Archive for July, 2013

Lobbying Moves to the Stables

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE TENNESSEE WALKING horse, famous for its elegant gait (“Big Lick“), is at the center of a lobby battle between animal rights groups and horse owners. The issue being debated is a practice known as “soring,” in which irritants are used to artificially affect the way the horse walks, essentially burning and blistering its legs so that it accentuates its step. The abusive practice has been around since the mid-twentieth century, and has since been federally banned by the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970. But animal rights activists are arguing that the 43-year-old law is ineffectual since the inspectors tasked with curbing soring practices are often horse owners themselves, which therefore creates a conflict of interest.

A new bill has now been introduced to amend HPA, called The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act of 2013, or the PAST Act. The aim of the PAST Act is to eliminate the shortcomings of HPA by requiring the USDA to limit its licensing of horse show managers and inspectors to people who are “free from conflicts of interest,” with a preference for “persons who are licensed or accredited veterinarians.” Two of the biggest supporters of the bill are the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and The Humane Society, the former having spent over $300,000 in lobbying through late June.

Revival of the issue in Congress is coincident with a ruling by a federal court in Texas affirming the constitutionality of minimum penalties for horse owners who shirk the rules. But although the momentum may appear to be on the side of those fighting for the welfare of horses, the advantage may actually belong to those fighting for the welfare of a multi-million dollar industry.  According to Open Secrets blog, the industry brings “$38 million to Shelbyville, Tenn., every year for the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, as well as millions to other areas of the Southeast.”

Another obstacle for the PAST Act is Congress itself, which is loath to tackle the most pressing issues, to say nothing of animal rights.  Even if the bill becomes a law, it’s future efficacy is dubious.  Much like professional athletes who take performance enhancing drugs undetected, abusive horse owners have mastered the art of evasion. Two tactics currently used to dodge inspectors include the application of topical anesthetics and short-acting numbing agents that are timed to wear off as the horse enters the ring; and, perhaps most sinister, the training of horses to remain still when sore spots are touched, achieved by abusing the horse when it budges.

So the battle against soring is almost certainly uphill. But despite all the sound and fury and the hundreds of thousands of lobbying dollars vainly spent in an effort to galvanize a paralyzed (and likely uninterested) Congress, there’s hope yet for the animal welfare camp.  For one thing, the PAST Act is being sponsored by a Republican from Kentucky.  Now that’s a good start.

TracFone, Vitter Dial Up Obama Phone Fight

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by James Cameron

TRACFONE, THE CELLPHONE company owned by Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, is ramping up its lobbying efforts in the face of strong opposition, according to POLITICO. The Miami-based company is seeking to protect the Lifeline program (dubbed The Obama Phone by its critics), the goal of which is to distribute cellphones and Internet service to unemployed Americans so that they can find jobs, learn new skills, and draft résumés.

But TracFone is being criticized for its lobbying campaign to shift the program from disbursing Internet service to distributing smartphones, which would benefit the company’s bottom line.  Critics argue that the program merely provides free cellphones without the benefits promised by TracFone.  Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), one of Lifeline’s staunchest opponents, argues:

This phone program has expanded far beyond its original intent, and as so many middle class Americans struggle underneath this economy, it is really offensive for Washington to make taxpayers pay or free cellphones for others.

According to the FCC, however, the modern version of Lifeline is actually an expansion of a Reagan-era program that subsidizes phone service for the very poor so that they can contact the authorities in case of an emergency.  During the George W. Bush administration, the program was expanded to include cellphones, and in 2012 was reformed once again to incorporate a Broadband Adoption Pilot Program that provides Internet access to lifeline-eligible households.

Although TracFone and its detractors continue to fight over the nature of the program, for now it seems evident that Lifeline is more than just a source for government handouts.  Whether or not Slim and others can escape from the charge remains to be seen.

 

Hyatt Regency Ranked Best Hotel for Fly-ins

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

YESTERDAY’S POLITICAL INFLUENCE newsletter, published daily by POLITICO, featured the Association TRENDS Fly-in/Legislative Day Yearly (F.L.Y.) Guide, a ranking of D.C.’s most popular fly-in hotels.  Association TRENDS – which, like Lobbyists.info, is a division of Columbia Books – publishes the guide every year in its monthly, and discusses the results at an annual breakfast on fly-ins.

The value of ranking D.C. hotels rests on the premise that selecting the best available venue is the most important decision a planner can make when coordinating a fly-in.  As a matter of definition, you hgh height growth can’t have a fly-in without a hotel, so one must choose wisely.  This year’s all-around winner was Hyatt Regency, earning best overall, best meeting rooms, best logistics, and most knowledgeable of fly-in protocol (there’s a low bar here: most hotel staff don’t have a clue what ‘fly-in’ even means).  If location were its own category, the Regency would tie with The Liaison Capitol Hill, both of which are mere steps from the Capitol.

