Archive for May, 2013

Lions and Tigers and K St., Oh My!

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

ACCORDING TO THE HILL’S Kevin Bogardus, the latest lobbying battle is centered around cats. Big cats. Bogardus reports that

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other groups are throwing their weight behind the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, which would ban keeping the animals as pets or breeding them for sale.

Public disclosure records reveal that the IFAW hasn’t been throwing much weight behind anything since the mid-90′s, when in 1996 alone it raised half a million dollars and spent, if you’ll pardon the pun, the lion’s share. The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act may reverse that trend, bringing IFAW back to the vanguard of animal rights lobbying.

But despite the involvement of animal rights groups, advocates are emphasizing public safety as the measure’s central cause.*  The implication is that this approach will enhance the visibility (and ultimately the palatability) of the proposed legislation.  The name of the bill is itself a testament to this, in which the bulk of its syllabic frame is occupied by the public safety bit, with “Big Cats” being dispensed with up front and early.  Also, there’s no allusion to animal welfare in this designation.

How else is the message being pushed?  Metro ads.  To LobbyBlog’s readers on K St.: look for images of caged lions and tigers the next time you board at Farragut.

*IFAW says that “in just the past two decades, dangerous incidents involving captive big cats in the U.S. have resulted in the deaths of 22 people (including 5 children); and over 200 additional humans have been mauled or injured.”

2012-2013 Congressional Travel

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

WHO IS THE most well-traveled member of Congress?  That depends.  If the term is used strictly in a congressional sense, in that only trips subsidized by the taxpayer count, and furthermore only trips that occurred in the last year, then Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) earns the superlative.  According to HT Politics’ new “Data Mine,” Dreier went on nine trips to 22 countries for a total of 58 travel days, beating out his Republican colleague and fellow Californian Devin Nunes, who went 6-20- and 33.  In fact, Californians took gold, silver, and bronze for total travel days, the last going to Karen Bass (D), who racked up an impressive 29.

The most visited country was Afghanistan,  followed closely by Spain and France.  No surprises here: Afghanistan has our troops, and Spain and France are two of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.  But it is curious how Kenya got more visits than Mexico, our immediate neighbor, and Saudi Arabia was graced with more than double the amount of travel days taken in the UK, with whom we share a “special” relationship.

Yet who’s to say that only national interests should be heeded when these trips are planned?  Lawmakers need breaks too, and a stroll down the Champs-Élysées can be equally restorative for them as it is for the average tourist.  Whether this should come at the taxpayer’s expense, however, is a contentious matter.

It Takes an Outsider to Be an Insider

Monday, May 20th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

ALL LEGISLATORS BENEFIT, to some extent, from out-of-state campaign contributions.  Some, however, practically rely on them.  OpenSecrets lists 66 legislators as “anomalies” in this respect: they get more than half of their support from beyond their state’s (or “territory’s” in the case of Congressman Faleomavaega) borders.  According to this metric, here are the ten most anomalistic* members of Congress:

Out of state funding

SOURCE: OpenSecrets.org Anomaly Tracker

*adj. – of or pertaining to a member of Congress who derives more than four fifths of his/her war chest from out-of-state donors.

Record Registration Complicates Lobbying Picture

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

K STREET’S SPRING AWAKENING” is how The Washington Post described the recent blossom of new lobbyist registrations. A formidable batch of 686 registrations were filed in April, just enough to win the three-year record, and more than enough to augur well for those who predict a sprightly Q2.  The Post sketches the chronology of lobbying activity as follows: a client hires a firm…a few weeks ensue…said firm registers after their first contact on the Hill…a few weeks ensue…said firm reports fees.  Given that typical Q4 hiring seeped into the first months of 2013 (because of the fiscal cliff, as some have claimed), then a full rebound may come later than previous years, reaching its apogee this summer.  There’s just one problem: August recess.

All together, too many factors are clouding the usually clear-eyed and credible metric of reported lobbying spending.  A decrease in year-to-year spending from 2012-2013 may well result, continuing a trend that began in 2010 and prompting a slew of reporters to herald the demise of traditional lobbying.  These tidings, should they come, are best taken with a skeptical eye.

Star Power in D.C.

