Archive for November, 2012

Mike Fulton: Lobbyists Should be Less Insular

Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

Mike Fulton is a lobbyist and president of The Arnold Agency’s Washington office.  He is also chair of the Media & Public Relations Committee for the American League of Lobbyists (ALL), and is currently a member of ALL's board of directors.  Mike can be reached at

LOBBYISTS, association executives, corporate leaders, higher education officials, and non-profit managers need to become better communicators about their advocacy work and how it benefits millions of Americans.

Those of us who sell our advocacy services for a living have no qualms touting our

capabilities to prospective clients, and the in-house lobbyists among us don't hesitate to jostle for precious budget resources to sustain lobbying campaigns within their organization.  So why can’t we use those same skills and resources to share our value to the media?  Why can’t we actively seek speaking engagements with communities, schools, and other groups outside the beltway?

Through media interviews, op-eds, blogs, speaking engagements, and classroom seminars, the lobbying community can find its voice.  We need to effectively convey why we are excited to get out of bed every morning to help our clients or in-house organizations petition our government.  We need, above all, to enlighten.


The Anatomy of a Sequester

Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE FIRST AND third most expensive lobbying issues for the 112th Congress are taxes and the budget.  The two most important issues surrounding the fiscal cliff are – surprise – taxes and the budget.

Obvious and intuitive as this may be in theory, it’s a mess on paper.

To the rescue is clamoring for a say in a grand bargain.  His conclusion:

“At this point, we have no idea what the final sausage of budget cuts and tax loophole closures will look like. But whatever winds up on the chopping block, there will be plenty of yelling and screaming from somewhere.”

And by “somewhere” he means “everywhere.”  The Sunlight Foundation’s “Sunlight Labs” lists no fewer than 62 sectors that have already exceeded $1 million in lobbying expenditures on tax lobbying alone.


Super Lobbyist Norquist is Talk of the Town

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

GROVER NORQUIST, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington, is receiving a deluge of press. This is most broadly because fear of a fiscal cliff is revitalizing debate around the feasibility of Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which commits signatories to “oppose any and all efforts” to raise taxes and curb deductions. 238 current House members and 41 Senators have signed the pledge.

But it’s also because of public renunciations by a few notable signatories – Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) – all of whom have either hinted at or openly committed to reneging. This has provoked a torrent of speculation about the future of Norquist’s clout, mixed with some intra-party mudslinging in which Norquist himself has played no small part. (See the Atlantic’s “Timeline of GOP Snubs of the No-Tax-Raise-Pledge”).

Finally, Warren Buffet’s provocative Op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday opened with this:

“Suppose that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. ‘This is a good one,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘I’m in it, and I think you should be, too.’ Would your reply possibly be this? ‘Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you’re saying we’re going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.’ Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist.” (Norquist responded by calling this argument “silly”)

Here’s what other notable voices are saying:

“So far, the renunciations of Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”amount to a trickle, not a flood. But we’re seeing the first signs in years that on the question of taxation — one of the fundamental responsibilities of government — the GOP may be starting to recover its senses.” – Washington Post (Eugene Robinson)

“I think Republican leaders who can find a sensible, rational way to defend a break in the pledge stand plenty to gain. After all, their oaths of office were made to their country. They should do what they deem fiscally sound for their constituents, not make decisions based on fear of a bespectacled man who has called Republicans who vote for a tax increase “rat heads in a Coke bottle.” – Washington Post (Jenna McGregor)

“By any standard other than the absurdly high one he has set himself, though, Mr Norquist continues to dominate Washington’s tax debate. Almost all revenue-raising proposals hinge on eliminating deductions, rather than raising marginal rates. If Mr Obama does succeed in raising the income-tax rate for the richest, it will have taken him two elections and all manner of fiscal face-offs and crises to get his way—and success is still far from assured. Even scrapping an economically nonsensical subsidy for ethanol, it seems, is still a highly controversial move. Grover is not over yet.” – The Economist

“This is where Mr. Norquist can give some ground. If taxes are going up anyway because the Bush rates expire, and Republicans can stop them from going up as much as they otherwise would, then pledge-takers deserve some credit for that. Mr. Norquist says it violates his pledge to eliminate deductions without lowering rates, but at the current economic and political moment it is also a service if Republicans prevent tax rates from going up. Speaker John Boehner deserves some leeway to try to mitigate the damage by negotiating a larger tax reform.” –  The Wall Street Journal

4 Lobbying Basics From Mark Cowan of Cassidy

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

MARK COWAN, Senior Executive Vice President for International Business at Cassidy & Associates, also spoke at the Country Promotion Strategies Conference (see previous post). Here are a few of his pointers for ambassadors and embassy personnel seeking to win the support of “relevant stakeholders”:

“Talk to real decision-makers. Avoid uninterested staff” –Whereas an uninterested member may relegate proposals to his staff, an uninterested staff may relegate them to the dust bin.

