Archive for the ‘Lobbying Research’ Category

I Was a Teenage Unlobbyist: An Interview with Norman Ball

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

I was  a Teenage Unlobbyist

On Lobby Blog we have often discussed “unlobbyists,” or those who participate in lobbying activities without ever formally registering as a lobbyist.  In October 2014, we wrote about Tim LaPira, a political scientist from James Madison University whose research suggests that the $3.3 billion spent on lobbying in 2012 was actually closer to $7 billion due to the massive number of unregistered lobbyists. Further, as noted in the Lobby Blog post “Registration Crackdown”, unregistered lobbyists have rarely, if ever, been pursued by the Office of Congressional Ethics or the Department of Justice. Between 1995 and 2010, only three lawsuits filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against lobbyists were settled, and since 2010, at least five suits have been filed related to Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) and Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) violations.

There are, however, signs of heightened awareness and enforcement interest emanating from within the Department of Justice. Interested parties may wish to register their concerns with Bill Miller, Media Contact for the DC Attorney’s Office who handles this issue at DOJ.

Perhaps there are some of you amongst our readership who have experienced business/revenue loss at the hands of an unregistered competitor. If so, we’d like to hear from you, maybe even publish your story in future blog installments. Self-policing is an effective tool. Today on Lobby Blog we have the pleasure of talking with Norman Ball about “unlobbyists,” and his particular experiences in this arena. Norm is a business developer and Program Management Professional (PMP) as well as a writer in Northern Virginia. After encountering some of his recent lobbying-related articles on-line, we felt he had a story worth sharing with our readership. So we asked him to sit down with us for an interview. Here is the result of that meeting.

Matt: First of all Norm, thank you for helping to shed light on a long-overlooked and shadowy area of lobbying known as ‘unlobbying’. I know our readership will be interested to learn more about this strange subgroup in their midst.

Norm: No problem, Matt.

M: I should also say that, while we loved your graphic, it’s fair to say you’re not a teenager, yes?

N: The cobwebs behind ‘teenage’ are there for a reason Matt (laughs). I felt my stint as an Unlobbyist Assistant qualified as a monstrous transformation. Hence the hairy cuffed claw. I’m better now.

M: Well that’s good to hear. First, we should probably familiarize folks with just what we mean by an unlobbyist. We took a swing at defining an unlobbyist above. What’s your definition?

N: By way of analogy, I would only add that an unlobbyist is like a practicing attorney who isn’t state-barred or an individual who practices medicine without a license. These folks are often employed by their clients via business development contracts. In some cases, the client hasn’t performed the necessary due diligence to ascertain the professional legitimacy of the individual. In fairness, how many people would think to question an attorney’s bona fides when they encounter him in the ‘Attorney’ section of the Yellow Pages? Many unlobbyists exploit this naiveté.

M: Of course.

N: Other times, the clients are either unaware of HLOGA’s ethical implications, or perhaps turn a blind eye because they feel they’re getting an insider on the cheap. But again, the onus rests with the individual who’s essentially orchestrating the deception. Most clients, I believe, are unwittingly implicated.

M: Everybody wants bang for their buck as long as it’s on the right side of the law. (Chuckling) I still don’t know how one who is engaged in the world of lobbying can still be unaware of HLOGA, especially with such fantastic compliance resources out there such as’s Lobbying Compliance Handbook.  Why don’t the organizations tasked with the enforcement of lobbying make unlobbying a higher priority?

N: Interestingly, the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House tend to focus their attention on those who conscientiously register and file the necessary reports. Thus unlobbyists often travel under the radar on Capitol Hill. I liken it to the police stopping a bank robber just outside the bank only to let him go when they discover he’s not a registered bank robber.

M: You might say that much of our readership is held to a higher standard simply because they do the right thing by disclosing their profession. That seems a tad unfair, especially given the image problems lobbyists must already contend with.

N: An image problem created in part by unlobbyists.

M: Exactly. So in order to get your own arms around the lobbying universe, you decided to conduct a series of interviews. They’re very good by the way.

N: Thank you. Although we haven’t gotten to the particulars of my situation, I came to suspect that, contrary to the assurances of the individual I was working with, he was in fact operating outside of the law.  So as you say, this led me on my own quest for information.

