Archive for April, 2015

Lobbying for Trade

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

DURING HIS ON-GOING TRIP to Washington, D.C. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met yesterday with President Barack Obama at the White House and discussed many issues from cyber threats to trade. However, trade seemed to be the focal point for both leaders with Prime Minister Abe saying, “We welcome the fact that significant progress was made. We will continue to cooperate to lead the TPP talks to its last phase,” reports the Wall Street Journal. President Obama added that, “The politics around trade can be hard in both our countries…It’s never fun passing a trade bill in this town.”

The TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal that is currently being negotiated between 12 nations. President Obama announced the United States intention to participate in the agreement in 2009. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, “The TPP is the cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s economic policy in the Asia Pacific. The large and growing markets of the Asia-Pacific already are key destinations for U.S. manufactured goods, agricultural products, and services suppliers, and the TPP will further deepen this trade and investment.”

Today (Wednesday, April 29, 2015) Prime Minister addressed a joint session of Congress, a first for any leader of Japan. In his address Prime Minister Abe stated, “The trade agreement would help ensure the security of an area that accounts for 40% of the world economy, and one third of global trade.” The Prime Minister Abe sought to use his address, at least in part, to persuade members of Congress to support the trade deal.

However, convincing U.S. law makers will be no easy task. Trade has become a divisive issue, particularly among democrats with the more left wing members of the party such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposing such legislation. Issues over the trade deal have also started to seep into the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton so far has come out as noncommittal on either side of the deal, stating, “Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security.” However that may change as Sen. Sanders is expected to enter the race against Hillary Clinton this week.

In an effort to help convince lawmakers of the merits of TPP the Japanese government has employed around 20 different lobbying and public relations firms to work advocate on behalf of the trade deal. According to The Hill, Japan “spent more than $2.3 million on U.S. consultants from 2014 through the beginning of this year.” Among the many firms that Japan has on retainer are the powerful Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and the Podesta Group, both of which ranked in the “Top 10 Most Influential Lobbying Firms” in Lobbyists.info’s most recent Factors of Influence Report at numbers 6 and 2, respectively.

Campaign Finance: Who Cares?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 by James Cameron

CRITICS OF THE INFLUENCE GAME are quick to go after lobbyists, but campaign finance is another area where nearly unlimited amounts of money (via Super PACs) can drastically influence elections and, by extension, the political system as a whole. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in extremely wealthy individuals on both sides of the aisle throwing their financial clout behind particular candidates. These campaign financiers include the Koch Brothers, George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, and Tom Steyer.

However, politicians are typically hesitant to reform campaign finance; after all, they’re the beneficiaries of all of this cash—until this year. According to the Washington Post, the answer is yes; in fact, it’s poised to become a major campaign issue. The Post notes that Hillary Clinton recently promised to reform the campaign finance system as part of her Presidential platform, while other potential candidates, such as Chris Christie, have also paid lip service to the idea.

Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call argues, however, that the Post if way off base. Rothenberg contends that in other major election years, such as 2012, voters will ultimately overlook campaign finance and vote for the candidate based on partisanship and mood, even if they care about campaign finance reform. After all, both the GOP (the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson) and the Democratic Party (George Soros and Tom Steyer) have billionaire donors backing candidates.

The real answer probably falls somewhere in between. While it’s true that in the past, neither voters nor politicians have seemed inclined to take action on campaign finance, but the fact that the issue is being discussed so early in the Presidential election cycle suggests that change is happening. It remains to be seen whether this is just lip service or if we’ll see substantive election finance reform.

Proceed With Caution! – Relationships Involving K St. & Capitol Hill

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

RELATIONSHIPS ON THE HILL can be a tricky thing. The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into whether Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.) violated any rules because of his staff’s work with his wife, Constance Harriman-Whitfield, a senior policy adviser for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, who is a registered lobbyist.

According to a Politico report, “The Office of Congressional Ethics found that Whitfield’s office helped set up “as many as 100 meetings” for his wife’s organization and that he “conducted joint meetings with her “to promote [the HSLF’s] legislative priorities.” The Ethics Committee has formed a special subcommittee for the investigation and  it will begin looking into whether Rep. Whitfield “violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities, with respect to allegations that he failed to prohibit lobbying contacts between his staff and his wife, improperly used his official position for the beneficial interest of himself or his wife, and dispensed special favors or privileges to either his wife, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, or the Humane Society of the United States.”

Both Rep. Whitfield and his wife have denied any wrongdoing.