“Prioritize your issues (key players are always busy)” – Self-evident, but paramount. It may also be suggested that in order to prioritize properly, one must be heedful of the legislative calendar. To have broached climate change in the midst of the health care debate would have been an exercise in extreme naivete.  Hugh Halpern, Republican Staff Director of the House Committee on Rules, has also suggested staying a step ahead of the public eye. Anything congressional leadership is doing publicly has been decided a week prior. For Congress, the annoying adage rings true: “if you’re on time, you’re late.”

“Make your issues look sexy” – A promising issue that fails to galvanize will meet the same fate as one that fails all around. Furthermore, the sexiness of an issue should fit the circumstances. Veteran lobbyists will recall how some of their proposals died in committee because the committee itself wasn’t interested.

“Think American – bridge the gap between U.S. and your country” – Advice particularly relevant to embassies, though also important for any lobbyist advocating international issues. Recall the rhetoric from this past election cycle – “nation building at home,” “the best interests of the United States” – before crafting a proposal. These trite phrases are signals of genuine public sentiment – Washington’s prime mover. Every issue, foreign or domestic, must ultimately be domestic.

For a full version of Cowan’s talking points, email 

David Rehr: 7 tips for Embassy Relations with Capitol Hill

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

David Rehr is author of The Congressional Communications Report and has been listed as one of the nation’s top lobbyists.  He is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at The George Washington University.  David can be contacted  at 

LAST WEDNESDAY, I was honored to participate in the Country Promotion Strategies Conference: a gathering of over 200 ambassadors and embassy personnel for a day of presentations on how to best maneuver Washington’s corridors of power.

While there, I shared with the crowd seven tips that foreign diplomats should consider when interacting with Congress.

The research below comes from The Congressional Communications Report (hereafter CCR), a landmark study on communication methods used by lobbyists in their dealings with congressional staff.

1. Provide credible information:

According to CCR, the most successful way to gain influence and access with congressmen and their staff is to provide credible information. At least this is what 46% of survey respondents thought, which is more than double the support given to the next most popular answers:

2. Have an existing relationship with members/staff (28%)
3. Have a reputation of seeking meetings (12%).

Neither brand nor money is at the top of the list. This indicates a playing field far more level than conventional wisdom would have it.

2. Use email:

This is the preferred method of contact with congressional staff. In fact, 67% of staff prefer email, while:

18% prefer the phone,
10% prefer meeting in person,
4% prefer mailed letters, and a paltry
0.1% prefer social media.

3. …and when you do use email, make it short and to the point:

Not just because this is easier for the recipient, but also because it’s easier for the phone. Mobile devices used on Capitol Hill are probably different from those used by your embassies. CCR shows that only 9% of Hill staff use iPhones, 2% use the Android, and a whopping 85% use Blackberry. The implication is that you need to minimize graphics, superfluous information, and anything that impedes the ability to click on your message. If it takes more than a couple of seconds to load, it will be deleted or skipped.

4. Stay in touch with the Congressional Research Service:

CCR shows that the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the most valuable source of information for congressional staff. This is followed by:

2) Academic/issue experts
3) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
4) Other Capitol Hill Staffers

Embassies should therefore consistently review how their country is being portrayed by these sources. They should also consider how and where to make a positive impact.

5. Improve your position on Google:

While staff rated the CRS and issue experts the most valuable sources, their preferred sources were slightly different:

1) Internet Searches
2) CRS
3) Other Capitol Hill Staffers
4) Relevant Federal Agencies

This means embassies should be Googling their country’s name to see what comes up. Whatever is there will be the foundation of many a staffer’s judgments.

6. Understand what actually influences decisions:

CCR measured 16 different lobbying tools. Here are several to keep in mind:

1) Reliable and concise information
2) Constituent support
3) Hiring of former members of Congress

It is important to note that there are substantial differences between Republican and Democratic staff on which tools are most effective.

