registrant and all lobbyist employees – well before the report is due to be filed.

There are three primary provisions of the LD-203:

  • Certification of compliance with the House and Senate Ethics Rules related to gifts and travel
  • Disclosure of certain political contributions
    • PAC contributions to candidates, leadership PACs and national party committees ($200 or more)
    • Contributions to presidential libraries ($200 or more)
    • Contributions to inaugural committees ($200 or more)
    • Disclosure of certain payments and disbursements
  • Contributions of any amount to events and entities involving covered executive or legislative branch officials Pokies

Guidance from the House and Senate Regarding Costs and Payments Subject to LD-203 Reporting

The official guidance to the LDA reporting was amended on July 16, 2008 and substantially narrowed the payments and contributions subject to reporting on the LD-203.

The key points of the guidance include:

  1. A speaking role by a covered official does NOT trigger disclosure.
  2. A contribution to another organization which honors a covered official does not necessarily trigger reporting on the LD-203 (but could under certain circumstances).
  3. A separate segregated fund PAC established and controlled by a lobbying registrant must be disclosed on the registrant’s LD-203. If a registered lobbyist serves on the board or as treasurer of a PAC that is a separate segregated fund, then he/she must disclose ONLY that role on his/her individual LD-203, and only the connected organization registrant (the firm, the association or the company) must disclose the PAC contributions of $200 or more to federal candidates, leadership PACs and federally registered political party committees.

However, for non-connected PACs (associated with partnerships such as law firms and lobbying firms that are organized as partnerships), not only must the firm report all the contributions from the PAC, but also any lobbyist who serves on the non-connected PAC board or who directs the contributions from the non-connected PAC must report the contributions on his/her individual LD-203 report.

For more information or to purchase the Lobbying Compliance Handbook click here.

Google’s New DC Team

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011 by Vbhotla

The internet giant announced Friday that it will hire 12 new lobbying firms in light of recent antitrust probes against the company.  Google told The Hill that Akin, Gump; Bingham; Capitol Legislative Strategies; Chesapeake Group; Crossroad Strategies; Gephardt Group; Holland & Knight; Normandy Group; Prime Policy; The First Group; The Madison Group; and the Raben Group were being retained to tell its story in Congress and the FTC.

Crowell Strategies, R.B. Murphy & Associates and the Lugar Group, which were not listed, have all registered to lobby for Google this year.  Of those disclosed to The Hill, only Holland & Knight has filed an LD-1 registration.

According to Crowell Strategies‘ profile, Google is the company’s largest client, with $52,500 in income reported for last quarter to lobby on communications and copyright/patent/trademark issues.  Crowell also represents Cablevision Systems Corporation, Earthlink emily deschanel pokies, DirecTV Group, Consumer Electronics Association, T-Mobile USA, and Zoom Telephonics on similar issues.

R.B. Murphy & Associates, however, represents clients on a broader range of issues, and reported <$5,000 in earnings from Google for Q1 2011.  The Lugar Group, which has no reported any income as of yet, also represents a broad range of issues  for its various clients.  Holland & Knight, LLP, while also representing a wide array of issues, is also the largest of the firms recently registered to represent Google, with more than 1,150 attorneys in 23 offices across the U.S. and around the world and more than $19million in lobbying revenue last year, according to the firm’s profile.  Holland & Knight, LLP is also the latest firm to register to lobby for Google, with a filing date of June 21.

Survey finds DC still place to be for GR professionals

Friday, July 1st, 2011 by Vbhotla

The annual Association TRENDS Compensation Report results have been tallied, and the findings confirm that GR professionals in the nonprofit world are still paid more in the DC area than they are across the country.  Within the capital region, the average salary for GR Directors is $163,642 in the District, $156,263 in Maryland, and $151,056 in Virginia.  For all other government relations positions in the area, the trends are similar: professionals earn the most in DC, followed by Maryland, with Virginia closing out the list.  However, it is worth noting that there were more director-level GR positions  in companies based in Virginia than in Maryland organizations.

For more information on the TRENDS compensation report, visit here for the DC report or here for the National version.