Archive for June, 2013

From the Grapevine to Congress

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

TRUTH IS NOT the only thing in wine; there are consumer interests there, too. This Monday marked the launch of a new advocacy group called the American Wine Consumer Coalition, whose mission is all in the name. “In most cases,” claims AWCC Director Tom Wark, “the interests of wineries, wholesalers and retailers coincide with those of consumers.” Yet also in most cases, the consumer’s interests are thwarted by state laws. Your humble blogger was surprised to find no wine in the grocery stores of his new home state of Maryland* (’s offices are in Bethesda, Md.), which is precisely the kind of thing AWCC seeks to target.  From their new website:

AWCC advocacy and educational efforts seek to put consumers and their key interests on par with the special interests that have for too long ignored the needs of consumers and dismissed consumer input in to the discussion, debate and conversation concerning alcohol regulations and laws.

And specifically on the point of wine in grocery stores:

Bans on wine sales in grocery stores cost consumers time, money and energy….Local economies and local producers of wine are harmed by bans on grocery store sales of wines….Accommodating special interests seeking protection from competition is no justification for the inconvenience, higher prices, decreased selection and damage to the local economies that bans on grocery store wines produce.

Yet bringing consumers to the table is no quick fix.  Advocates of the status quo are sure to oppose Mr. Wark’s efforts, which he admits in his interview with the Huffington Post.  “If you’re in a state that doesn’t allow wine sales in grocery stores,” said Wark, “then liquor stores are usually against changing that.”

AWCC will nonetheless charge forward with its mission, despite the challenges it faces.  Membership is $35, which according to Wark, “is the same as a good bottle of wine.”

*It should bey clarified that Maryland liquor laws vary by locality.

Regulating PI

Monday, June 24th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

AN EARLIER POST to this blog referenced a “preliminary probe” by the SEC that has renewed debate about the role of the “political intelligence” industry. Yesterday, the Washington Post wrote about how the probe is shaping ongoing efforts by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) to cast light on the industry by developing a regulatory apparatus through which it can be monitored.

The second most interesting aspect of this story – behind the fact that Sen. Grassley is the former boss of Mark Hayes, the lobbyist at the center of the SEC probe – is that the model for this regulatory apparatus is the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA):

Grassley’s amendment proposed subjecting political intelligence consultants to the same disclosure rules as lobbyists, who under the Lobbying Disclosure Act must register if they come in contact with a government official and spent teen pokies at least 20 percent of their time advocating on behalf of lobbying clients in a three-month period.

Yet when Grassley and Slaughter first proposed this idea as an amendment to the STOCK Act, the House Finance Committee struck it down.  Why?  Because the definition of “political intelligence activities” was too broad.  Now a standalone bill is being drafted by the two legislators for a second try.  One would think that any controversial definitions would be altered, or at least give the appearance of being altered, in order to bolster the bill’s prospects.  One would be mistaken:

A spokesman for Slaughter said the upcoming bill is still being drafted, but the definition of political intelligence will be the same as that in the Grassley amendment, which was identical to what Slaughter proposed for inclusion in the original version of the STOCK Act.


Why Comply?

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

EVERY YEAR THE Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that most lobbyists are doing what they’re legally bound to do: register and disclose. Despite some shortcomings – such as failing to round expenses to the nearest $10,000 and neglecting to report formerly held covered positions – lobbyists are a law abiding and diligent bunch. (Registered lobbyists, of course. Many lobbyists are in fact operating beyond the current legal framework).

But this rosy picture does little to deter those tempted to quit compliance all together. Some are asking: why comply? Nobody is getting more than a slap on the wrist for their negligence, so why bother?

An identical question was posed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. against Biassi Business Services Inc., which failed to submit 124 compliance forms and now faces up to $33 million in fines. The oft-repeated criticism that the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) “lack teeth” was met brusquely by Davidson: “Does a $33 million penalty count as teeth?”