M: In your interview with Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen and a driving force behind the drafting and passage of HLOGA, he implies there may be ethical and legal implications for both the Congressional staffs and clients who, knowingly or otherwise, engage with unlobbyists.

N: Yes, he does. Look, I’m not sure whether a ‘carding system’ is required. But transparency and full disclosure are critical to the democratic process. Surely some sort of verification protocol is warranted in order to protect, not only the integrity of the system, but those who register as the law requires of them.

For the elected official and his staff too, they have a right to know whether they are sitting across the table from a citizen petitioning a genuine civic grievance, a registered lobbyist or a businessman with an undisclosed economic interest who’s sort of unethically ‘playing the gap’. As an elected official, I think I’d be upset if the latter posed himself as the former since it could rebound back on my office, creating at the very least the appearance of impropriety.

M: That makes sense. Appearances can be everything in politics.

N: As for the unlobbyist and his client, if the former has misrepresented his professional credentials to the latter, that seems more of a contractual or business risk issue. The analogy would be hiring an individual to audit your books who you subsequently discover is not a CPA. We’re in the realm of effective due diligence or, in the event of lapsed due diligence, potential grounds for dismissal upon subsequent discovery.

M: We at Lobby Blog share your concern about the troubling opacity of the lobbying profession. Unfortunately the ‘Casino Jack’ (Abramoff –whom I note you interviewed recently) stereotype is embedded in the public psyche. No one would argue the vast majority of lobbyists fulfill a crucial role in the legislative process and are hard-working and ethical professionals. It’s a shame a few rotten apples create an image problem for the majority.

N: I concur fully with that, Matt—both with the necessity of the lobbying function for the promulgation of good law and with the competency and integrity I’ve encountered in my dealings with industry professionals. For example, Meredith McGehee, Policy Director at the Campaign Legal Center and a long-time registered lobbyist herself was a great source of information as was the Sunlight Foundation’s Jenn Topper.

Clearly, the issues facing the government today are simply too complex to be dealt with, absent competent expertise. One current debate is whether this expertise should reside within government itself or should instead be ‘fed’ to it by external conduits such as lobbyists. Lee Drutman (Senior Fellow at New America), whom I interviewed recently, makes an excellent (and highly readable) case for the absolute criticality of the lobbying function in his new book, The Business of America is Lobbying. However he feels this information-gathering function should be brought more under the direct auspices of Congress itself.

Then you have Abramoff who’s ideologically a small government guy. Perhaps not surprisingly, his current reform efforts focus more on a ‘less government equals less lobbying’ theme. Another angle arrives via Public Citizen’s Holman, a huge advocate for increased transparency and accountability. These varying approaches notwithstanding, you’ll find little argument from any of them that traveling salesmen in the Senate cloak room are not conducive to the public interest.

M: We’re seeing more energy on the HLOGA enforcement side. What are you seeing?

N: There’s no doubt the secret TPP trade bill has stoked populist ire against hidden corporate hands. But even before that, DOJ spokesman Bill Miller, who I’m speaking with (and who’s requested a copy of this interview by the way), said that, “the issue of illegally unregistered lobbyists isn’t outside the purview of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.” So while Congress may be more focused on registered lobbyists, DOJ recognizes a broader mandate.

M: There is movement within this broader mandate to be sure.

N: Yes indeed. I am speaking with some advocacy groups who are eager to put more fire beneath the unlobbyist issue. They just needed some case studies and a ‘poster child’ or two. That’s where my story’s helpful. These sorts of ethics drives tend to galvanize around an Abramoff-type figure.

M: Great background. Now to your story. How did your involvement all come about?

N: Well, without delving all the background details, I got involved with a gentleman who had had extensive prior consulting experience with the Department of Energy, specifically the nuclear division. He’d secured a business development contract with a manufacturer of patented dissolvable nuclear suits or what the industry calls Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).


M: Sort of like DuPont’s Tyvek suits?

N: Exactly. In fact, part of the initiative involved attempting to dislodge Tyvek suits from the Federal space as well as the traditional laundered, or reusable, suits. This company had achieved a commanding market share in the private sector. However they’d had limited success with Uncle Sam.

