Archive for August, 2014

The Police Lobby Pushes Back

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 by James Cameron

AFTER SIGNIFICANT CRITICISM AND concerns expressed by civil rights groups, the media, and politicians over the military tactics and equipment used by local police in Ferguson, Mo. in recent weeks, president Obama has ordered a review of federal programs that supply surplus military equipment to municipal police departments, the Washington Post reports. The move comes after local police deployed what many viewed as excessive military tactics, including tear gas, armored tactical vehicles, and acoustic riot control (LRAD) devices against protests that have been largely peaceful.

But police associations are pushing back, arguing that there is a great deal of misinformation about how military equipment is being used by police departments. The Hill reports that the Fraternal Order of Police has made its presence felt on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, and they’re only one of several police associations that have contacted members and staff about their concerns regarding potentially stripping police of military gear. Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said that any decision on the federal programs should be delayed, arguing that emotions are running too high in the wake of the Ferguson protests for a rational decision to be made. The Daily Beast reports that the National Tactical Officers Association, which represents SWAT teams nationwide, has e-mailed every legislative staffer in both the House and Senate, arguing that police need advanced equipment to stay “one step ahead” of criminals.

Despite concerns from the police lobby, it appears that the conversation in Washington has generally been in opposition to police tactics and equipment used in Ferguson. The Hill reports that the Fraternal Order has already met with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) after she made public statements against police militarization on MSNBC, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns that police militarization threatens civil liberties, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.). Meanwhile, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) has introduced a bill to demilitarize local police forces.

It’s still unclear whether significant inroads will be made in demilitarizing police departments, but events in Ferguson have certainly put a spotlight on the issue. It remains to be seen whether the police lobby’s efforts will stem the tide or if public outrage will sway lawmakers into taking legislative action.

The White House's Revolving Door

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

BARACK OBAMA RAN FOR PRESIDENT on a platform that promised to decrease influence by lobbyists on national policy.

He cialis soft tavs vowed to limit connections between the White House and lobbying firms, but despite creating new regulations against lobbyists, many cialis online of those influential ties still remain. Most recently, as The Hill reports, ride-share and taxi-cab alternative company Uber hired Obama’s former campaign chief David Plouffe as its new Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy.

Uber’s co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick wrote in a blog post that Plouffe will help lead Uber in the political fight against “the Big Taxi cartel.”

Connections such as these, while not necessarily Obama’s fault, exemplify how close national policy and lobbying remain. According to analysis from the Washington Post, there are 65 current members of the Obama administration who have direct experience lobbying the federal government. While many of these people have been in their positions since the start of Obama’s first term, questions remain about the constant stream of people going back and forth between positions with the federal government and private sector lobbying firms.

The White House is attempting to crack down on former Congressional staffers and members who are moving into the private sector, but seems to be unable to slow down their departure, especially as mid-term elections approach. It’s hard to know whether or not those 65 members of the Obama Administration are truly getting in the way, or if the number isn’t actually all that significant. It will also be interesting to see how the exodus of Congressional staffers moving toward private government affairs lobbying work is affected by the results of upcoming elections.

 

White House Reverses Lobbying Ban

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

THE WHITE HOUSE HAS REVERSED part of its ban preventing registered lobbyists from serving on advisory panels. Lobbyists may now sit on advisory panels “so long as they’re examples of evaluation essays acting on behalf of a corporation, trade association or industry group and not as private citizens or representatives of the government,” reports POLITICO.

The original ban was put in place in 2010, but has been challenged in court by 6 lobbyists who, as a result of the ban, were kicked off advisory panels. Those lobbyists include Erik Autor, Nate Herman, Cass Johnson, Stephen Lamar, Bill Reinsch, and Andrew Zamoyski. The courts ruled against the White House by refusing to dismiss the case, and as a result, the Office of Management and Budget has eased up on restrictions by publishing the new rule in the Federal Register.

There appears to be significant criticism of the Obama administration for easing up on promised ethics reforms regarding K Street’s influence, although it is important to note that the reversal in policy is coming after court decisions going against the ban. Bloomberg quotes OMB’s Communications Director Melanie Roussell, who defends the ban, clarifying that “the purpose of the prohibition is ‘to restrict the undue influence of lobbyists on the federal government’ and was ‘not designed to prevent lobbyists or others from petitioning their government.’” Nonetheless, many lobbyists are up in arms about the ban, claiming constitutional rights violations, and are glad to see the White House reversing part of the ban.

It remains unclear exactly how far the White House will retreat on this issue since the administration is admitting defeat by reversing even part of the ban. In addition, POLITICO reports that the Obama administration has hired over 70 previously registered lobbyists including Broderick Johnson, Melody Barnes, James Kohlenberger, and Sean Kennedy. President Obama ran for office on a platform vowing to keep K Street influence out of the White House, but his plans seem to be failing, regardless of his intentions. It’s hard to say what Obama truly intended to accomplish, but quite easy to say that his ethics reforms aiming to minimize special interest influence on government policy are not really working.

Scalise, Freehery interviews raise eyebrows

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

RECENTLY ELECTED HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP Steven Scalise (R-La.) this past week conducted what would normally be considered routine job interviews to fill open positions in his new leadership office. However, the interviews were unusual because, as POLITICO reports, Scalise invited lobbyist John Freehery of Quinn Gillespie & Associates to sit in.

It seems that Freehery, who is a registered lobbyist for several major corporations including SONY Corp., 21st Century Fox, and AT&T, did not make actual “yes” or “no” recommendations about candidates.

Instead, as Scalise spokesman T.J.

Tatum states, Feehery “provides feedback on quality of candidates.” This partnership between a corporate lobbyist and the House Whip is highly unusual, and raises a number of ethical questions, although no House Ethics rules appear to be broken.

Freehery has defended his role in the job interviews by citing his previous work experience as a House leadership communications director under then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

Nonetheless, there are a number of eyebrow-raising links between Scalise and Freehery, including USA Today’s report that Scalise paid Quinn Gellespie & Associates to review his communications strategy plan, and the fact that AT&T has already contributed $15,000 to Scalise this election cycle.

The partnership between Scalise and Freehery seems to be questionable at best, and marks a big change in public relationships between Members of Congress and lobbyists. While influential arrangements such as these might not be new in Washington, a willingness to display them in public certainly is. Giving a major corporate lobbyist significant power in staff decisions for the House Whip’s Congressional office is a slippery slope. It remains to be seen how the publicity will affect newly elected Scalise, and whether more partnerships such as these will now appear.