Archive for the ‘From the Eyes of the Editors’ Category

Social Data and the 2012 Election

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Vbhotla

A data-driven grassroots strategy driven by Facebook may prove a huge difference-maker in the 2012 election, just as a similar strategy quietly helped generate widespread support for then-candidate Obama in 2008.  With the social intelligence afforded by social media sites like Facebook, a campaign can effectively mobilize volunteers to maximize their canvassing, be it phone calls or door-to-door campaigning.

“On the micro scale, any campaign volunteer or staffer with Facebook on their phone is carrying around a treasure trove of data about their contacts: Almost all of their friends, how often they talk online, what they talk about, even when they go to the same events,” writes Personal Democracy Forum’s Nick Judd on the techPresident blog.  Part of the effectiveness of such a strategy is that potential voters are not contacted by the candidates or unknown campaign staff, but by their own friends who are politically active and speaking on behalf of the candidate.

“It marks the early appearance in the field of a new strategy — merging campaign data with the data each supporter keeps about their contacts, stored away in places like Facebook profiles — that I expect we’ll be seeing more of in the future,” Judd continues.

So far, no candidate has been able to capitalize on this like President Obama.  With this, his second election cycle leveraging the possibilities of data mining as a way to activate voters (and donors), President Obama is miles ahead of his challengers.

“Obama may be struggling in the polls and even losing support among his core boosters, but when it comes to the modern mechanics of identifying, connecting with and mobilizing voters, as well as the challenge of integrating voter information with the complex internal workings of a national campaign, his team is way ahead of the Republican pack,” writes Personal Democracy Co-founder Micah Sifry for CNN.

The Obama campaign is also harnessing the power of private social networks to connect volunteers and campaign staff and allow higher-level managers to monitor progress against goals and get a broad picture of on-the-ground efforts on NationalField (which started with the Obama 2008 campaign).  Volunteers can share what they’re doing — hard data and qualitative observations can be reported for a comprehensive portrayal of what is really going on — and the hierarchical structure of the network allows information to be filtered based on staff seniority.

“While the Republican field (and bloggers and the press) has been focused on how their candidates are doing with social networking, Obama’s campaign operatives are devising a new kind of social intelligence that will help drive campaign resources where they are most needed,” Sifry writes.

Regardless of what social media platforms campaigns employ (or don’t), data harmonization and the ability to leverage personal relationships are among the most basic — but most often overlooked — principles of any campaign, and will be crucial to a candidate’s success.  Efficient data management ensures that all operations of a campaign are interacting and aware of the others’ efforts.

“If the 2012 election comes down to a battle of inches, where a few percentage points change in turnout in a few key states making all the difference, we may come to see Obama’s investment in predictive modelers and data scientists as the key to victory,” Sifry concludes.

Survey finds DC still place to be for GR professionals

Friday, July 1st, 2011 by Vbhotla

The annual Association TRENDS Compensation Report results have been tallied, and the findings confirm that GR professionals in the nonprofit world are still paid more in the DC area than they are across the country.  Within the capital region, the average salary for GR Directors is $163,642 in the District, $156,263 in Maryland, and $151,056 in Virginia.  For all other government relations positions in the area, the trends are similar: professionals earn the most in DC, followed by Maryland, with Virginia closing out the list.  However, it is worth noting that there were more director-level GR positions  in companies based in Virginia than in Maryland organizations.

For more information on the TRENDS compensation report, visit here for the DC report or here for the National version.

Best Practices for Effective Email Advocacy

Friday, May 13th, 2011 by Vbhotla

A lot of groups rely heavily on email campaigns as their primary online grassroots strategy.  According to congressional research reports and staff accounts, email is an effective means of communicating with congressional offices — assuming you can bust past the Spam filters and your message actually gets read.