7. Be cognizant of a Hill staffer’s daily routine:

Everyone knows that Hill staffers are busy, and CCR certainly confirms that. The average staffer receives 134 emails daily, with only 18% reading all of them. Some other stats:

20% of Hill staff visit more than twenty websites daily
25% conduct more than 20 web searches daily
77% meet with two or less lobbyists daily
72% meet with two or less other Hill staffers daily

Click here for a full version of The Congressional Communications Report. 

For Defense Contractors, Lobbyists, More Than Just Sequester

Thursday, November 15th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE PENTAGON HAS been the source of much worry in Washington lately.  An impending sequester that would strip billions from its budget is fueling premonitions of a fiscal cliff from which the whole nation would plunge.  And while lobbyists from all corners are scrambling to prevent across-the-board cuts, it’s the folks in defense who are most active in the frenzy.

As if this weren’t enough, another alarm is being sounded.  Susan Warshaw Ebner of Asmar, Schor, and McKenna claims that the impact of an emerging issue, and pending regulations to address it, will rattle the entire defense industry.  The issue: counterfeit parts; the stakeholders: virtually everyone.

“Sequester or no sequester, this is going to be a huge issue with huge costs,” said Ebner.  “It’s a virtual certainty that lobbyists and trade associations will have a role to play.”

Essentially, the Pentagon is overdue to roll out regulations that aim to purge the threat of counterfeit electronic parts entering defense equipment (a threat which is elaborated in a Senate report released in May).  Compliance from the industry will implicate all sectors of the defense supply chain to “prevent, detect, remediate, and investigate counterfeiting….”  What this specifically entails hinges largely upon how “counterfeit electronic part” is defined – something DoD was supposed to make clear in its guidance and regulations.

The costs of assuring compliance and ferreting out suspect counterfeits could be crippling.  Ebner evokes a scenario in which a defense contractor learns that a certain make and model of electronic chip, already integrated in systems being shipped abroad, was counterfeited.

“You are likely to face significant costs to figure out if you or any of your lower tier subcontractors and suppliers bought the counterfeit, who from, and if they were used,” said Ebner.   “The question of how to best Online Pokies define and implement requirements is squarely before the DoD right now.”

But while attempting to influence the regulatory language will be an important task for lobbyists, “the first thing lobbyists and trade associations need to do is educate their companies about the problem, the statute, and the risks.  Nobody can afford to be ignorant of what’s at stake.”

This last point is bolstered by the title of an advisory Ebner and her firm released in August: “Counterfeit Parts – An Emerging Issue You Need To Know About!”  It’s also bolstered by facts.  An October white paper released by the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Counterfeit Parts (which Ebner chairs), states that “remedial action” by the Pentagon will include “but [is] not limited to suspension and debarment…in the case of a supplier that repeatedly fails to detect or avoid counterfeit parts or fairs to exercise due diligence.”

For lobbyists closing their eyes and ears to anything but sequestration, some of this may be hard to swallow.


12/31/11 – Congress passes Section 818, “Detection and Avoidance of Counterfeit Electronic Parts,” of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.

3/16/12 – Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Frank Kendall, issues a memo broadly defining “counterfeit material.”

3/26/12 – The Government Accountability Office releases a report detailing the availability of counterfeit military parts in China.  Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) says the report poses a “clear and present danger” and a “threat to our troops.”

5/21/12 – The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report on its two-year study of counterfeit parts in the defense supply chain.

9/26/12 – Regulations outlined in 818 are due to be issued, but aren’t.

10/8/12 – House Intelligence Committee releases report on national security threats posed by Chinese telecommunications companies.

What K St. is Saying About the Election

Thursday, November 8th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

As election night sulking and celebrating slowly ebbs outside the beltway, here’s a flavor of what the lobbying insiders are talking about:

On the “status quo election”

Republican lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford  in a memo to clients: “Leader Reid will have a tenuous majority from a policy perspective as several Democratic senators are philosophically closer to Republicans than many of their more progressive elected leaders.”

Lobbyist Bruce Mehlman of Mehlman, Vogel, Castagnetti: “The overwhelmingly high reelection rate of incumbents means Congress can attack the big issue logjam immediately. 2013 promises to be busier, more intense and more bipartisan than any year since 1997, with huge issues such as tax and fiscal reform actually starting to move.  Our Senate Democrats and House Republicans are already running full-speed.”

On lame ducks moving to K St.

