Archive for March, 2014

‘Tis the Season to Fly-in

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

BARRING ERRATIC WEATHER, it’s around this time of the year when the D.C. area thaws and blossoms and bustles again.  Included in this resurgence are the droves of advocates who partake in the annual pilgrimage known as the fly-in.

Yet unlike a pilgrimage, conscripts are expected to do more than mere ritual.  There’s a craft to advocacy for which even once-a-year novices are not exempt.  That means fly-in organizers must ensure their advocates are properly prepared, lest their collective efforts amount to no more than a field trip.

Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates has made it part of her job to instruct fly-in organizers.  In a sense, she trains the trainers.  Earlier this month, Vance conducted a webinar for Lobbyists.info titled “Preparing Advocates for Fly-ins,” in which she detailed, among other things,  how to educate advocates on congressional procedure.

Without spoiling the program (available for purchase here), Vance promotes a balanced approach to fly-in prep in which advocates are taught the essentials without being bogged down by procedural minutiae.  Remind advocates of how bills are passed, Vance argues, but don’t exceed the basic tenets of Schoolhouse Rock.  This approach helps avoid the sort of confusion that would only serve to confound and frustrate an already anxious group.  It also frees advocates to direct their attention where it’s most needed, which is not in general procedure but rather in specific policy issues.

Vance covers much more ground than this, but it all links to the same general message: if you’re hoping for a successful fly-in, learn how to train your advocates.

The Return of Enforcement

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by James Cameron

NO ONE ENJOYS filling out paperwork, but if you’re a lobbyist, failure to do so can be costly. The Washington Post reported last week that Alan Mauk and his firm, Alan Mauk Associates, failed to file required quarterly lobbying reports at least 13 times in the past four years—an indiscretion that carries a hefty price of up to $200,000 per violation. The civil complaint filed against Mauk and his firm is the latest of several lawsuits the government has filed in the past year as a result of negligence.

Back in June, the Blog of the Legal Times reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia slapped Biassi Business Services Inc., a consulting firm based in New York, with a  lawsuit that could cost the firm up to $33 million in fines. Biassi reportedly filed several disclosures for 2012 and 2013 after the lawsuit was filed, and it remains to be seen how much of the fine Biassi will ultimately have to pay.

But lobbyists aren’t merely being fined for domestic lobbying violations. In August, this blogger wrote on how federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against two lobbyists for alleged violations of U.S. sanctions and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by lobbying on behalf of Zimbabwe and its president, Robert Mugabe. Likewise, in 2011, a lobbyist was charged with FARA violations for failing to disclose lobbying activities for a foreign entity.

So, why are we just recently seeing the Feds come down hard on disclosure violators? As noted before on this blog, between 1995 and 2010 the U.S. Attorney’s Office settled with just three lobbyists, yet since 2010 there have been at least five lawsuits filed related to HLOGA and FARA violations.

One explanation is that we’re entering the enforcement stage of a cycle that begins with complacency (itself a symptom of lax enforcement) and ends in scandal. With the lobbying industry moving underground, it’s only a matter of time before a lobbyist or firm stretches the current rules too far, at which point we may see a successor to HLOGA.  Until then, we’ve yet to experience the kind of enforcement that these laws originally intended.  But it looks as if we’re getting closer.

8 Terms to Describe the Lobbying Landscape

Friday, March 21st, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE PRESS HAS employed a unique terminology to describe recent trends in federal lobbying.  Replete with shadows and suspicion, here are eight terms readers are likely to encounter:

DASCHLE LOOPHOLE – The details of current federal lobbying law that allow de facto lobbyists to legally to go unregistered.  The loophole’s namesake is former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who currently lobbies for DLA Piper yet calls himself a “Policy Advisor.”

DEACTIVATE -  to remove oneself from disclosure responsibilities by going UNDER THE RADAR. (Not to be confused with DEREGISTER).

DEREGISTER -  to remove oneself from disclosure responsibilities by terminiating lobbying contracts.  Since there is no deregistration paperwork, lobbyists are considered formally deregistered when they terminate all of their contracts. (Not to be confused with DEACTIVATE).

SHADOW LOBBYIST – A term used to designate a de facto lobbyist who is not legally registered.

STRATEGIC ADVICE – A cunning alternative to “lobbying” that can allow de facto lobbyists to go UNDER THE RADAR.  “Consulting” is another popular choice, although one can obviously act as a consultant or strategic advisor without actively lobbying (i.e., there’s a distinction between genuine consultants and lobbyists who merely call themselves consultants).  Asked about his lobbying for Freddie Mac, Newt Gingrich claimed that he was hired by the company as a “historian.”

UNDERGROUND – To go “underground” is to go “UNDER THE RADAR,” although the former is more commonly used as an alternative explanation for a recent decline in the number of registered lobbyists.  Many in the press had originally attributed this decline to a general descent of lobbying.  Closer examination revealed that lobbyists hadn’t left town, nor had they left work–they had simply “gone underground.”

UNDER THE RADAR – The status of a de facto lobbyist who is not legally registered.  Someone who works “under the radar” is operating through the DASCHLE LOOPHOLE.

UNLOBBYIST – Short for “underground lobbyist,” “unlobbyist” is synonymous with SHADOW LOBBYIST.

Camp vs. Washington

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

DAVE CAMP’S (R-Mich.) raison d’etre is to change the way Washington does taxes.  Washington’s is not to change at all.

Last week, Camp revealed plans for the Tax Reform Act of 2014, which aims to simplify the current tax code by reducing the number of tax brackets and significantly scaling back deductions and exemptions that The Economist claims “leak $1 trillion in revenue a year and make compliance a nightmare.”

As good as these proposals sound (despite many kinks), essential to the political terrain of Washington are two insurmountable obstacles that will keep them from becoming law.  The first is partisanship.  Neither party is in the habit of giving a passing thought to tax reform without strings attached.  The Democrats want to see their projects funded and the Republicans won’t consider higher revenue.

The second obstacle is what this blogger is for the first time calling “special interests.”  The term is misused, abused, and overworked for a variety of reasons, but applies quite nicely to the special treatment afforded to certain groups and industries through tax preferences.  Anyone who currently enjoys such treatment is vehemently against the bill.  The National Association of Realtors, a lobbying powerhouse, is “extremely disappointed.”  The Private Equity Growth Capital Council also finds it all “so disappointing.”  These groups enjoy the mortgage interest and carried interest deductions respectively, two features of the status quo that Camp would like to see vanish.

Since Camp’s logic is to simplify brackets, widen the base, and patch the leaks caused by preferences, the bill is expected to generate revenue. The House Joint Committee on Taxation predicts that, were the bill to pass, it would generate an extra $3 billion in the next decade.  Sadly, however, Camp’s most vocal opponents don’t care much for its overall impact.  They care about their industry, and that’s enough to keep them going.  As one reads this, “a tribe of lobbyists is pressing conservatives to snuff Camp’s proposal, threatening to withhold precious campaign dollars.”  Such is the fate of someone who dares challenge Washington.