Below are some tips for effective email advocacy:

  • Omit needless words (Eliminate Repetitive Verbiage)
  • Messaging over imaging: Rely on text more than images.  Messages with excessive images will often be blocked or marked as a concern.
  • Include an unsubscribe link. Messages without one are more likely to be blocked by spam filters.
  • To comply with CAN-SPAM standards, include a physical address for your organization
  • Identify yourself clearly in the message to prevent recipients from marking you as spam
  • Keep your subject line to less than 50 characters or FIVE words. Either way, the message is clear. Keep it short.
  • Avoid excessive punctuation !!!
  • Avoid excessive use of symbols (@#$%^&!)
  • Avoid words often found in spam mail such as “free” and “guarantee”
  • Ask recipients to add you to their address book
  • Be consistent by using the same address

Lobbying in the 112th: The Budget & Appropriations Process

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Vbhotla

So, you need to influence federal budgetary policy to secure funding for a program.  But earmarks are out (at least that’s what they’re telling you), and you need to find a way to still effectively do your job.

According to John Scofield of the Podesta Group, “Regulations are the new earmarks.”  What Scofield alludes to is that one way to steer funds your way could be through petitioning the executive branch , particularly the regulatory agencies who are responsible for monitoring the implementation of Congress’s budget decisions.  Lobby the agencies in conjunction with Congress; get a letter or promise of phone call from Members or staffers who are particularly geared up about your cause to support your argument before the executive branch.

Other useful tips include:

  • Develop coalitions. The more people rallying on behalf of your cause, the broader your reach, and hence, the greater the success.  Enlist stakeholders.
  • Put a personal face to the problem. Elected officials are, well, elected.  If you deploy constituents on your behalf, especially in the current climate with so many Congressional newbies in which things are more likely to happen on merit than rank, the chance of success increases exponentially.  (Advise constituents NOT to threaten not to vote for the Member.  Positive urging is more effective than threats.)
  • Consider multiple approach angles. Repetition is not a bad thing. You may consider a targeted media approach, in which you generate a series of editorials by meaningful contributors in the right publications.  Home district papers, though smaller and of less national attention, will catch the eye of particular Members and staff.  There are, however, occasions when national and online media will be useful.  Know your audience.
  • Get in early.  An appropriation enacted in March 2011 was submitted by the program 24 months earlier.  Now is not a good time to go out for bid with hopes of impacting the FY2011 budget.  And you are behind the curve on the FY2012 budget process.  The best thing to do is to submit requests ON TIME during the subcommittee mark-up.  If you don’t get into a subcommittee bill, you are unlikely to make it in at any later point of the process.
  • Make reasonable asks. Learn what Congress actually has the power to do.  Do not waste your time and energy (and the Member/staffer’s time and energy) petitioning for something the committee simply cannot do.  This is where it may come in handy to build a Congressional champion to pen a letter of support to another entity, like a regulatory agency.
  • Do your homework. Review the president’s budget justifications and incorporate your issues into the supplemental information.  Hold desk-side briefings, ask to testify at hearings.  Provide the staffers with draft questions they can ask during a hearing, whether you are involved or not.  A “protect the budget request” angle will be much more effective than an “add to the budget request.”  Find some way to relate your issue/program into the issues that are already center-stage in the committee’s mind.

SOTU aftermath: lobbying is not dead

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 by Vbhotla

In last night’s State of the Union address, anti-lobbying rhetoric was relatively low.  Sure, there was the jab that “a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code,” and the statement that constituents “deserve to know when [their] elected officials are meeting with lobbyists,”but all in all, no real lobbying talk.  And really, it’s not a bad thing for citizens to know that lobbyists are working on their behalf to make concerns known in Congress.

One thing that many in the profession could have anticipated, but were probably still less than thrilled to hear was President Obama’s decree that “If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.”  This idea is not unique to the president; there has been talk of a ban on earmarks all through the most recent campaign cycle.  And while there is currently no ban on earmarks in either the House or the Senate rules, it is worth noting that the Republican Conference rules do ban them.

