Archive for February, 2015

Droning On

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE FLYING OF REMOTE DRONES has become a major domestic policy issue in the United States. Just last month drones made headline news as a federal employee accidentally flew a remote control drone onto the White House grounds, causing a mass security stir and furthering debate on the issue around the country.  On February 15, 2015 the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new regulations for drones with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx saying, “Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation.” The DOT and FAA also announced a 60 day period for the public to comment on the proposed regulations, which will begin from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

However, the proposed regulations have been met with considerable opposition in the business community as the regulations heavily restrict some potential business applications of drone use, such as delivery services. This prevents some companies, like Amazon.com, from capitalizing on the removal of the current near-ban on flying drones for commercial purposes. Amazon.com has a goal of establishing Amazon Prime Air, a “future delivery system…designed to safely get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Lobbyists representing businesses and supporters of drone technology will use the comment period to persuade lawmakers and regulators that new technologies employed by the drones will make some of the limitations proposed by the DOT and FAA unnecessary. Such technological innovations include allowing drones to “sense and avoid” obstacles including other aircraft and autonomous GPS navigation. Reuters reports that, “Spending on lobbying by special interests that list drones as an issue surged from $20,000 in 2001 to $35 million in 2011 to more than $186 million in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying activity.”

However, not everyone is excited about the prospect of an increased amount of unmanned drones flying overhead. A website, NoFlyZone.org, has been created with the goals of letting you establish a no-fly zone over your property. Despite the voluntary basis, a number of drone hardware and software firms have already promised to honor your request including:  EHANG, Horizon Hobby, DroneDeploy, YUNEEC, HEXO+, PixiePath and RCFlyMaps.

With the lines drawn, no matter the result, the drone debate is certainly setting itself up to be a highly contested and publicized issue for the coming year.

Walking Through The Revolving Door Without Your Wallet

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

In a controversial move, two congressmen have introduced bills which would prevent former members of Congress from receiving their federal pensions if they begin lobbying after their term in office, according to the Hill. Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) has introduced legislation to ban members of Congress from lobbying for five years after leaving office (H. R. 318) and eliminate their federal benefits if they choose to lobby (H. R. 319). Similarly, Rep. Steve Israel introduced the “Revolving Door Pension Prevention Act” (H.R.567) which makes former members of Congress receiving compensation as a highly-paid lobbyist ($1,000,000 or more as a direct result of lobbying activities) ineligible to receive certain Federal retirement benefits.

The legislation has angered many former members of Congress such as former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.) who has said, “Current members think they’re going to satisfy the beast by throwing this kind of red meat, and it doesn’t work…Some ill-informed members of Congress believe they can blame lobbyists for their poor standing in the public. That’s a joke. The only way they’re going to improve their standing in the eyes of the public is to do a better job…Some members of Congress have tried to blame lobbyists for their decisions. Whenever I hear something like that I want to just vomit. What a cowardly answer.”

Moreover, James Hickey, President of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, has argued that such legislation is ripe for a Supreme Court challenge as the right to petition the government is protected by the First Amendment.

Other former lawmakers such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) have provided alternative ideas for reform like extending the “cooling off” period that members of Congress must adhere too. Currently, former members of the House of Representatives are required to wait one year before they are allowed to register to lobby while former Senators are required to undergo a two year waiting period.

Whatever the result, this issue is likely to remain at the forefront of lobbying reform as many still have fresh memories of lobbying scandals like that of Jack Abramoff. However, legislators must be careful when implementing reforms in an effort to avoid creating more “shadow lobbyists” who do not register as lobbyists despite engaging in advocacy which would just exacerbate the situation.

Tax, PR Fight Fermenting Between Brewers

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 by James Cameron

IF YOU READ LOBBY BLOG regularly, you know that even groups within the same industry don’t always get along when it comes to legislative issues. That’s the case in the fight that’s brewing between craft brewers and large “macrobreweries” such as Miller-Coors and Anheuser-Busch InBev. According to the OpenSecrets blog, the fight centers around two competing bills: The Small BREW Act and the Fair Beer Act, both of which offer differing definitions for how beer producers should be taxed.

