Archive for August, 2017

Clogging the Swamp

Thursday, August 31st, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

In contrast to a previous LobbyBlog post, the Boston Globe reported that lobbying numbers have been declining due to “the slow pace of legislation, stiffer rules, and a gradual decline in the number of lobbyists.” The number of registered lobbyists has declined, and so has spending from special interest groups. “There were 9,791 registered lobbyists at the end of June, the fewest since 2008, according to a Globe review of the last decade of lobbying data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.”

While lobbying numbers are down, it is much more surprising that overall spending by special-interest groups has not increased. Dan Auble, a senior researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics said, “it’s surprising. Everyone expects when there’s a change in party and agenda- and claims of changing a lot of policies- that it’s a huge opportunity for companies and industries.” Most special-interest groups and large companies realize that Washington is dysfunctional right now, so they would prefer not to waste money on causes where there is no movement on the Hill.

Further, lobbyists believe that the Trump administration has “given them little to lobby over.” For example, the health care bill was negotiated privately. Therefore, lobbyists did not have the opportunity to influence lawmakers. President Obama also cracked down on hiring lobbyists to preserve institutional integrity, and those rule changes affect lobbying today. These new rules created an “incentive [for lobbyists] to avoid registering in the first place.” In addition to their lack of registration, lobbyists are changing their focus from energy and natural resources to health care and business- both of which have increased since 2009.

Utilizing Technology in Advocacy

Thursday, August 24th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Where advocacy organizations and associations often fall short is one area where government relations professionals can thrive: digital and social trends. Because advocacy groups and associations are often required to stay non-partisan, they appear bureaucratic in nature, “where innovation can be undervalued and work ethic insubstantial,” according to The Hill. However, many believe that technological innovation has improved things for legislative and issue-based advocacy.

The first method in which technology has changed the political realm is social media. Not only has it changed the way people interact in general, but it has also changed the way members of Congress interact with their constituents. It has also decreased the cost for members to communicate with constituents. Given the cost effectiveness of social media, email is losing its efficacy. Members are transitioning from using email for marketing to texting and social media platforms.

Fly ins and grassroots organizing are also becoming more effective with the advent of new technology. For example, “with the unpredictability of congressional schedules and the stress that ensues for association staff, legislative staff and constituent attendees, these underutilized apps offer solutions to real problems at reasonable costs.” These same apps can be used to do grassroots organizing. Therefore, advocacy organizing is just as important as political organizing. Organizations would most likely be more successful if they utilized the technology that is available now, whether that be apps, social media, or even innovative email marketing.

Lobbying on Tax Reform

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

President Trump is ready to sign a tax reform bill in the fall. However, the last time Congress “overhauled the tax code” was in 1986. At that time, it seemed impossible to pass a broad bill with only Republican votes, according to Politico. Therefore, tax lobbyists are attempting to predict what the bill that gets passed will look like. “Some are pushing for Republicans to embrace a long-shot strategy to tie tax reform to an infrastructure spending package to bring Democrats on board. Others have given up hope that Congress will be able to pass anything more than a temporary tax cut for individuals- maybe the only measure that can attract 50 Republican votes in the Senate.”

Some who were working on the Hill in 1986 suggest that the bill will include lower rates and some business tax changes, with some temporary tax cuts. Lobbyists say that “Republicans don’t seem to have made enough progress to get a bill to the president’s desk by the end of the year.” However, even the potential for tax reform has caused tax lobbying to skyrocket. “Lobbying firms have signed 355 contracts to lobby on taxes so far this year…That’s more than double the 152 contracts signed in the same period last year.”

However, Congress is not likely to make any headway on tax reform before it solves the issue of raising the debt ceiling and preventing a government shutdown. Further, the difference between the reform bill of the 1980s and what is being proposed today is that the bill did not hit Reagan’s desk until two years after it started being discussed. Also, Reagan had a 60% approval rating at the time, whereas Trump’s approval rating currently lies at 36%.

The Democratic Party’s Potential Fundraising Crisis

Thursday, August 10th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Even though the Democratic base is energized, “the party has a serious fundraising crisis,” according to Politico. While the Republican National Committee raised $75 million over the first half of 2017, the Democratic National Committee only pulled in $38 million. Surprisingly, Republicans have taken the lead over Democrats when it comes to small-dollar fundraising.

The lack in small-dollar fundraising is a symptom of the Democrats’ recent struggle for grass-roots enthusiasm and passion for cold calling and knocking on doors. Those on Bernie Sanders’ campaign argue that the Trump campaign took their ideas and mimicked them to attract small donors. Both the Sanders campaign and the Trump campaign used powerful messaging, rather than “hiring the right people or using the right technology,” to reach voters.

Previously, Democrats were the champions of small-dollar fundraising, especially in Howard Dean’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns. However, Donald Trump outdid them both by raising $329 million in small donations. Now, to brighten their future, the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DNCC) need to update their tactics.  This includes changing their current email tactic- attempting to “shock, depress, or shame people into action”- to empowering people to take action. Further, “instead of tricking people into donating, it should give people something to believe in, and show how they can win together.” However, this will not be easy for an ailing party with outdated outreach methods. Experts believe without an overhaul, “the Democratic Party is going to keep losing to Donald Trump and the Republicans in the money race, big and small.”

Lobbying Expenses Increase, Lobbyists in Washington Decrease

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Lobbying spending in the first six months of 2017- $1.66 billion- is the highest it’s been since the first half of 2012. After the first half of 2012, lobbying spending dropped by about $50 million in 2013.

However, according to Open Secrets, the number of lobbyists in DC is shrinking. “Since the first quarter of this year, approximately 940 stopped lobbying, but 605 new lobbyists entered the fray. This ebb and flow brought the total number of active lobbyists for the second quarter to 9,460- 335 less than the first quarter.

While it may seem like lobbyists are dwindling, a report from the Center of Responsive Politics shows that one-third of 2016 lobbyists “who were not active in the first quarter of 2017 stayed at the same company, but now work under a new title that suggests they still work to influence US federal policy.” Therefore, Open Secrets predicts that many former lobbyists stay involved in influencing policy without the same level of public scrutiny.

One area of major lobbying growth has been in the internet industry. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, are “at the forefront of the industry’s lobbying efforts.”  The internet industry increased its lobbying spending by fourteen percent in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six month of 2016. Other tech companies such as Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp also saw increased lobbying efforts in the first half of 2017. Apple’s lobbying efforts increased by 60 percent, while Microsoft’s increased by 9 percent. However, groups lobbying on women’s issues saw a major drop in lobbying spending. The exception to that rule are organizations that lobby for Planned Parenthood.