This was a great departure from the emphasis on special interest groups the president put on last year’s address, and lobbyists should be cautiously optimistic about what this means for opportunities for them to effectively do their jobs.  If there’s one thing that lobbyists can learn from President Obama, it’s his ability to organize and effectively carry out a grassroots campaign.  Prior to the primaries leading up to the 2008 election, many people did not even know who he was.  It was his ability to organize and rally people behind him that launched him into the public spotlight and then the White House.

What does this mean for you?  In this no-earmarks climate, one of the most effective lobbying tactics will be grassroots and grasstops efforts.  In a session Monday before over 60 attendees, Dom Ruscio, of Cavarocchi, Ruscio, Dennis & Associates, LLC, and the Podesta Group’s John Scofield emphasized this point as being one of the best ways to lobby the budget and appropriations process, and indeed it is universally true.

A new study by the Partnership for a More Perfect Union and the Congressional Management Foundation indicated that the number one way to sway a Congressperson’s mind on an issue if (s)he has not already taken a firm position is in-person constituent visits.  Take the opportunity to organize lobby days with key constituents set to appear.  (Be careful to limit the visits to five people per visit, in consideration of space limitations within Congressional offices.)  Go often and make the message clear.  Because despite the talk, lobbying is not dead in this Administration nor in this Congress.  It may just simply need to embrace one of the key themes in Obama’s speech last night: reinvention.

Lobbying For Governments That Want To Exist

Monday, November 1st, 2010 by Vbhotla

Often when talking about lobbying in Washington, DC, people’s minds turn to corporations and interest groups – Americans that want to have their voices heard in the capitol and to steer federal policy in what they believe is a better direction.

It certainly is true that major business and large trade and professional organizations comprise the bulk of lobbying clients in DC, due in large part to the important role the federal government has in the commerce and economy of the United States.

But this is not the only influence the federal government has-and businesses are not the only group touched by its decisions. Increasingly over the past half-century, decisions made in Washington have affected people all around the world-something that has motivated foreign nations to want to lobby in DC as well.

Nations small and large, whether they have an expansive embassy in DC (like the United Kingdom) or only a small, sparsely staffed office, have increasingly been signing up with lobbying firms to have their voiced heard in the corridors of power.

Independent Diplomat's FARA filing for the Republic of Somaliland

Possibly the most interesting foreign groups that want to lobby in DC are governments that, well, technically don’texist. One DC-based firm that seeks to give these governments that want to exist a voice is Independent Diplomat, Inc, whose website states their mission as “enabling governments and political groups disadvantaged or marginalized by lack of diplomatic capacity to engage effectively in diplomatic processes.”

They represent, among others:

Such pseudo-governments would want to lobby the United States government both for practical and idealistic reasons. Throughout the world, the United States clearly is in a uniquely powerful position, militarily, economically and diplomatically. These groups seeking international diplomatic recognition know their goals would be much easier to reach with U.S. backing.  But they must also feel that the unique history of the US would make those in power in DC more receptive to the voice of those seeking their independence, democracy, or both.

FARA filings are publicly available. Search the database here:

What’s in a Name?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Everyone knows that one of the keys to being a successful lobbyist is name recognition.  While this requires a lot of hard work and networking for most, some lobbyists have it a bit easier.  After having  reviewed the names of thousands upon thousands of government relations professionals, here is a small sampling of some of the names that caught my eye immediately.

The other Harry Henderson.

Harry Henderson Jr. is no monster/hit-and-run victim from the Pacific Northwest.  As President of Anchor Consulting he lobbies for the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley.

I hold this Dave Thomas responsible for my teenage obesity.

What do you do if you share your name with the founder of fast food chain Wendy’s?  David Thomas, Principal at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. did his part by representing the American College of Cardiologists.  These days, Thomas has found himself another obvious client, the National Restaurant Association.

Be sure to consult The Lobbying Compliance Handbook before buying that round of martinis.

Brian Griffin is one of the top dogs at The Duberstein Group.  His scholastic cartoon counterpart would be pleased to know that Brian lobbies for the National Math & Science Initiative.

