Lobbyist Campaign Contributions

This story about Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia) that ran on Big Government ran with an emphasis on the “heavy-handed” method with which Holmes Norton approached the unnamed lobbyist. But the bigger issue is that members of Congress are prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions in connection with official actions and duties.

Big Government points out that:

“More serious… is her frequent mention of her seniority and her Chairmanship of a subcommittee. She is attempting to solicit funds based on her past actions taken in her official capacity in Congress. She is implying to the lobbyist that, should he decline to donate, he will be turning down a senior member of Congress who Chairs a subcommittee highly relevant to his ‘sector’.”

Because Big Government did not release the name of the individual for whom Holmes Norton left this voicemail, it is impossible to state with conviction that Holmes Norton’s actions were directed toward a federally-registered lobbyist. (The lobbyist to whom the article’s authors are referring may be a “government relations” person, not registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act).

Some lobbyists simply decline to make any kind of political contributions at all, claiming this helps them to not only remain in compliance with the law, but also gives them leverage when members or staffers try to pressure them into contributions. You may want to follow suit.┬áIf you are a lobbyist and you are approached by a member of Congress (or a member’s staffer) for campaign funds or other types of solicitations, don’t walk, run, for several reasons.

First, as a lobbyist, it is your job to attempt to influence (on behalf of your clients), official action. There is no prohibition against such action; it is a Constitutionally-protected right to advocate for your chosen position.

Second, because your professional life is a series of attempts to influence official actions, any professional contact with members or staffers is probably in the context of influence.

Therefore, your professional actions and influence are closely connected. Your professional life is closely linked with your personal life, and making a campaign contribution to a member of Congress with whom you have daily/weekly/ monthly contact regarding official actions just looks bad.

In this situation, being above reproach with help you tremendously. It may not be against the law to contribute – and you should certainly feel free to do so if you believe that there is no harm in doing so, and your efforts are not connected to official actions. But it may help you enormously to consider stopping all direct political contributions while you remain a federally-registered lobbyist. A better course of action, if you feel that donations are something you want to do regardless, might be to donate to PACs unconnected to members, or to party committees.

Do note that members are strictly prohibited from soliciting gifts from lobbyists.

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