As you mention Tyvek, another important point is that DuPont sustains a significant Government Affairs effort which, one suspects, operates within the law. There’s something patently unfair about a legally compliant and significant investment (Est. at $9 million in 2014 according to Open Secrets) being undermined by what amounts to an underfunded, unregistered competitive rearguard action.

M: That almost goes without saying. Non-compliance shouldn’t enjoy a built-in competitive advantage. What gives here?

N: Again, the profession could do more to amplify its concerns. Hopefully this interview will help raise awareness. Anyway, the game plan was to break the bureaucratic impasse by sending letters to various Congressmen and Senators in an effort to coax a letter from one of them to Secretary of Energy Moniz, urging him to initiate a departmental review that would include the represented product. To that end, I undertook research, visited Congressional offices, DOE nuclear field facilities such as Hanford and the manufacturer’s facility down south, co-wrote explanatory letters and white papers, developed marketing materials and videos, accompanied and overseen in most instances by my colleague.

M: What was your economic or business interest?

N: None during this formative phase beyond the expectation of reaping future compensation via public sector sales. Our agreement was to share any commissions that followed on from this effort. However for other reasons beyond just the lobbying, the endeavor was starting to ring alarm bells in my mind by the end of 2014. So I commenced my own side-research.

M: What did you conclude?

N: Well, the structure of the letters to Congress and the whole meeting approach was, I felt, less than above-board. I had deferred to my colleague’s long history of interfacing with Congress, and had even asked him on one occasion whether he was a lobbyist (he wasn’t) and whether that presented a problem. He assured me he was acting in the capacity of a concerned citizen and thus was merely petitioning Congress in that capacity.

M: How did you feel the letters were misleading?

N: They would begin by describing my colleague’s background interfacing with DOE in order to imply—or at least suggest—his professional standing and the source of his expertise on the matter. From there, the letter would tout the advantages of the product he was representing and end with an appeal to have the relevant Congressional office contact, as I mentioned above, the DOE Secretary. Stapled to the back of the letters was the company’s sales literature. So the sales objective was barely camouflaged. However the implicit economic self-interest was never discussed, and at times deflected altogether.

M: That’s interesting. How did the various Congressional offices respond to these letters? Are there any specific occasions that stick out in your mind to give our readership a sense of how ‘direct sales lobbying’ works?

N: Well, more often than we’d speak with a mid-level staffer who’d sort of forward the information into a black hole. This came about often by talking our way into the office based on a previously sent letter.

M: Can you relate any of the more fruitful meetings?

N: One occurred in mid-2014 with Rep. Charles “Chuck” Fleischmann (R) of Tennessee’s 3rd District and his Legislative Director, Alek Vey. The Congressman is on the House Energy and Water Subcommittee and has been a committed and passionate leader in nuclear waste cleanup. DOE’s decommissioned Hanford Site is also in his district. It was a very interesting meeting.

M: How so?

N: My colleague launched into his pitch about going back a long way on Capitol Hill as a page, having an Uncle who was a former Senator, etc. As a 79-year-old with a cane, my colleague strikes a grandfatherly pose which gets him more time than probably you or I would on our own. The persona was that of a retired grandfather concerned about the nuclear waste problem and wanting to leave a better planet behind for his grandchildren.

M: And yet, stapled to the back of the letter were un-grandfatherly sales brochures?

N: Yes.

M: How did this selfless appeal go over?

N: You have to think these guys get hit on all the time for one favor or another. So I think their antennae are always up for just about anything. Fleishmann was clearly listening, as you might expect, given his interest in the subject matter. Yet as he and Vey flipped though the pitch material, they would sort of glance back and forth at one another, asking at regular intervals who exactly we were and what our interests were, to which my colleague would revert back to grandfather mode and regale them with tales of yesteryear.

M: …all the while avoiding disclosure of his ‘official unofficial’ capacity as unlobbyist.

N: I found it all vaguely humorous though troubling at the same time. In fact it was after this meeting that I pointedly asked him whether he was a lobbyist and if not, did he perhaps need to be one? He conceded he wasn’t, but again dismissed the necessity of it. As he’d been involved on the Hill for decades, I deferred to his greater knowledge. Throughout the meeting, Congressman Fleischmann and Vey were polite, respectful, attentive, but in the end, I would say, a little confused over the purpose and intent of our mission. Who could blame them? But that’s entirely my own impression. To the best of my knowledge as of December, nothing had come of the contact.

