Archive for July, 2014

Registration Crackdown

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by James Cameron

AGGRESSIVE CRACKDOWNS ON Lobbying Disclosure Act violations are rarely seen, but last week The Hill, in what it called a “bombshell,” reported that at the end of its most recent report, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) “voted to refer one entity to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for failure to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.”

This is particularly noteworthy because as Covington & Burling’s Robert Kelner notes in the National Law Review, unregistered lobbyists have rarely, if ever, been pursued by the OCE or the Department of Justice. Kelner attributes the lack of enforcement to illegal lobbying being relatively low on the DOJ’s list of priorities, as well as a lack of media attention to LDA violations.

However, as we wrote in this space back in March, that may be changing. Since 2010, we’ve seen an uptick in enforcement for failure to file quarterly lobbying disclosures and for FARA violations. Between 1995 and 2010, only three lawsuits filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against lobbyists were settled, but since 2010, at least five suits have been filed related to HLOGA and FARA violations. With the revelations in OCE’s latest report, are we beginning to see the kind of enforcement that these laws originally intended?

With the lobbying industry increasingly operating underground, it seems likely that last week’s bombshell won’t be the last incident of illegal unregistered lobbying, but only time will tell if the OCE has more investigations underway or if this is an isolated incident.

 

Niche Lobby Shops Reap Rewards from Big Changes

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

WASHINGTON’S BOUTIQUE LOBBY shops are thriving as a direct result of the major changes cialis online that have plagued K St.

powerhouses in recent cialis cheap years, according to The Hill. In just the first two quarters of 2014, for example, there have been 39 law firm mergers and acquisitions—the total for all of 2010. In the past year, Greenberg Traurig has acquired almost 40 attorneys and lobbyists, including thirteen from rival Dickstein Shapiro.

And Patton Boggs, which has also been losing partners and top lobbyists to other firms such as Holland & Knight and Wilmer Hale, recently announced their merger with Squire Sanders.

Smaller lobby firms are finding success in part by steering clear of this chaos, and by specializing in niche practices that work underneath top tier issues.  They’re also benefiting from K St.’s culture of defections and “poaching of talent,” as The Hill describes it, which opens space for more specialized lobby shops to grab hold of significant clients such as Facebook, Google, Verizon, and Goldman Sachs.  These major changes, which are supposed to reward the K St. behemoths, are ironically creating room for start-ups to get a stronger foothold.

But while the lobbying landscape is undoubtedly changing at a rapid pace, and the trend seems to indicate that smaller shops are profiting as a consequence, the question remains whether this is sustainable.  Once DC’s major players begin to settle down, presumably these unique opportunities will begin to fade.  In the meantime, however, there’s yet more poaching to do.

Bitcoin Hires Lobbyists

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 by James Cameron

BITCOIN’S PUBLIC PROFILE has grown significantly in the past year, and like any burgeoning cause or industry, it has lobbyists. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Bitcoin Foundation, a nonprofit with the goal of standardizing, protecting, and promoting Bitcoin, has hired Thorsen French Advocacy to represent the Foundation on Capitol Hill.

The Bitcoin Foundation is by no means the first group to lobby on issues related to the digital currency. The Hill notes that Falcon Global Capital, a Bitcoin investment group, hired lobbying firm Thompson Hine in May, and also registered an in-house lobbyist. MasterCard, meanwhile, has Peck Madigan Jones monitoring or working on Bitcoin issues.

Bitcoin has steadily gained visibility in the past year, with the FEC approving the cryptocurrency for PAC contributions, although the PAC must convert Bitcoins into dollars before depositing them into a campaign account. But it has also faced significant public mistrust following the disappearance of $460 million in Bitcoin from Mt. Gox, formerly the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange.

While Bitcoin still has a long way to go to reach mainstream acceptance among lawmakers and the general public, the Bitcoin Foundation’s lobbying hire should do much to advance the currency’s profile on Capitol Hill. It remains to be seen whether it will ever become the borderless, non-political, and widely trusted currency that its proponents hope for.

The Coming “Corporate Welfare” Vote

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

“IT IS HEREBY DECLARED,” wrote President Roosevelt on a chilly February day in 1934, “that an agency, to wit, a banking corporation, be created….” Thus emerged, by virtue of Executive Order 6581, the Export-Import Bank of Washington. Eighty years later, the Ex-Im Bank is facing mounting opposition by conservative groups who claim it’s nothing more than a benefactor of corporate welfare.

They have a point: over 80% of the bank’s loan guarantees go to Boeing, which is no wonder competitors like Delta are irked by the bank’s favoritism.  On the other hand, supporters say the bank is needed to compete internationally on an “uneven playing field.”  Countries like China, they claim, have no qualms pumping government subsidies into the coffers of leading companies, so voluntarily terminating similar practices at home would amount to “unilateral disarmament.”

Both sides of the debate face a similar challenge: August recess.  In order to build a solid, bipartisan coalition to either pass or block a new charter before Congress goes home, policymakers need to move quickly.  According to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), there’s enough support in the Senate to reauthorize the bank.  Yet there are singular obstacles in the House, not least of which is House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a strident opponent of the Ex-Im bank who could single-handedly squash any efforts at the committee level.

While on the surface it seems Congress is on track to renew the Ex-Im bank’s charter (with some key reforms to satiate conservatives), it’s not entirely certain how things will play out.  Many policymakers, including John Boehner and John McCain, appear undecided.  And even if they did come out in favor of the bank, there would be precious little time on their side.

The Fireworks Lobby: Quiet Federally, Making Noise in the States

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 by James Cameron

AS ANYONE WHO FOLLOWS associations and lobbying knows, there’s an association and a lobby for everything—and fireworks are no exception. The industry is represented by the American Pyrotechnics Association, which retains K&L Gates to lobby on such issues as safe packaging and transport of chemicals under the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and amending the Harmonized Tariff Schedule to benefit fireworks manufacturers.

But the association doesn’t have a tremendous presence on the Hill; since 2012, it has spent just $14,165 on federal lobbying efforts. Likewise, its political action committee, Americans Supporting the Pyrotechnics Industry (or PAC-4-PYRO), spent a mere $6,000 during the 2013-2014 election cycle.

Given the myriad of different state laws governing fireworks, it’s probably not surprising that the industry wields greater influence at the state level. An article for New Hampshire Public Radio details how fireworks manufacturers poured money into the state to prevent New Hampshire’s legislature from banning mortar style fireworks, which are among the best-selling fireworks both in the state and nationwide. The article notes that Phantom Fireworks, a manufacturer based in Ohio, spent close to $7000 to lobby against a ban on mortars. With little financial clout on the other side, it’s likely that mortars will remain legal in New Hampshire.

While the fireworks lobby has a token Washington presence, it’s clear that its real impact is at the state level, where a lack of organized or funded opposition give it an advantage.