Office of Government Ethics Unveils New Proposals for Government Employees

September 20th, 2011 by Autumn

The Office of Government Ethics has announced proposed amendments to the current ethics guidelines applicable to federal employees.  A few of them actually relax what the government has been practicing for the past year, but overall, the proposed changes would put stricter limitations on some political activity.

American League of Lobbyists president Howard Marlowe says, “The proposed rule would prevent federal employees from having even casual social contact with registered lobbyists.  There is no evidence that the current overly-restrictive rules are being abused or are inadequate[, and t]he American League of Lobbyists strongly objects to this proposed rule. Unfortunately, it is another in a long series of moves by this Administration to reduce the mutual flow of information and expertise between lobbyists and friendly employees.”

Among those amendments:

- Excluding from the definition of registered lobbyist or lobbying organization the following types of organizations, even if these organizations are registered under the LDA: “nonprofit professional associations, scientific organizations, and learned societies.”

- Abolishing the requirement that an invitation to an event not come directly from a registered lobbyist. In other words, if the gift of the invitation comes from a 501(c)3, even if the organization is registered under LDA, the gift is allowed.

- Limiting the use of the gift exceptions for all government employees; formerly these applied to political appointees. No government employee would be able to use the following electronic cigarette comparison exceptions for gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying entities: the $20 de minimus exception, the widely attended gathering exception and the social invitation exception.

-The widely attended gathering exception applies to training and professional development activities; it should not apply to purely social events, such as gala dinners, fundraisers, parties, etc.

- Trade associations would be excluded from the list of organizations that can extend invitations to government employees to attend widely attended gatherings. In its reasoning, OGE states that, “Trade associations may sponsor educational activities for their members and even the public, but the primary concern of such associations generally is not the education and development of members of a profession or discipline, which is the focus of the proposed exclusion.”

- The proposed rules seem to allow attendance at such activities held by professional societies, though both trades and professional groups are organized under 501 (c)6 tax code.

- If the government employee is speaking at an association event, attendance in that instance is permitted, because a speaking engagement is not considered a gift.

The association community is also upset about the proposal, and some have referred to it as “a call to arms” for the business community.  ASAE has requested a meeting with OGE acting director and general counsel Dawn Fox to express concerns and gain clarity on the issue.

OGE is accepting comments through Nov. 14.

 

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Hoops for Hope Honors Late ALL Executive Director

September 15th, 2011 by Autumn

For the first time in several years, the lobbyists roundly defeated the members of Congress team in the Monday’s Hoops for Hope Foundation All-Star Classic basketball game.  The lobbyists handled the Members team, 48-35, for their first victory in several years, putting a stop to any talk of throwing this annual game.

But the fun charity event had a somber note this year, as the late executive director of the American League of Lobbyists was memorialized.  Patti Jo Baber (r) died of cancer in December. As the longtime ALL executive director, Baber “helped set [ALL] on the successful path that it’s on today,” and “she played a large role in helping so many kids the Foundation supports,” read a tribute poster displayed at the game in Baber’s honor.

The Classic raises money for underprivileged children in DC. At this year’s event, winners of the Kids Cover Contest for The Original US Congress Handbook were recognized, including overall winner Sasini Wiekramatunga, an eighth-grader from the DC area. Click here to see the winning entries. To preorder The Original Congress Handbook with the winning cover, go to www.uscongresshandbook.com; 15% of the profits from those preorders will go to the Hoops for Hope Foundation. Details: www.alldc.org.

 

Back to School Advocacy Review

September 14th, 2011 by Brittany

What is Advocacy?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, advocacy is: “the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.”

Under this definition, there are many types of advocacy, including:

  • Legal Advocacy:  Arguing on behalf of a client in the legal environment
  • Child Advocacy:  Making the case for children in a child-oriented venue, such as a school or in the context of child protective services
  • Patient Advocacy:  Helping individuals navigate through the increasing complex medical arena and safeguarding their rights
  • Casework / Social Welfare Advocacy:  Working with low-income or otherwise disadvantaged individuals to be sure they have the services they need
  • Corporate Advocacy:  Efforts by corporations to promote a specific cause or idea for the benefit of the general public (also related to the idea of “Corporate Social Responsibility”)

In each of these circumstances, one person or a group of people pleads or argues in favor of a particular cause, idea, or individual.  The difference between these types of advocacy candid pokies and advocacy in the policy arena are matters of topic, scale, and audience.

Advocacy in the policy arena can be defined along the following lines:

  • Topic:  Improvements to public policy or funding for public programs at the local, state or federal level
  • Scale:  Focused on benefits for a group of people as opposed to an individual
  • Audience:  Primarily targeted at policy makers at the local, state or federal level.  Secondary targets may include opinion leaders, business interests and citizens in an effort to elicit change with relevant policy-makers.