M: All in all, it sounds like a deliberately mixed message. Caveat emptor.

N: It felt a little sideways to me. On the Executive side, we had meetings with what HLOGA defines as Covered Officials. By the end of 2014, I was feeling uncomfortable about the whole undertaking. My discomfort morphed into resentment and annoyance as I realized I’d been conscripted into what amounted to a legally dubious undertaking. It also prompted me to pursue a better understanding of Federal lobbying disclosure guidelines and sort of educate myself.

M: Well you’ve certainly done that, and educated others in the process too, I might add.

N: Thank you, Matt. I appreciate that. If my efforts help others, that’s great.

M: What advice would you give for industry participants, both government and client-side, to avoid getting tied up in questionable activities?

N: In two words, due diligence. When someone knocks your door offering to trim your trees, it’s good practice to request verification of their contractor license. Lobbying is no different. I know your organization maintains up-to-date lobbying databases. The Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) mandates that the Senate and House maintain databases too. Those can be found here and here, respectively. As a matter of course, these databases should be accessed by all parties. Congressional staffers tend to err on the side of openness and accessibility in the interest of providing responsive constituent services. However this openness can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous parties. At the least suggestion of commercial intent, a visitor’s lobbying credentials should be politely requested, in the spirit of fostering civic discourse and discouraging undisclosed special interests.

M: What further steps are you involved in to bring this issue to proper closure?

N: Well, I’m talking to a number of entities both within the Senate, House and on the Executive side as well as advocacy groups who’ve expressed an interest in raising awareness of the unlobbyist phenomenon. As a ‘prophylactic measure’, I was also advised to contact the various House, Senate and DOE offices I interfaced with in order to formally disavow my prior role.

M: Thanks so much for talking with me today Norm, it has been a pleasure!

N: You too Matt. Thank you.

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.

Lobbying Tools that Influence Congressional Decision-Making: What is More Effective, What is Less Effective

Thursday, July 19th, 2012 by Vbhotla

LobbyBlog is happy to introduce another guest writer: Dr. David Rehr with the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

The complexity of influencing or affecting public policy in Washington, DC has never been greater.  According to Lobbyists.Info over $8.1 billion dollars was spent in the last two years by the lobbying community trying to affect the outcome of laws and regulations in the U.S.

For many, “lobbying” is a bad word.  It connotes individuals using inside information, their personal connections, or other tools to impact the minds of 100 U.S. Senators, 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the over 12,000 congressional staffers that work in the legislative branch.

The focus of today is to help clarify which advocacy tools work and which do not work when an individual or organization wants to passionately impact the legislative process in Washington.

Newly released research from the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University ( provides clues never before unearthed.

THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS REPORT ( provides a monumental look at how America communicates with the Congress.  The nearly 3,000 congressional staff and lobbyists who participated in this study provided incredible insights and valuable outcomes measurement.

One question was designed to find out from congressional staff which lobbying tools influence members of Congress’ decision-making (just some of the 16 advocacy tools are listed below).

“In your opinion, how effective are each of the following lobbying activities in influencing or shaping members of congress’ decision-making on legislative issues?”

Lobbying Activities Very
Effective (4 & 5)
Not at all
effective (1 & 2)
Providing consistently
reliable information
87% 2.3%
Presenting a concise
85.2% 3.9%
Holding face-to-face
58.4% 10.9%
Making a pending vote an
organizational “KEY
VOTE” with
results to be
communicated to
29.2% 36.4%
Conducting opinion
17.7% 43.1%
Bringing in former
of congress
25% 38.1%
13.1% 57.7%

The tools are pretty straight forward.  Most interesting is that congressional staff ranked “providing consistently reliable information” and “presenting a concise argument” as their top choices.  This means that every American can influence the process provided they are able to meet these expectations.

Another “takeaway” is that these tools need to be “laddered” in their use and by the resources available.  Less effective advocacy tools include making a vote a “KEY VOTE,” using surveys or polls to affect outcomes, or leveraging former members to affect their former colleagues or staff.