Deciding on which Kate Moss picture to include was the high point of my day today.

Having the same name as a supermodel wasn’t enough for Kate Moss, the president of the aptly named Kate Moss Company.

This picture might get my mom to start reading Lobby Blog.

It’s not unusual that Tom Jones, president of Federal Business Navigators, recently accompanied a client to a business meeting with the Department of Defense.

Cue loud screaming.

A lot of children can say “I feel good” due to the hard work of Christine James-Brown, the president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America.

The only thing better than sharing a name with one tv character is sharing a name with two.

You can see Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, the alter egos of the Episcopal Church’s GR professional David Benson-Staebler, Wednesday nights at 9 on NBC.

Boehner and Pelosi’s Lobbying Ties

Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by Vbhotla

The New York Times published an article last Sunday detailing the connections Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has with

John Boehner and aides (Source: New York Times. Photo credit: David Lassman/ Post-Standard)

lobbyists in Washington.  This article is by no means an isolated event.  Various other news articles have been questioning Boehner’s corporate, “special interest” ties.

At a speech in Ohio, President Obama mentioned Boehner’s name eight times.  As of now the only source of information that hasn’t commented on Boehner is my network of 14 uncles who tend to send me long-winded chain emails.  But I’m sure those will start to come in any day now.

The New York Times article did much more than detail Boehner’s golfing and smoking habits while tossing in an obvious joke about his complexion (we get it, he’s tan … new joke, please.)  The article listed some of Boehner’s former aides and “longtime associates and friends” who are lobbyists.

Given the tone of the article, this information seemed to belong on the editorial page; it should not have been presented as just basic information.  In response, The Washington Examiner released an article which stated that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has raised twice the amount of money from lobbyists as her GOP counterpart.

To take all of this one step further, a search of showed more lobbyists who previously worked for Pelosi than for Boehner.  Given the rhetoric (which comes from both sides of the aisle) about the evils of the “revolving door,” perhaps members of Congress would be wise to run a quick check on what their own former staffers are doing.

Pelosi’s lobbying ties include former staffers who are now registered lobbyists at The Podesta Group, Akin Gump, Amgen Inc., and King & Spalding.  Not all of Pelosi’s former staffers are registered lobbyists, despite working for registered organizations and coalitions.  Individuals fitting this bill include persons at Planned Parenthood of America and United for Medical Research.

In addition to the individuals listed already by the NYT, Boehner has connections through former employees to lobbyists at Marriot International Inc., Boeing, and the lobbying firm Arent Fox.

Now I’m no political strategist, but it seems that crying wolf over lobbying ties might not be the best course of action for Speaker Pelosi. Perhaps it’s time for both parties to call a lobbyist-as-the-bad-guy truce.

For Re-Trial Of Ex-Lobbyist, Jurors Questioned on Opinion Of Lobbyists

Friday, August 27th, 2010 by Vbhotla

As former Jack Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, who is accused of bribery, moves to the jury selection phase of his

Kevin Ring (Photo credit: National Journal; Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

retrial, federal Judge Ellen Huvelle is asking some interesting questions of prospective jurors.

Though it’s not unusual to ask jurors of their political beliefs should the trial relate to a political matter, in this case the jurors are being asked their opinions of the profession of lobbying as a whole.

Here’s the seven-part question that’s drawing attention:

48. Which of the following, if any, fits with your view of lobbying? Answer either yes or no.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is the exercise of the democratic right of American industries, businesses, and individuals to influence lawmaking, government policy and decision making that affects their interests.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is influence peddling on behalf of wealthy people or businesses.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying, whether on behalf of rich people, the middle class, or poor people, should be prohibited.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying can help ensure that government officials make decisions that are in the best interests of the United States.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is a fancy term for trying to get government officials to do what the lobbyist wants even if it is not good for the country.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is paying off politicians and government officials to get them to do something.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is legitimate business.