Some may still think not. $33 million is a hefty fine, yes, but 124 repeated offences exceeds negligence and borders on willful disobedience.  In fact, this latest case may do very little by way of a warning to lobbyists.  If it’s only the “chronic offenders” facing costs for noncompliance, then skipping a disclosure deadline or two will still maintain its appeal.  Though compliance is the safest route, people make a good point just by asking “why comply?”

The Hill is Pro-Business After All

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

MOST HILL STAFFERS trust corporations, according to a new study by and The George Washington University.  The study, “Congressional Attitudes Toward American Economic Institutions,” found that roughly two thirds of Hill staffers think corporations are trustworthy.  Less than half say the same about organized labor, despite the fact that the sample leans slightly to the left.

According to POLITICO, this is enough to contradict the conventional perception that Washington is anti-business:

The poll comes amid rising complaints from the private sector that Capitol Hill doesn’t understand or appreciate business. In particular, corporations have pokie casino online been agitating loudly against the implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care law, saying it will raise prices and depress hiring.

Few of the 328  staffers polled could potentially be accused of an anti-business outlook, with only 3% opposing the idea that corporations are needed for economic growth, and less than 2% contradicting  the statement that businesses have “a positive impact on communities.”  On the other hand, over 13% think that corporations are not necessary for sustained economic growth, indicating a point at which staffers diverge on big business’s role in long term economic health. Partner Leads IRS Fight

Monday, June 10th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE WOMAN AT the vanguard of ongoing investigations into the IRS just so happens to be the author of ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a full page interview with Cleta at the head of their Opinion section.

The 2013 edition of The Lobbying Compliance Handbook is scheduled for release this summer.  Look for Cleta’s semiannual LD-203 Boot Camp webinar late next month (the LD-203 is due July 30th).

Congressional Veterans

Friday, June 7th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

EVERYONE WILL HAVE heard by now that Michigan Democrat John Dingell today became the longest serving member of Congress.  (If not, one can easily catch up: see The Washington Post, National Journal, and Roll Call’s career in photos).  Yet how many know who ranks behind him?   Here are the top ten longest-serving members of Congress by length of service.  The final column indicates their reason for leaving.

What unites these men?  Firstly, they’re all just that: men.  Secondly, they were all elected in the 20th century.  And lastly, they’re all Democrats.  Less strikingly, the two left serving are both from Michigan.

John Dingell (D-Mich.)   57 years, 176 days Still serving
Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)   57 years, 176 days Died
Carl Hayden (D-Ariz.)   56 years, 319 days Retired
Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)   53 years, 118 days Died
Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.)   53 years, 60 days Retired
Carl Vinson (D-Ga.)   50 years, 61 days Retired
Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.)   49 years, 305 days Lost election
Sam Rayburn (D-Texas)   48 years, 257 days Died
John Conyers (D-Mich.)   48 years, 155 days Still serving
Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.)   48 years, 0 days Retired

How Much is Too Much?

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

LOBBYING HAS ALWAYS been a difficult job. Yet more seems to be expected of lobbyists by the day. When it comes to fundraising, for example, “much of the pressure falls to K St.” This is resulting in the unenviable phenomenon of “no downtime.”

But the burden of fundraising is doing much more than corroding lobbyists’ leisure, which is always in short supply.  It’s also affecting their finances.  In order to meet the demands of a post-Citizens world, lobbyists are cutting more checks.  An anonymous lobbyist in the above-linked article laments how “my kids are all going to community college since I’m giving all this money away.”  Apparently time itself is no longer a sufficient sacrifice on K St.

On the one hand, nothing is new here.  Campaign pledges and donations have long been used by lobbyists for leverage.  Some have perfected the art of winning support through piecemeal contributions, effectively luring lawmakers to their cause, donation by donation, pledge by pledge.

On the other hand, everything is new.  When a certain group of robed justices blows the top off years of campaign finance precedence (which they’re primed to do again), the debris will fall for years.  The full effect of Citizens is thus yet to be felt by lobbyists.  One thing is overwhelmingly evident: the depth of their wallets has a limit, whereas what’s expected of them does not.  This forces a question upon all lobbyists struggling to stay relevant: how much is too much?