Here’s one insight: Take a look at the advocacy tools you use.  Make an honest assessment of what works and what doesn’t.  Then, measure your assessment against this landmark research to see how it fares.  It will help you be even more effective.

Another question asked how congressional staff learns about policy issues.  This reveals to citizen advocates and professional lobbyists where hey need to go to ‘shape’ the conversation (just a few of the 19 areas asked about are below).

“How valuable are each of the following as ways for you to learn about policy issues?”

Ways to learn Valuable/Very
Valuable/Not at all Valuable
Congressional Research
Service (CRS)
85.8% 3.3%
Academic or issue
81.5% 4.3%
Blogs 51.3% 16.7%
Constituents 50.3% 19.6%
Internet Searches 50.3% 15.7%
Survey and poll results 26% 37.8%
Interest Group websites 22.9% 27.5%
Social media 12.2% 61.1%

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) and academic and issue experts were selected as two of the most valuable tools. Blogs, Constituents and Internet Searches fall into a second tier; Interest Group websites, and Survey and polls results are in the third tier.

Despite social media’s deep penetration into other parts of our society, it is not considered a valuable resource to inform policy at all by congressional staff.

Here’s one insight: As yourself and your team if you are connected with the CRS and do their researchers seek you out for data, empirical evidence or your unique perspective on an issue they are researching.  Frankly, I don’t think many of us in the advocacy business think much about CRS.  But we should since the data clearly indicates that congressional staffers find it highly valuable.

THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS REPORT answers many of the questions I have been asking for decades.  It’s a treasure-trove of data for those who want to be at the pinnacle of the advocacy field.


David Rehr, PhD, is the lead researcher for THE CONGRESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS REPORT and an Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University.  He is former CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.  He has been recognized as one of the most effective advocates in the nation’s capital.  He can be reached at or 202-510-2148. set to release report on landmark Congressional Communications Report

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Vbhotla

As the writer of both Lobbyblog and one of the authors of this report, I am extremely excited to announce that it is nearly complete and almost ready for sale. While I have gone out of my way to avoid mentioning all the work that has gone into this report the past few weeks, I want to share with LobbyBlog readers part of the release for the Report so that they can know about this landmark study., in partnership with the Original U.S. Congress Handbook, George Washington University School of Political Management, and research partner ORI, is set to release the landmark “Congressional Communications Report.”

The report is the result of one of the largest surveys ever completed of Congressional staff and the lobbying community. Of nearly 3,000 responses, more than 700 came directly from Congressional staff.
“We have been overwhelmed by the number of surveys we’ve gotten back. To get this kind of response from the Congressional community and lobbying industry is incredible” remarked Dr. David Rehr, one of the survey’s creators. “I’m unaware of any Hill survey that is even close to the kind of numbers we’ve been seeing.”

Also shocking is the disconnect the numbers reveal between lobbyists and staff. “Lobbyists with 10, 15, even 20 years of experience may no longer know how best to interact with this current group of Congressional staff. A lot of what they are doing and information they are putting out there is just getting lost in the shuffle. People who have been working in the industry for a long time will be play online pokies amazed, and maybe even disturbed, by the difference in lobbyists’ perception of what staff thinks verses reality.” Remarked Joel Poznansky, President of Columbia Books Inc., parent company of & The Original U.S. Congress Handbook.

The report covers with detailed charts and analysis:

· The best ways to contact members of Congress and their staffs

· How changes in Hill demographics that have shifted perspective – and what common practices can now be a waste of resources

· What factors determine who gets access to Members or Hill staff

· How staffers prefer to learn about issues

· What lobbying tactics get results

· Which Congressional staffers are engaged in social media – and why

· How to walk the fine line between information and information overload

· Surprising findings about how staffers view bias in today’s information age and how they weigh it

· How staffers interact with each other and with media during their work day

· What types of media staffers prefer to hear, read and see and the report’s sponsors are also holding a June 12th breakfast for the launch of the report. At the event an expert panel of lobbyists, researchers and Congressional staff, will break down the results and reveal groundbreaking news for an audience of industry insiders and lobbyists. Using the hard numbers in the report, strategies for how to best maximize lobbying time and money will be analyzed, discussed and dissected.