[ ] Yes [ ] No Lobbying is a necessary part of democratic society based on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

One wonders if the same would be asked if a truck driver or fire fighter stood accused. (And as a sign of the times, they’re also being asked if they tweet or have a Blackberry).

Blog of Legal Times has the whole questionnaire that jurors were required to fill out, if you’re interested. (PDF) Ring’s trial is expected to last until the end of November.

The real problem isn’t lobbyists, it’s lobbying rules

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 by Drew

Thomas Spulak, writing in The Hill on Monday, made some fantastic points about problems facing the lobbying industry right now. Lobbyists are de-registering in droves, he says–a result of stricter HLOGA rules and the rush of anti-lobbyist sentiment stemming from Obama’s ongoing campaign against the industry.

Singling out lobbyists is, in fact, a source of the sense of corruption the administration is seeking to end. Spulak writes:

The singling out of lobbyists and the attendant attachment of the Scarlet L has caused individuals to seek loopholes and exceptions to avoid registration. When someone, no less than the president of the United States, says lobbyists are bad, who would want to be one? It is ironic that those who want to go beyond the letter of the law and adhere to its spirit by registering are thrown into a class subject to suspicion and disdain by the leaders of our government.

The problem, Spulak says, is that demonizing an entire profession does us all harm because there will always be lobbyists; the right to lobby is, after all, protected by the Constitution. Further, not all lobbyists are advocating for “evil corporate interests”–there are lobbyists for Boy Scouts! And whales! And poor people! And puppies! Spulak says it best:

There will always be lobbyists; they are mere advocates for interests. Certainly, not all interests are as popular as others, but shouldn’t unpopular causes have a chance to be heard? Government officials can always ignore what they hear or even refuse to meet with certain industries or interests. That has always been the case anyway. Continuing to rail against lobbyists may be good political fodder in the short term, but in the long run it creates a false sense of corruption in Washington that makes all government officials guilty by association with the bogeyman that they created.

A blog post on OMB Watch (“Greater Disclosure Reduces Sense of Corruption”) makes an excellent point to complete this discussion: instead of demonizing an industry which may have some bad actors but overall offers a necessary democratic service, let’s move towards improving the disclosure system to obviate the impulse for corruption in the first place. “The registration process is cumbersome and unevenly recorded by the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate,” OMB writes. “And don’t try getting information out of those systems … the demand should be focused on better systems of disclosure.”


Lobbying Disclosure: Kilroy Plays the Blame Game

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 by Vbhotla

In a recent press release, Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) explained the purpose of her Lobbying Disclosure Enhancement Act, saying,

“When Americans on Main Street try to cheat or break the law; there are repercussions… [this bill] will go after the lobbyists who engage in shoddy practices and hide behind ignorance of the law.”

(View the release here).

However, what Kilroy is trying to fix is not as much a lobbying problem as it is a federal government problem.  Lobby disclosure may not be the most popular rule on K Street but it is still the law of the land and the vast majority of lobbyists willingly adhere to it.  The only reason that lobbyists continue to hide behind “ignorance” of the law is because the Department of Justice has neglected its side of the bargain.

The idea behind Kilroy’s bill is nothing new; in fact some lobbyists have spoken out in favor of greater disclosure, saying that having a system of lobbying laws but no enforcement makes a mockery of the entire system.  Following the law is the responsibility of each individual lobbyist. Enforcing the law is solely the responsibility of the Department of Justice. In short, Kilroy should be requiring the Department of Justice to change its “shoddy practices,” not lobbyists. But lobbyists are low-hanging fruit, since many citizens don’t understand the First Amendment political speech right of having a government relations representative.

Kilroy’s bill as originally introduced intended to place more impetus on the lobbyists themselves to ensure complete lobby filings, with fee structures and fines for underdisclosure.

Americans don’t speed down Main Street when a cop is sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot and lobbyists won’t be ignorant of the law if the federal government enforces its own regulations.

You too can lobby for change

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 by Drew

Citizens, unite! (And hire or become a lobbyist.) Two news stories this week have reminded us that lobbying isn’t just the purview of white-shoe law and lobbying firms. Joe six-pack, you too can lobby for change.