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

WASHINGTON IS TEEMING with professional lobbyists who make their living by wooing and winning the eyes and ears of policy makers. Yet this week the outsiders are the ones turning heads. Three celebrities will have ambled through the halls of power by week’s end. Former Disney star Demi Lovato sat with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius yesterday at the University of D.C. to honor National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.  Friends icon Matthew Perry took to the White House and Congress to champion the efficacy of drug courts.  Tonight, Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston and his wife will be honored for their humanitarian work with missing and exploited children.  Such events evoke memories of a seminal moment in “celebvocate” history:

Tobacco’s Demise in Washington

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

OPENSECRETS BLOG recently sketched an unlikely comparison between the political influence of big tobacco and that of education. While the former’s command in Washington has largely waned since the 90′s, the opposite can be said of the education “industry.” Both have gradually become more partisan, tobacco leaning increasingly to the right, and education to the left.

So what actually happened to tobacco?  Its demise is explained thusly:

In most election cycles between 1992 and 2002, the majority of the industry’s contributions came in the form of soft money. When the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 banned those contributions beginning with the 2004 cycle, tobacco dropped from 41st to 66th among industries in terms of overall donations, and to this day has not recovered.

Yet records of annual lobbying expenditures indicate a decline that originates well before 2004:

Tobacco

1998 was, after all, what might be considered a watershed year for tobacco.  The massive settlement between “Big Tobacco” and 46 attorneys general demanding remuneration for tobacco-related health costs was a huge blow to the indsutry, and included provisions that limited its lobbying activity.  For an alphabetical list of industry profiles, visit opensecrets.org/industries/alphalist.php

6 Reasons Why Lobbying is Going Underground

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

A DECLINE IN reported lobbying is not always synonymous with a decline in lobbying. Many would argue, as some have in recent weeks, that like a crooked weather vane, disclosure reports are a poor gauge of what they were designed to reveal. The most convincing reason for this is that people are avoiding the whole disclosure apparatus altogether by refraining from registration, and thereby joining the ranks of the underground lobbyists, or “unlobbyists.” This phenomenon distorts the size of the advocacy pool (making it appear smaller than it actually is) and, by extension, the extent of its activity. It’s conceivable that if this trend continues, the “unlobbyist” will no longer prove the exception to the rule.

But this isn’t the only reason why an apparent slump in lobbying spending may be illusory. Here are six more offered by Thomas Edsall of The New York Times:

1) The Obama campaign - Tech innovations from the Obama campaign have improved the efficacy of grassroots advocacy and are rendering the middle man obsolete:

[T]he success of the Obama campaign in advancing computer-driven techniques to reach key segments of the electorate has produced a blossoming industry of digital and specialized communications firms using data analysis, microtechnology and computerized list-building to create public support for or opposition to legislative and policy initiatives – virtually all of which goes effectively undisclosed.

2) The Obama Administration - The administration’s anti-lobbying executive orders have ironically discouraged registration:

Taken together, these regulations have encouraged those interested in public service to find jobs that do not require them to register as lobbyists. Or, put another way, those who are eager for government work are not going to formally register themselves as lobbyists and thus make themselves ineligible.

3) Public Relations - PR is replacing GR as another form of advocacy:

To address diminishing revenues, lobbying firms have created their own public relations operations, subsidiaries with the same goals as the lobbying arm, that charge similarly high fees, but which do not have to be publicly reported to either the House or the Senate.

4) Digital advertising – It’s becoming more political. Edsall quotes Jen Nedeau of Bully Pulpit Interactive:

By using data-driven ads to craft a narrative, we believe that social media does not only have the ability to sell soap, but as we’ve already proven, it can help to get out the vote.

5) SOPA – It’s crushing defeat changed the rules of the game:

The scope of the ongoing upheaval in lobbying was brought home with a vengeance in 2011 and 2012 by the failure of traditional lobbying strategies to win approval of the Stop Online Piracy Act. In early 2011, by all normal standards, the odds were with passage of SOPA….The emergence of a powerful public force outside traditional avenues of influence put fear of elective defeat into the hearts of members of Congress and forced the lobbying community to beef up its own non-traditional tactics….Now, in the lexicon of Washington insiders, the acronym SOPA has become a verb, as in the warning to overconfident legislators: “Don’t get SOPAed.”

6) Social media – A cliche but nonetheless true:

[S]ocial media means almost anyone “can shine a light on” Congressional negotiations, so that company or association pushing an issue can no longer depend on the effectiveness of an old-guard lobbyist with good connections on Capitol Hill.