The Congressional Communications is currently available for pre-order at and will be published in June 2012. For more information on the expert panel breakfast in Washington DC on June 12, 2012 please visit

Presidential and Congressional Budget in the real world

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by Vbhotla

During the recent budget and upcoming Appropriations Committee hearing, a question has been floating around the Hill: has the budget process become irrelevant? There is certainly an argument to be made for it. This year’s Presidential budget was received by many as a political document that was never to be taken as a serious proposal that could ever have the chance of going somewhere. As for the Congressional Budget, aside from the fact that there hasn’t been one for some time, it is pretty much accepted that it as well would be dead on arrival. So without budget resolutions, what’s still important to know about the budget process?

To put it simply: a lot, though not necessarily for the reasons that are traditionally associated with the budget process. To illustrate, 2007 was the first time Congress passed a year-long quasi-continuing resolution (aka the ‘Cromibus’) since the 1980s. Because of the way it was written, the Executive Departments decided to exercise some funding latitude on programs based on the proposed Presidential budget. The Department of Indian Affairs, for example, temporarily withheld funding for some programs that had been zeroed out of the President’s budget, claiming Congress had not given orders to the contrary in their budget. Though eventually the funds were paid out, the damage had been done to some programs.

With the constant possibility (especially in an election year) of a Continuing Resolution, this year’s Presidential budget free electronic cigarettes deserves inspection, especially if your programs are part of the more than 200 that have been eliminated or cut. Here are few highlights to be aware of moving forward in the process:

– Health spending was cut across the board, but most notably the Center for Disease Control took a $664m cut, the largest of any discretionary health spending.

– Low Income Home Energy Assistance with HHS was cut by more than $450m.

– Department of Transportation Grants-in-Aid programs received a $926m cut.

– Of the almost $8 billion in total savings, $4 billion is expected to come from cuts to the Defense Department.

– Department of Treasury is expected to have a more than $240m cut, particularly its vehicle procurement.

With the upcoming funding sequestration, important funding decisions are going to be made in the next year and some programs are going to be left without chairs when the music stops. Even if your program saw a positive number in the budget, the programs that didn’t are going to try to get their money from somewhere. can get you prepared for the rest of this year and into the next Congress by showing you who is being hired by whom and let you know what you and your clients need to be watching out for. Additionally, register now to learn more about the budget process and practical tips and tricks you can use in the upcoming audioconference.

Who’s Afraid of American Crossroads?

Friday, October 8th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Like you didn’t see that one coming: a pair of campaign-finance watchdog groups have asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Crossroads GPS, a conservative nonprofit that is spending heavily (and when we say “spending heavily,” we mean it), to influence the midterm elections.

Karl Rove

If you watch the news, read Politico, or dig around the FEC site as a pastime (not us… ok maybe a few Friday nights has provided entertainment), you have heard about American Crossroads. Since its creation earlier this year, many in the media have cast shadows of doubt on the activities of the political grassroots organization.

So we decided to whip up a quick, fact-based rundown for those who aren’t clear on what American Crossroads is, think Crossroads GPS might be a global positional system, or are just excited by anything that comes out of the prolific mind of Karl Rove (you know who you are).

FACT 1: American Crossroads is not a cover for an underground mobster. It is actually organized as a 527 committee under the IRS tax code, has a DC office, and even a phone number that you can call on. And, being a 527 group, it’s actually within legal limits to collect unlimited contributions. While it remains to be seen if the FEC or IRS will crack down on it for abusing the law as alleged, on paper at least, it seems to be cautious and regularly filing its required documents within deadlines.

FACT 2: Crossroads GPS is not a space-based global positioning system. It is, however, an offshoot of American Crossroads, formed last June as a 501(c)(4). And because it has a 501 (c)(4) status, it does not have to disclose its donors. However, since a majority of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit’s activities must be apolitical, Crossroads is in the hot seat as yet another nonprofit allegedly operating as a lobbying outfit that doesn’t get to pay taxes.

FACT3: While Karl Rove is one of the founders of American Crossroads, he doesn’t actually run its daily operations. He’s more of an informal advisor, the fundraising brains, guru — you get the drift. A guy named Steven Law is the CEO (for those of you who don’t read your Wash Reps Weekly, Law is a former deputy secretary of labor in the Bush administration and was previously general counsel to the US Chamber of Commerce).