Roll Call (subscription required) ran a story on Tuesday detailing the efforts of Florida businessman Earl Kiser, 81, to create American People’s Voice, a web-based project that will help citizens to better lobby their members. According to their “About Us” page, American People’s Voice “is a tool for citizens to make the critical connections with lawmakers and no longer suffer as absentee stakeholders in the business, conduct and legislation of the United States of America.” In other words, it’s a tool for citizens to become little “L” lobbyists.

Of course, individuals can simply hire lobbyists, too. On Tuesday, ran a story about citizens who have hired lobbyists to push legislation on issues relevant to them.  Among them is Maureen Ebel, a retired nurse who lost her savings in Madoff’s pyramid scheme, and who is represented pro-bono by New York lawyer Helen Davis Chaitman. According to the ABC story, Chaitman, who also lost her savings in Madoff’s scam, said she’s met with over 75 lawmakers on issues relevant to Madoff’s victims.

These stories serve as a reminder that the anti-lobbying messages we sometimes hear fail to mention that the same government protections allowing the lobbying industry to exist also give individual citizens the right to affect change by influencing their government representatives. It’s a right we should all work to protect, maybe even by hiring or becoming a lobbyist.

Disclosure Blunders

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Vbhotla

In April, the Government Accountability Office released its report to Congress on lobbyists’ compliance with federal disclosure requirements.  Much to my chagrin, the GAO failed to highlight some of the common filing mistakes that continue to haunt me day in and day out.   So, here are a few of the common mistakes I often encounter while reading lobbying reports.

  • The “Covered Official Position” box is where you enter any previous federal positions you may have held, NOT your current job title.  Federal positions that meet the requirements of a covered official position must be reported for 20 years. Do not enter “Director of Government Affairs at XYZ Lobbying Firm” on line 18. That is clearly not a federal position. While you may be proud of your recent promotion to Lobbying Head Honcho, the Clerk of the House doesn’t care (for purposes of Line 18). But if you were recently the Under-Under-Under-Under Assistant Secretary for Peanut Butter Consumption at the Department of Defense, that may need to be disclosed.*
  • Each firm-client relationship should receive its own report form.  And don’t post a vague client name. That goes for you too, Firm-That-Will-Not-Be-Named who registered to lobby for the client “Various Japanese Companies, Governmental Entities, Trade Associations & …” That is really not an acceptable disclosure. Unless of course, the actual, legal name of your client is “Various Japanese Companies, Governmental Entities, Trade Associations & …” but somehow I doubt that is the case.
  • In the section marked “Specific Lobbying Issues,” lobbying issues must be specific.  Entering “Provisions relating to the passage of HR 2454 Climate Change/Clean Air Act” is specific.  Entering “Environmental Issues” is not. Entering “HR2847, S1406: Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Act for Fiscal 2010 – provisions related to NASA” is specific. (Good job, Filer-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named!). Entering “HR 2847 Approps Act” is not.

These issues may seem minor when compared to the reporting of financial contributions.   But when you’re filing, you need to make every effort to be compliant and accurate.  And since filing errors must be corrected through amendments, being aware of common mistakes found on lobbying reports prior to filing could be a real time-saver.

* I really hope there isn’t a Under-Under-Under-Under Assistant Secretary for Peanut Butter Consumption at the Department of Defense. Also, if you have questions about what is and is not a “covered official position,” check out our Compliance Center.

Movie Review: “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 by Drew

My favorite part of the new documentary film about lobbying, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” occurs in the first half hour of the film. It is a brief clip of archival footage used to show how Jack Abramoff—the former lobbyist whose greed and hubris led to his conviction for fraud and corruption in 2006—grew out of the same “radical” Republican student movement of the 70s and 80s that spawned Grover Norquist and Karl Rove. The clip is of Rove, looking about 14 years old, talking to a reporter about the ascendant College Republicans. It’s fascinating not so much because of what Rove is saying, but because in the clip Rove has hair, a lot of it, shaped in what today would be described as an emo-style haircut. It is glorious, and well worth the price of admission.

