Archive for March, 2015

The Obama Administration’s Lobbying Legacy

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

WITH THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S clock reading less than two years left in office and the next round of presidential campaigns kicking off, some have started to look at which of the current administration’s policies will carry over into the next. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin explored the legacy of Obama’s stand against the lobbying industry.

On his second day in office President Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential directives which set restrictions on lobbying, According to the Washington Post article, “the rules have had a major effect on how government functions. The measure prohibits those who have been registered lobbyists in the past two years from working at an agency they had lobbied, or on an issue they had worked on, and bars appointees from accepting gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying groups while serving in government. It also prohibits administration appointees who later register from lobbying other executive branch officials or senior appointees for the remainder of Obama’s time in office.”

With these actions President Obama aimed at closing “the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely and lets them use their time in public service as a way to promote their own interests . . . when they leave.” However, the President’s actions did have some unintended consequences for the lobbying industry. “Some lobbyists — who under federal law are required to register only if they spend at least 20 percent of their time lobbying — chose to deregister once the rules took effect. The number of registrations dropped from 13,367 when Obama took office to 11,509 last year, according to an analysis by American University government professor James Thurber.”

Industry officials, such as James Hickey, president of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, have often questioned the logic and wisdom of the ban on lobbyists returning to government service as lobbyists can be some of Washington’s most experienced and knowledgeable professionals. Hickey argues, “Way back when the Oklahoma gold rush took off, there were a lot of people who realized they needed trail guides to the Rockies. A lot of those who didn’t use trail guides . . . expired in the Rockies. To a certain extent, the government relations professionals are trail guides.”

The next administration, regardless of party, will face the difficult predicament of deciding to take comparable actions either by adopting President Obama’s lobbying industry policies or creating their own similar policies, or deciding to reverse the executive order. However, the deck seems stacked. Former White House counsel Robert Bauer argues, “Any administration now is going to have to implement a similar policy or explain why it won’t, or explain what changes they will make. It puts on the table an issue that every administration has to grapple with.” Vin Weber, a senior Republican strategist expressed similar thoughts on the issue saying, “if I were asked by a presidential campaign, I’m not at all sure I would tell them to reverse the executive order. Not because the rule’s good, but because it’s an enormously politically difficult thing to explain.”


Playing ‘Moneyball’ In the Influence Game

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

HISTORICALLY, INFLUENCE  in Washington has been based on one’s network of connections, knowledge and experience. The more people you know in high positions, the more likely you’ll accomplish you goal. However, now more than ever, lobbyists, corporations and interest groups are more frequently turning to companies that  “sell data-based political and competitive intelligence that offers insight into the policymaking process,” according to the Washington Post, giving a largely relationship-based industry a scientific edge.

Services such as digitally compile information from a multitude of different sources, including legislation, contacts at committees and congressional offices, lawmakers’ voting records, press releases, floor statements, etc. The information is then made searchable and packaged into formats designed to optimize the user’s experience. In the past, such information gathered from personal connections, knowledge and experience would take years of careful cultivation, but can now be accessed by anyone with just a few seconds on a computer or smartphone.

Embracing this more scientific approach to lobbying has given government relations professionals a tremendous edge in answering some basic questions that they face on a regular basis including: Whom should I meet with? How likely are they to care about my issue? Who are their most likely allies?

The use of technology and data to monitor political activity is also being embraced internally by some large organizations. According to Politico, “The Chamber of Commerce has launched a revamped site – Friends of the U.S. Chamber – to let its members track Congressional votes and decide whether the lawmakers they’re watching are supporting their agenda. Eventually, the results will be synthesized into data and analysis that will inform which lawmakers the group backs in 2016.”

It remains unclear the exact affect the use of data-based platforms will have on the lobbying industry. However, as technology continues to develop and more companies turn to data-based platforms for information and analysis expect to see this industry continue to grow and develop.

Sharing a Slice, Congressional Republicans and the Pizza Lobby

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE PIZZA LOBBY, which has come under scrutiny from healthy food advocates over past few years, is seeking to turn the tide of battle in their favor now that the Republican Party is firmly in control of both houses of congress.  According to a Bloomberg report both the fresh and frozen pizza industries “tend to support Republicans. In the last two election cycles, Republican federal candidates received about $1.3 million from the industry, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics of major companies and those listing “pizza” in their name. Democrats received just $157,000.” Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Schwan and Dominos each overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates contributing 98.9%, 86.8%, 78.3% and 79.3%, respectively, of their total political contributions to Republican candidates and groups in the 2012 and 2014 elections.

One of the main battles over the past few years in the “war on pizza” has been over federal nutrition standards for school lunches, which were introduced in 2010. The regulations targeted pizza’s dominance in school cafeterias where almost $500 million worth of federally subsidized school lunch pizza is served each year. When the Department of Agriculture released the details of the regulations in 2011, it included a provision that increased the minimum amount of tomato paste required to be counted as a vegetable serving.  The reason for including this provision was “under the existing rules, tomato paste is given extra credit toward a vegetable serving because it’s made of concentrated tomatoes. So 2 tablespoons of tomato paste — roughly the amount on a slice of pizza — is counted as a half a cup, or the equivalent of one vegetable serving” and therefore, “for school lunch purposes, a slice of pizza was considered a serving of vegetables.”

The pizza industry quickly mounted a defense and “in testimony before Congress in August of that year, Karen Wilder, chief nutritionist for Schwan Food, said many foods packed with nutrients, including pizza, risked elimination from school lunch by the proposed rules. A subsidiary of Schwan supplies 70 percent of school lunch pizza.” In November 2011, Congress came to the pizza lobby’s defense, blocking the Department of Agriculture from making some of the proposed nutrition changes. ATVN reported that “Republicans on the House Appropriation Committee said their changes would ‘prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.’”

With Republicans, who as previously shown are overwhelmingly supported by the pizza lobby, now in control of both chambers of congress, the industry may seek to further reduce the rules and regulations of the food industry. Lynn Liddle, executive vice president for communications, investor relations, and legislative affairs at Domino’s Pizza and chair of the American Pizza Community (APC), “hopes Congress will consider tweaking the menu-labeling law to make it more favorable to pizza sellers. As for the American Pizza Community, she envisions a formidable, and enduring, champion for pizza, one capable of changing the food’s fortunes in Washington and elsewhere.”

Diving Deeper into Local Lobbying

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

HAVING PREVIOUSLY DISCUSSED state level lobbying, this week Lobby Blog dives a little deeper, looking at local lobbying oversight. City Ethics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides information and advice on local government ethics issues nationwide, has recently released the final draft of the chapter, “Local Government Lobbying,” from its free e-book, Local Government Ethics Programs. This chapter is a new resource on the subject of local lobbying, a subject that has received very little attention.

In the chapter Mr. Wechsler, Director of Research at City Ethics, discusses many topics surrounding local lobbying including: the ways in which local lobbying differs from state and federal lobbying; a consideration of the reasons for setting up a lobbying oversight program; a look at the all-important definitions of what constitutes “lobbying” and who is a “lobbyist”; an in-depth look at the disclosure requirements and the obligations and prohibitions that local governments have instituted; and a consideration of the oversight and enforcement processes that will ensure that local lobbying is done openly and without improper conduct. The chapter also includes a draft Model Lobbying Code for local governments.

The draft has been made available online with the goal of receiving feedback from lobbyists, academics, and lobbying programs and good government staff members. The 312-page draft is available for free in four digital formats on the City Ethics website.