The FEC filings of American Crossroads show that between mid-August and early October, the organization had already filed 21 contribution notices, reporting massive media spending of almost $18 million. Just to give a rough idea of the nature of the contributions, they include media expenses to oppose the campaigns of Democrats Michael Bennett (Colo.) and Jack William Conway (Ky.), and to support Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), among others.

While one can argue against the wisdom of the FEC and IRS laws being too easy to manipulate, it can’t be denied that American Crossroads seems to have done its homework and done it well. If there’s a scandal in here, it’s definitely not flagrant and in-your-face a la Abramoff.

Revolving door financially benefits staffers

Monday, September 27th, 2010 by Vbhotla

A recent academic study on the financial benefits that lobbyists draw from the practice of the “revolving door,” found that “Lobbyists with experience in the office of a US Senator suffer a 24% drop in generated revenue when that Senator leaves office.” The study found that committee assignments and length of time in office (things which add up to “influence”) also increase revenue for ex-staffers turned lobbyists.

The researchers point out that “While there is no scarcity of anecdotal evidence, direct econometric evidence on the extent to which previous officials are able to convert political contacts into lobbying revenue remains, to the best of our knowledge, non-existent.” But the study purports to provide such evidence. The authors point out that “measured in terms of median revenues per ex-staffer turned lobbyist, this estimate indicates that the exit of a Senator leads to approximately a $177,000 per year fall in revenues for each affiliated lobbyist.”

Several recent articles have pointed out the lobbyist potential for Hill staffers with close connections to members who may be in positions of even greater power after November, such as Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, or Dave Camp, all Republicans who are in line for powerful House majority jobs should the chamber flip.

The researchers used several tools, including the Center for Responsive Politics’ database,, and The entire report is available at

Read more at the Lobby Blog:

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.

Burson-Marsteller Social Media Study

Monday, August 30th, 2010 by Vbhotla

I know this is a bit older (it was published almost a month ago!), but here’s an interesting report for your edification – Burson-Marsteller did a study on “Social Media Use By U.S.-Based Political Advocacy Groups.”

The report, downloadable on SlideShare, covers social media use and its effectiveness in partisan political advocacy groups, as well as non-partisan advocacy groups. Check out the slides below.

Pot Lobbying Not a Recent Phenomenon

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 by Vbhotla

So since Politico’s recently posted interview with ‘pot lobbyist’ Aaron Houston has been making the rounds, we thought we’d share what we know about lobbying for marijuana on the hill.

Pot lobbying: not just for your slacker ex-boyfriend

Pot lobbying is certainly not a recent phenomenon, although it has gained strength in recent times, given the departure of the Bush Administration and the relatively friendlier attitude of the current administration toward legalization. Libertarians also tend to support legalization, and those of the libertarian persuasion have come out the woodwork a bit with the ascendence of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), one of two top marijuana advocacy organizations in DC, registered to lobby back in 1999. The Marijuana Policy Project, Houston’s former employer and another leading group, registered in 2005. Based on registrations filed since then, MPP and NORML seem to be the only two registered lobbyists for marijuana laws (Aaron Houston’s current organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, has yet to register).

Both NORML and MPP are headquartered on the hill, operate PACs, and lobby on issues ranging from alcohol/drug abuse laws, to taxation and even banking. As every marijuana lobbyists will tell you these days, legalizing marijuana is not just about going easy on the DUI arrests anymore. It’s about the economy, dude (this will be our sole attempt at making a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure joke).

While one of MPP’s two PACs is an ‘unauthorized PAC’ (meaning it is not officially authorized by a candidate) and the other the Medical Marijuana PAC (total campaign contributions this year = $26,000), NORML’s total federal contributions in the last two quarters go up to $200,000. The PAC has consistently made campaign contributions since it launched its qualified non-party PAC in 2001.

Analyze This!

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Which lobbying firms are the most profitable?

Which firms are making the most income with the fewest number of lobbyists?

How do D.C.’s largest firms compare to the lesser known ones?