The investigation has prompted questions over government officials and their interactions with people they are in relationships with and family members who are lobbyists. Roll Call reports, “Data is scant, but a 2014 report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington identified 30 senators who have family members who lobby or work in government affairs. The most recent House data is from 2012, when a CREW report found 44 members who have family members working as registered lobbyists or in government relations.”

With interactions between lobbyist and government officials under such strict scrutiny, lobbyists must ensure their compliance with all of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) regulations and requirements, which cover a huge array of interactions, including dating.  Lobbyists.info provides lobbyists with a clear guide on the dating rules between a lobbyist and a government official in chapter 6 of The Lobbying Compliance Handbook.

 

 

The Advocacy of Incarceration

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 by James Cameron

PRIVATE PRISONS HAVE LONG been a dirty secret in the American criminal justice system, but in recent years their downsides have increasingly come to light. Last week, OpenSecrets.org reported on the economic costs for local municipalities when a private prison fails. Willacy County, a small rural county in Texas, is facing a serious budgetary issue after a riot devastated a local prison that had been run by a private prison company, Management Training Corp.

Management Training Corp.’s economic model with the Willacy County prison is similar to many across the country: the local, state, or Federal government contracts a private prison company to run a prison, and then the prison company pays local municipalities to house prisoners at that facility and for the utilities the prison uses. When a company like MTC pulls out, the local government loses a steady source of revenue and now must staff and run the prison themselves. This arrangement sounds like it makes sense for both the local government and the prison company, but it raises some serious ethical questions.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that private prison companies have a financial stake in keeping incarceration levels high (and indeed, the incarceration rate in America is 5-10 times greater than in Western Europe, per the Wall Street Journal). Indeed, as Salon reports, several states have contracts with private prisons that guarantee 95-100% occupancy rates in prisons run by private companies. This gives states incentive to incarcerate (disproportionately African American) individuals for petty crimes.

Private prison companies’ lobbying activity does little to disabuse the notion that they have a financial stake in high incarceration rates. Salon reports that Corrections Corporation of America has spent more than $13 million in state lobbying efforts, while the GEO Group, another private prison company, has spent more than $3.1 million. Meanwhile, OpenSecrets notes that private prison companies have spent more than $2 million lobbying Congress in 2014 alone.

Private prison companies’ lobbying efforts reveal the unsavory side of advocacy. While most companies will attempt to frame their goals as ultimately beneficial to the American public, few industries have a financial stake in ensuring that more Americans go to (and stay in) prison. While there may be cases where privately-run prisons can be beneficial, Willacy County’s situation and America’s astronomical incarceration rates show the perils of relying too heavily on privatizing public services.

Corporations: Spending Money Where It Counts

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

IN THE 2010 CITIZENS UNITED CASE, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on elections. As a result of that decision people on both sides of the aisle feared that corporations would flood campaigns with vast amounts corporate money, forever changing the world of campaign finance and the political landscape of this country. However, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, recent changes in American political spending have come from the rise of Super PACs backed by hugely wealthy private individuals such as Tom Steyer or the Koch brothers. Instead of pouring money into political campaigns, corporations have focused on lobbying efforts. Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the political reform program at New America, argues that this is because“Lobbying offers a much better return than election spending because real power lies in influencing how policymakers think about the world, not in getting them elected.”

In her recent article in the Washington Post Ms. Drutman observes, “From 1998 onward, as far back as there is good data, corporations have consistently spent about 13 times more on lobbying than they have on campaign contributions. That’s not to say they don’t spend on campaigns. In the 2013-14 cycle, corporations, trade associations and business associations spent a combined $381 million through their political action committees. But that’s small potatoes compared with the giant $5.2 billion pot roast of reported corporate lobbying expenses over this period. And about half of lobbying doesn’t even get reported.”

There are two main reasons why corporations choose to spend their money influencing lawmakers via lobbying rather than spending large amounts of money on political campaign and election activities such as campaign and Super PAC contributions. “First, it could create unnecessary enemies. If the candidate you opposed wins despite your efforts, you’ve just made somebody mad at you. Likewise, if you give big to a Republican or Democratic super PAC, you’ve just angered an entire party. Second, hefty election spending runs the risk of upsetting consumers outside the Beltway. If some of your customers are Democrats and some are Republicans, a really big check could be more trouble than it’s worth. Target learned this when it gave $150,000 to a group supporting conservative Tom Emmer in the 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial race, alienating its many customers who opposed Emmer’s anti-gay-marriage stance.”