Whether the rest of the film is worth watching is up for debate. The film’s director, Alex Gibney (whose “Taxi to the Dark Side” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2008) portrays Abramoff as a thick-necked charmer who, as chairman of the College Republican National Committee, developed a paranoid anti-communist worldview that eventually led to his staging of a meeting of rebel leaders in Angola. After leaving politics for a stint in Hollywood (where he produced an anti-communist action film starring Dolph Lundgren called “Red Scorpion”, clips of which rival the one of Rove for awesomeness) Abramoff wound up in Washington working as a lobbyist. The rest is history.

Gibney chronicles Abramoff’s criminal activities in detail, and they’re familiar enough that I don’t need to summarize them here. Through archival footage and compelling interviews with Tom DeLay, Neil Volz and Bob Ney, Gibney deftly explains what Abramoff’s crimes were and how he went about committing them. But though this movie is ostensibly about Abramoff and his shenanigans, it’s actually an attempt to portray the entire lobbying system as hopelessly corrupt. As anti-lobbying propaganda, it pretty much works. The problem is, as those in and around K Street know, lobbying isn’t the innately evil industry Gibney tries to make it out to be. Yes, it has problems; so does every other industry. But as we’ve shown before on the Lobby Blog, there are “good” lobbyists too. Unfortunately, most viewers ofCasino Jack and the United States of Money probably won’t ever hear their side of the story.

Watch the trailer here:

Casino Jack and the United States of Money is playing at the E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row Cinema.

Lobbying in the Public Interest

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Note: From the Eyes of the Editors will be a recurring post each week. From our team of editors, who spend hundreds of hours scouring thousands of lobbying registrations and filings, these pieces will look at common errors, misperceptions, and ways to improve your understanding of lobbyist filings.

Last week it was reported that Washington-based non-profit Public Citizen approached retiring senators and congressmen, suggesting that they sign a pledge promising to avoid future jobs with lobbying firms.  In a bit of humorous commentary, The Huffington Post noted that the spokeswoman for Public Citizen, the very woman leading the charge against public servants becoming lobbyists, is herself a registered lobbyist.  Her response was “I’m like a people’s lobbyist.”

This got me thinking, “Aren’t all lobbyists representative of the people?” In reality, each lobbyist on K St. is representing the interests of some person or some group of like-minded individuals.  In fact, of the thousands of lobbying reports I have read, the only client I have encountered that seems to include no people is a filing on behalf of “Boo,” a family dog from Staten Island who is being represented on a number of issues including disaster planning, housing, and animals (obviously).

Lobbyists represent groups of American citizens. For example, former Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) represented Cleveland in the House for 30 years and is now Senior Counsel at Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey.  Though he has left Congress, Stokes is still representing Cleveland on the Hill through one of his clients, the Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners.  While in the House, Stokes represented one area of the city.  By now lobbying for the entire county, Stokes essentially represents twice the number of people he did as a Congressman.  Given the role that the county plays in the entire region, one could argue that the number of people his actions affect has  quadrupled.  Now in my opinion,  Cleveland, though it has its problems like all places, is the greatest city in the country.

As a lobbyist, former Rep. Stokes is able to continue representing his hometown as he lobbies on issues including alcohol and drug abuse, economic development, and water quality.  And, given that the Cuyahoga River is about to enter its 41st fire-free year, I can only assume that he’s doing a good job.  Also, go Cavaliers!

Members opting to lobby makes sense.  Lobbyists can work to serve the needs of former constituents, hometowns, home states, and the variety of industries that play integral roles in the daily lives of Americans.  Former Members intimately understand the legal process and how to disseminate information on the Hill.  Lobbyists don’t inherently serve the forces of evil and former Members who become lobbyists are no exception.  Besides, all citizens have the right to petition their government.  Should former Members be asked to sign away that right?