Find all these answers and more in’s first Factors of Influence Data Analysis. Our editorial team has reviewed statistics from over 2,900 lobbying firms and is now releasing the results of our findings. Check out the full report and decide for yourself which firms have the most sway on Capitol Hill.

And when you’re done, click on over to the newly updated Factors of Influence chart and figure out which changes are taking place in the lobbying community.

Fewer Clients Under the Influence

Friday, August 20th, 2010 by Vbhotla just made measuring the influence of thousands of lobbying firms easier with the release of a brand new Factors of Influence chart.  And when you’re done doing that, check out the archived versions to see how statistics have changed.

The current chart shows almost 600 more lobbying firms than the previous version. Collectively, these lobbying firms have added more than 1,000 lobbyists, but are representing fewer clients. Where have all of these changes occurred? See for yourself!

Free White Paper: 2nd Quarter Lobbying Reports Analysis

Thursday, August 5th, 2010 by Vbhotla

We have a new free white paper up at Download the PDF here.

Reviewing quarterly LDA reports is a good way to take the pulse of lobbying in the federal government and Congressional offices. This quarter, contentious political provisions including financial services reform, campaign finance reform, health care reform, and oil spill accountability, have all been issues of interest to lobbying entities. This report will look at several topics, including:

  • Top ten lobbying firms
  • A model lobbying firm: Patton Boggs
  • DISCLOSE lobbying
  • Oil spill lobbying
  • Disaster planning
  • Financial services & banking
  • Health
  • Lobbying by issue code

Sneak peek of one of our charts:

Lobbying on the oil spill:

Rank Client Amount
1 Shell Oil Company $           4,000,000.00
2 National Association of Realtors $           3,940,000.00
3 Chevron U.S.A. Inc. $           3,920,000.00
4 Exxon Mobil Corp. $           2,520,000.00
5 American Petroleum Corp. $           2,310,000.00
6 Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC $           1,950,000.00
7 Anadarko Petroleum Corporation $           1,220,000.00
8 Ace INA Holdings $           1,090,000.00
9 American Association for Justice $           1,000,000.00
10 Marathon Oil Corporation $               980,000.00

Source: Senate Office of Public Records

Facebook’s Lobbying Dollars Low

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Politico released a list of top spenders on lobbying among tech giants – and it is no surprise that Verizon, Comcast and AT&T make the top. What’s interesting is how low on the ladder Facebook falls. With just $60,000 spent in Quarter 2, (and only about $41,000 in Quarter 1) Facebook finished last on the list of biggest tech spenders.

One shouldn’t assume that’s because Facebook’s lobbying team is run by intern-types in torn jeans and flip-flops though —last year, it brought in Timothy Sparapani, a former senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, to beef up its lobbying effort being run by Adam Conner. Conner is no slouch himself, having worked for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) in the past. Ironically, Sparapani had been a fierce privacy advocate before joining Facebook, foregoing an account on the social networking site for himself until recently (funky shades, Tim).

While Facebook’s spending has almost doubled compared to previous quarters, it’s still low compared to other tech-lobbying companies considering there is a new Internet Privacy Bill in the works that’s sure to affect the company. But perhaps the deep resentment over the under-construction bill that’s already brewing among smaller players in online business is holding big fish like Facebook and Google back from a more conspicuous role. Perhaps they feel it’s wiser not to treat this one as their own solitary fight — and their spending figures sure seem to demonstrate that.

By The Way: Minting And Mining Are Not The Same Thing

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 by Vbhotla

We’re in the process of reviewing Second Quarter LDA filings (due yesterday!), and while preparing for an analysis of the issues that had the most filings, I discovered a typo in the drop-down “issue code” selection – the issue code “Minting/Money/Gold Standard” is misspelled “Mining/Money/Gold Standard” in the drop-down menu.

Be aware of this in the future – minting and mining are two very different issues. I would assume the “/Money/Gold Standard” portion of the issue code would tip off a filer, and most LDA filers are probably well aware of the codes. But it doesn’t hurt to do a quick review of all the codes before you make your filings, to ensure a good-faith effort at accuracy.

Source: Senate Office of Public Records

I did tip off the SOPR to this issue, as well, so this may be changed before you even need to worry about another filing. Happy preparing for the LD-203! (Isn’t July great?)