The full results, which were very graciously uploaded by POLITICO, can be viewed here.

Contractor Expenditures Remain Hidden

Thursday, July 18th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

BESIDES DOMESTIC ESPIONAGE, what else are agencies hiding from the public? According to POLITICO, they’re hiding lobbying records. The paper’s requests for disclosure reports from six different federally-funded offices, including the NSA and FBI, were brusquely dismissed:

Almost all agencies advised POLITICO to file a Freedom of Information Act request — the costly, difficult, backlogged and sometimes expensive process that can take years. The ones that didn’t declined to answer the request entirely. The White House also declined to comment.

How do the contractors who lobby for these agencies get away with this?  Firstly, their disclosure forms aren’t the same as the accessible ones filed through Congress.  Most lobbyists file the LD-203;  government contractors file the piece of paper with a dubious history and an existence “…all but forgotten by journalists, researchers, transparency advocates — and apparently even by federal bureaucrats.”

Secondly, lobbying expenditures can’t be divulged if they’re part of a classified contract (hence the need for a Freedom of Information Act Request).

Should agencies and contractors get away with this seems a more pertinent question.  According to National Review:

This incredible lack of transparency is troubling, to say the least, considering how much taxpayer money goes to defense contractors (even after sequestration), the poor performances and cost overruns of some of these companies’ products, and the wasteful spending that goes on this side of government.

In other words, no, they shouldn’t.

LD-203 Reminder

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

ON JULY 30TH, every federally registered lobbyist must file the semi-annual LD-203 report, which is ample reason to sign up for next week’s LD-203 Filing Boot Camp.  The webinar will be led by Foley & Lardner’s Cleta Mitchell, who in addition to training lobbyists is known for her crusades against the IRS.  Attendees earn a Certificate of Training upon completing the course, along with a deep knowledge of disclosure law and gift rules ready to be unleashed at the next cocktail party.

July 30 – LD-203

The semi-annual report is required of all lobbyists to certify ethics compliance and disclosure. “Form LD-203 is required to be filed semiannually by July 30th and January 30th (or next business day should either of those days fall on a weekend or holiday) covering the first and second calendar halves of the year. Registrants and active lobbyists (who are not terminated for all clients) must file separate reports which detail FECA contributions, honorary contributions, presidential library contributions, and payments for event costs.”  July 30th is a Tuesday.

Standing Out in August

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

TODAY MARKS THE end of Congress’s last break until August recess. That means there’s only four weeks left to pass legislation, a fact duly noted and keenly felt by Congressional members and their staff, the President and his staff, and, of course, lobbyists.  This last group has the most sweat to wipe from its brow for reasons other than DC’s unrelenting heat.  For while Congressional staff will look forward to casual dress and a light August workload, lobbyists can expect diminished receipts.  Although this year’s home stretch will be markedly less hectic than last year’s, there’s still a quickness in K St’s pace that betrays a sense of urgency.

Yet it doesn’t have to be that way.  August can in fact keep business rolling for lobbyists if they know where to turn.  One option is regulatory lobbying.  Agencies don’t go on recess, and they have plenty of work to do in the months and years ahead.  (See Lobbyists.info’s upcoming crash course on agency lobbying,  “Understanding the Regulatory Landscape: Rule-making Basics for Agency Lobbying.”)

Site visits and town halls are another option.  The logic here is that if policymakers are leaving town, follow them.  (See Stephanie Vance’s .”)

Site visits and town halls are another option.  The logic here is that if policymakers are leaving town, follow them.  (See Stephanie Vance’s how to develop a district-based advocacy program).

Some have argued that August is not only more important than conventional wisdom allows, but that it’s in fact the most critical month of the year. Capstrat, a communications firm in Raleigh, N.C., is particularly vocal on this point.  Account Supervisor Mike Kondratick claims that August recess is a “championship game” that determines “the difference between organizations that win their issues and those that don’t.”  When Congress is in session

…every group is using the same set of communications tactics to move member offices on their issues….[T]he August recess not only creates a month-long window for more highly personalized communications, but it shifts that office’s view of every one of your communications from that point forward. That ability to stand out from the rest of the issue-pedaling masses is something that all of the money spent post-Labor Day simply won’t be able to buy.

In this sense, August is a time to develop visibility.  In Kondratick’s words, it’s a time to “stand out, not check out.”  Perhaps as the doors of Congress close, others will open for lobbyists.  Whether they take advantage of this, however, is completely up to them.