The Small BREW Act is supported by the Brewers Association, a trade association which represents more than 10,000 key stakeholders in the American beer industry, with a focus on craft brewers. The association is relatively new to lobbying, with its first lobbying expenditures taking place in 2008. Currently, it spends 14.9% of membership dues it collects on lobbying on issues such as The Small BREW Act. The Act limits tax breaks only to beer producers headquartered in the United States and excludes importers; this would leave out such notable producers as Anheuser-Busch InBev. Further, it would expand the definition of small brewer to any organization that produces six million barrels of beer or less per year, again excluding the industry giants.

This restriction on overseas-based producers and importers is the key difference between the Small BREW Act and the BEER Act, which is supported by the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute, which represents both macrobreweries such as Miller-Coors as well as smaller producers and microbrewers. Both organizations reject the Small BREW Act in favor of the Beer Act, which the organizations claim is more inclusive and fair in its application of excise taxes.

But the fight between craft brewers and industry giants moved from Congress to the living rooms of millions of Americans when Budweiser ran an ad during the Super Bowl that was critical of craft beer, claiming that beer shouldn’t “be fussed over.” PBS notes that even as beer sales as a whole have fallen, craft beer sales have grown exponentially in the past three decades, even though they still represent a small portion of overall beer sales.

While it remains to be seen which (if either) bill prevails, it’s clear the legislative and public relations conflict between large and small beer producers is far from over. If craft beer continues to grow at its current rapid pace, the fight will only intensify.

Leading Association Lobbyists and the Salute to Association Excellence

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

ON FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6TH, 2015, Association TRENDS will host its 36th annual Salute to Association Excellence, an annual awards luncheon which honors the brightest stars of the association community and their commitment to excellence.  The event is known in the industry as THE event to attend with the awards luncheon drawing a crowd of over 500 leading association professionals each year. During the event a number of people will be honored including, Association TRENDS’ five Leading Association Lobbyists.

This year’s honorees are:

Jon JohnsonManaging Partner, Johnson & Blanton – “In the 2013 legislative session Johnson’s firm, which represents 16 associations, assisted the Florida Engineering Society in passing a crucial lawsuit reform bill that protected individual engineers from wrongly being sued. The most recent session in 2014, Johnson worked with lobbyists for the Florida Healthcare Association to pass litigation reform surrounding nursing homes. This resulted in a bipartisan effort and saw a compromise emerge between nursing home owners and trial lawyers.”

Patricia Rojas-Ungár – Vice President, Government Relations, U.S. Travel – “In 2013, U.S. Travel launched a campaign to reduce delays for international visitors when they arrive at U.S. gateway airports. Rojas-Ungar’s advocacy efforts resulted in a presidential executive memo calling for the development of a national goal to improve service levels for international visitors and to remove unnecessary travel barriers. Congress also weighed in by approving enough resources to hire 2,000 new Customs and Border Control officers to process travelers more quickly. In 2014, Rojas-Ungar’s efforts to reauthorize Brand USA have delivered strong bipartisan approval by the House of Representatives and further cleared the Senate Commerce Committee.  Focus is now on full consideration by the U.S. Senate before the end of the year.”

Neil Snyder, MPA, CAEDirector of Federal Advocacy, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association – “Snyder worked with the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee staff to craft and send a request letter from the full and subcommittee chairmen to the General Accountability Office, to launch an investigation into the conflicting and burdensome requirements surrounding the delivery of services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. GAO accepted the request and is meeting with stakeholder groups including my association, among others. A report from GAO is anticipated in 2014 that will help guide legislative and statutory changes in advance of an IDEA reauthorization by Congress.”

Christopher Vest, CAE  - Director of Public Policy, ASAE – “Over the past couple of years, Vest and the ASAE public policy team have worked to ensure a better understanding on Capitol Hill of the importance of allowing government employees to attend outside conferences and meetings to receive training and exchange knowledge with the many industries and professions represented by associations. Vest and ASAE also continue to meet with congressional offices to convey the impact that various tax reform proposals would have on the revenue-generating activities of associations.”

Nominations for honorees were accepted year-round and from across the country by the lobbyists’ peers, colleagues and other association executives.  To be eligible all nominees are either lobbyists who are on staff at an association or were hired to represent an association. Nominees can represent associations at the local, state, regional and national levels. Taken into consideration is the work (not necessarily successes because lobbying can be a slow process) of the nominated lobbyist in the past 2 years.