Ivan Adler, principal at the McCormick Group:

  • “Those members who are seen [as] friendlier to business will have a much easier time getting hired by these firms than others.   The game is to get clients. You’re going to have to find people who can reach across the aisle in order to service them.”
  • If [Scott Brown] wanted to go lobby, I think he’s gold-plated.  Someone with Massachusetts interests should be looking at him.”
  • “The election has solidified the job prospects of the people working on the regulatory side, especially when it comes to ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank. Those laws are here to stay.  K Street is going to hire people who can play goalie. They are going to have to be able to stop a lot of pucks.”

Chris Jones, managing partner at CapitolWorks: “Democrats that have come from a red state and Blue Dogs will continue to be a prized commodity.”

The Hill: “Though a number of lawmakers who lost their election bids will likely enter the lobbyist pool, several senators who were already known to be leaving Capitol Hill next year — including Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) — remain the most coveted prospects for K Street.”

On the lobbying agenda

Tim Ryan, chief executive of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association: “With the election now over, it is vital that we return to the work at hand, namely, the continued implementation of Dodd-Frank and addressing the fiscal cliff.”

Tony Podesta, founder and chairman of Podesta Group: “If the [House] Speaker and the [Senate] majority leader are for it, you have got a shot at it. There won’t be any markup where you can add a few extraneous items to the bill. … The lobbying will be very narrow.  The odds of a passionate member of the leadership adding something to the bill may be low. The odds of the rank-and-file membership getting something into the bill are zero.”

Bob Van Heuvelen, founder of VH Strategies: “We are not going to be adding things to this Christmas tree. We are going to be clarifying what programs should and should not be cut. There are cuts that are going to be made, and that leads to winners and losers, which leads to the need for advocacy.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s not going to be impossible.”

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), now special counsel to Alston & Bird: “If gridlock is a drought season for our kind of work, we’re going to enter the rainy season.”

“We are not Wall Street banks, but we face the same regulatory regime

Monday, November 5th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

More mid-size and regional banks are increasing their lobbying activity in the wake of Dodd-Frank.

The colossal law contains a number of provisions these “middle children” feel should be limited to their bigger brothers.  Chief among these provisions are the Volcker Rule and a “living-will” requirement that commands big banks to detail “resolution plans” in the event of collapse.

The banks’ mission won’t be to wheedle their way out of Dodd-Frank, but rather to encourage regulators to tailor the rules with them in mind.  In other words, they’d like to be treated as a separate species from Wall Street.

To give an idea of how seriously they’re taking this, SunTrust has so far upped its lobbying expenditures fifteen-fold for 2012.  PNC has gone from spending $570,000 in 2010, to $1.53 million in 2011.

More on this as it unfolds.

“Top Lobbyists” of 2012 Reveal Changes on K St.

Friday, November 2nd, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE HILL RECENTLY released its annual list of top lobbyists, which comes at an interesting time considering a pre-election want of congressional activity.  (The Senate is holding daily pro forma sessions; the House doesn’t reconvene until the 12th).  I spoke briefly with the list’s compiler-in-chief, Business and Lobbying Editor Dustin Weaver, to review his findings.

“It’s more of an art than a craft,” said Weaver, describing the criteria used to select the lobbyists. “As an editorial team, we’re simply looking for people who shape the debate – people at the forefront.”

People at the forefront indeed.  The “Hired Guns” section not only contains K St. all-stars – Tony Podesta, for instance, founder and chairman of the prominent Podesta Group – but it also includes household names: Chris Dodd, Trent Lott, Haley Barbour, among others.  “Barbour’s new to the list,” said Weaver, “but that’s only because he just returned to lobbying – otherwise he’s a no-brainer.”

But not everyone who was selected is an established veteran.  Colin Crowell, new to the list this year, is Weaver. “Tech is the fastest growing industry in America, and it’s definitely rubbing off on K St.”

But besides attracting more techies, how else is K St. changing?  Weaver indicated two trends:

For the short term, it’s losing revenue.  The August and September recesses have depleted the coffers even of giants like Patton Boggs, which recently reported a 4% earnings drop from this time last year.  “But recess doesn’t mean lobbyists are twiddling their thumbs,” said Weaver.  “There are a lot of big-ticket issues to prepare for when Congress reconvenes.”

For the long term, it’s fundamentally reshaping itself.  Trends show an increasing preference for small, independent lobby shops over the larger, staid firms.  “A lot of lobbyists don’t feel the need to work for big shops anymore,” said Weaver.  “Many of them have been wildly successful on their own.”

It’s doubtful any of these patterns will bring about radical changes in the lobbying world.  It’s safer to assume the Barbours and Podestas of the industry will remain fixtures for years to come.  The Hill’s annual list will be a reliable test for this assessment.