Archive for September, 2014

Fitbit Lobbying Shows Immediate Turnaround

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

FITBIT, A HEALTH-TRACKING FITNESS COMPANY that sells electronic wristbands enabling users to track physical activity, food intake, and weight, has hired major K Street lobbying firepower after privacy concerns were raised by Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) last month, reports The Hill. Schumer, who is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, publicly voiced concerns that the highly detailed data stored by Fitbit could be shared with outside organizations due to inadequate privacy laws and Fitbit’s weak privacy policy. Fitbit immediately responded to criticism by hiring Heather Podesta + Partners that same day, according to lobbying disclosure forms, and changes are already being seen.

Fitbit has already updated its privacy policy – a change warmly and publicly received by Senator Schumer – and now will only share collected data with third parties when legally required to do so, or when the customer has chosen to allow it. This marks a significant change in privacy policy. Although Fitbit has stated all along that it does not sell user data, it declined to comment on whether or not it was sharing data with third parties without compensation. Fitbit has drastically toughened its own privacy policy, and although it claims the timing was a coincidence and that the policy was already being updated, the fact remains that Heather Podesta + Partners was hired directly after Senator Schumer’s criticism, and that major changes are being made.

While Schumer’s remarks seem to have pushed Fitbit into action, it is unclear whether or not other electronic fitness tracking companies will toughen their own privacy policies, or if tougher privacy laws will result. This is not the first time Fitbit has faced criticism regarding privacy policies, after an embarrassing situation back in 2011, but its lobbying efforts seem to be working rapidly and effectively.

NFL Prepares for Rough Legislative Road

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 by James Cameron

THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE has been blasted across the board for its handling of Ray Rice’s domestic abuse of his then-fiancée Janay Palmer, as well as for how it dealt with other incidents of domestic violence among its players. Obviously, the NFL has mobilized its PR department as well as hiring staff specifically to deal with domestic violence issues, but it has also attempted to shore up its lobbying wing; The Hill reported Tuesday that the NFL has hired a new top lobbyist.

However, as POLITICO notes, lobbying for an embattled organization, even one as prominent and popular as the NFL, isn’t the most attractive prospect for a government relations professional. New NFL Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs Cynthia Hogan will have to deal with a litany of high-profile legislative issues beyond the Ray Rice case, including the FCC’s review of the sports blackout rule, the controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name and logo, and recent calls to revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt status. Further, POLITICO reports that despite the NFL’s prominence, the pay for the position was thought to be insufficient given the pressure and level of seniority the NFL is seeking for the job.

Despite the immense challenge and pressure Hogan is likely to face, her hire may prove to be a boon for the league. Hogan was a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee with then-Senator Joe Biden and helped write the Violence Against Women Act, one of the strongest laws against domestic abuse. This gives her significant credibility to deal with the Ray Rice scandal on the Hill.

It’s likely, given the numerous high-stakes legislative issues that the NFL is facing, that the league will also continue to spend significantly on outside lobbying. According to data from Lobbyists.info, the NFL has spent more than $2.5 million on lobbying since 2012, with $590,000 in the first two quarters of 2014 alone. Given the Ray Rice scandal and mounting pressure on other issues, it seems probable that lobbying expenditures in the second half of 2014 will be even greater.

It remains to be seen if the NFL can weather the legislative and PR disasters of 2014 and regain credibility with fans, women’s groups, legislators, and the media. Although Cynthia Hogan’s hire is a step in the right direction, it’s unclear if the NFL will be able to stem the mounting tide of harmful legislative issues.

Advocacy groups rally public on net neutrality

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 by James Cameron

ON THE TOPIC OF NET NEUTRALITY, the American public is anything but. POLITICO reported today that the debate has generated more than 1,477,301 public comments, more than Janet Jackson’s accidental exposure during the 2004 Super Bowl, the previous record-holder.

As POLITICO reports, many of these public comments are from form letters created by advocacy groups. Meanwhile, website such as Netflix and Reddit have organized an “internet slowdown day” on September 9th to illustrate the perils of allowing ISPs to create internet “fast lanes” which allocate more bandwidth to companies that are willing to pay.

According to the Daily Dot, ISPs opposed to net neutrality have spent more than 75 million dollars since 2003 lobbying against it, while advocacy groups and companies on the other side have spent a shade over 25 million. It would appear that advocacy groups attempting to guide the public debate in their favor rather than trying to influence lawmakers. Given that the FCC is a regulatory body, this strategy makes sense, and with the majority of the record-breaking 1.4 million comments on the issue in favor of net neutrality, it appears to be working.

Despite the lobbying advantage that ISPs are currently enjoying, tech companies in favor of net neutrality have massive funds and political cachet that they have yet to fully bring to bear on the issue. According to The Hill, tech companies and advocacy groups have spent millions on lobbying Congress but are growing increasingly frustrated with Congressional inaction on key issues such as net neutrality. With no end to gridlock in sight, these groups may begin withholding substantial contributions from lawmakers they deem inactive or in opposition to their goals. Although the eventual fate of net neutrality remains to be seen, if tech companies bring more substantial lobbying resources to bear, we may see the influence game swing in their favor.

E-Cigarette Lobbying Outrage Over CDC Study

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

LAST WEEK, THE CDC  released the results of a 2013 study analyzing the connection between e-cigarette use and normal cigarette use among minors.

Not surprisingly, groups such as the American Vaping Association are criticizing both the study and the results, which were published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. E-cigarette lobbying groups are claiming that the results were improperly computed, citing instances in which teen respondents said they would “probably not” try cigarettes were counted as “likely future smokers,” reports The Hill.

E-cigarette regulation is in the national spotlight as multiple regulatory agencies work to determine appropriate regulations. The FDA has yet to formally declare that e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine but don’t cause users to inhale smoke, fall under their regulatory realm, causing tobacco lobbyists to strategically maneuver their way through impending regulations across the country. Tobacco companies entering the e-cigarette business are being represented by major lobbying firms such as Dickstein Shapiro (Lorillard Tobacco) and Shockey Scofield Solutions (National Tobacco).

In the past, tobacco companies have been blasted for defending an unsafe product,  and as a result their strategies are now shifting. National Journal confirms the shift, explaining that “as tobacco companies jockey to expand their e-cigarette business, they’re using an updated lobbying playbook that drops opposition to regulations and embraces the prohibition of sales to minors.” This new strategy puts tobacco companies in a better light by showing that they are against e-cigarette sales to minors while allowing them to fight against other more important government regulations such as laws restricting where e-cigarettes can be used, or even limits on flavored e-cigarettes.

While this new strategy seems to be taking positive steps to reduce e-cigarette use among minors on the surface, there are some suspiciously contradictory actions being taken by tobacco companies. Simply looking at e-cigarette advertising suggests aggressive marketing toward minors, with cartoon advertisements and e-cigarette flavors such as Cap’n Crunch, Bazooka Bubble Gum, and Cotton Candy. Tobacco companies may be claiming that they embrace regulations such as the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, but it appears to be an underhanded approach.

The criticism that the CDC’s report is receiving is a perfect example. It’s possible that some of the survey results were wrongly computed, but the outrage and intensity that is being expressed by the e-cigarette industry shows that the link between e-cigarettes and minors is by no means unfounded.