In addition, the use of the term advocacy refers specifically to advocacy that is done by non-professionals as opposed to the “direct lobbying” done by government relations professionals across the country.  A fourth area of differentiation, therefore, would be:

  • Advocate:  An individual, such as an association member, company employee or citizen, who pleads the public policy case to a policy maker, often in concert with a larger organization.

 

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Members of Congress See Value in Lobbying Expertise

September 13th, 2011 by Autumn

A new study by Legistorm reports that 605 current congressional staff have been lobbyists in the last 10 years.  The study goes on to say that this number adds to the list of over 5,400 former lobbyists who have gone on to serve as congressional staff members in the last decade.  In 2011, 155 former lobbyists have returned to Capitol Hill as staffers, which “puts this year on pace to be second only to 2007 [which saw 206 lobbyists employed by Congress], when Democrats won not only the House but the Senate too,” in terms of number of lobbyists working as staff.  Of those lobbyists taking Hill jobs after last year’s wave election, an 8:1 majority were Republicans enjoying their party’s switch to power.

Additionally, 393 current and former members of Congress in the last decade were lobbyists or foreign agents, and 388 congressional aides have made the trip through the revolving door from Capitol Hill to lobbying for the first time this year,” leveraging their Hill expertise for other professional endeavors.

This report finds more lobbyists and staffers have used the revolving door than was found in previous studies, underscoring the fact that Congress and K Streeters alike agree that the expertise and contacts one can attain on either side of the revolving door are invaluable, as each side works with the other Buy Viagra to further the national agenda.

The rules on revolving door employment are as follows:

  • House Members and very senior staff (those paid 75% of the Member salary for any 60 day period during the previous 12 months) cannot negotiate post-congressional employment unless they disclose the communications.  However, there is a distinction made in the House ethics guidance between “negotiations” and “preliminary or exploratory discussions.”
  • A former House Member, Elected Officer of the House, Very senior staffer — either in personal, committee, leadership, or other legislative office– may not lobby any member or employee of Congress on any business for one year after leaving the Hill.  Assisting any foreign government official in contacting a U.S. government official is also not permitted.  There are no prohibitions for non-senior staff.
  • Senators may not engage in discussions or negotiations for post-Senate employment as a lobbyist until after their successor has been elected, and are subject to a two year (versus one year) prohibition on lobbying the entire Congress (including Members, officers or employees of Congress).
  • Very senior Senate staff (those paid 75% of a Member’s salary), elected officers, and non-senior staff are prohibited from lobbying any Member, officer, or Senate employee for one year.  They are also prohibited from assisting any foreign professional.
  • Recusal is expected in legislative matters that might present a conflict of interest with prospective employers.

Back to School Lobbying Registration

September 7th, 2011 by Brittany

There are multiple factors – all of which must be present – in order for an individual to trigger registration as a lobbyist. In the case of a lobbyist or entity reporting income from lobbying activities, once the triggers are met by one individual in the firm (if more than one employee in the firm), the lobbyist or firm must register within 45 days of the first lobbying contact.

RULE:  Generally, to trigger registration, an individual

1.)   must spend  20% of his/her time for a particular client during a quarterly period engaged in lobbying activities for that client

2.)   make more than one lobbying contact to a covered executive or legislative branch official, and

3.)   receive lobbying activity income of $3,000 or more during that quarter

 

Twenty Percent of Time Engaged in Lobbying Activities for the Client

An individual must spend 20% of his/her time engaged in lobbying activities for a particular client in order to meet the necessary time thresholds for registration as a lobbyist.   This does not mean that an individual must spend 20% of his/her total time in a quarter engaged in lobbying activities for that particular client. Rather, it is measured in terms of the time spent by the lobbyist for the specific client

“Lobbying activities” are defined as “lobbying contacts and any efforts in support of such contacts, including preparation or planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time of its preparation, for use in contacts and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.”

Lobbying Contact to a Covered Executive or Legislative Branch Official

A lobbying contact is any contact with a “covered executive or legislative branch official” as that term is defined in the LDA. 

Covered executive branch officials are:

1.  The President

2.  The Vice President

3.  Officers and employees of the Executive Office of the President

4.  Any official serving in an Executive Level I-V position

5.  Any member of the uniformed services serving at grade 0-7 or above

6.  “Schedule C” Employees

Covered legislative branch officials are:

7.  a Member of Congress

8.  an elected officer of either the House or the Senate

9.  an employee, or any other individual functioning in the capacity of an employee who works for a Member, committee, leadership staff of either the Senate or House, a joint committee of Congress, a working group or caucus organized to provide services to Members, and

10. any other legislative branch employee who, for at least 60 days, occupies a position for which the rate of basic pay is equal to or greater than 120 percent of the minimum rate of basic pay payable for GS-15 of the General Schedule

Communications with any of the persons serving in the jobs listed above are most likely “lobbying contacts” unless the communications are specifically exempt from that definition. 

Income of $3,000 or More During a Quarter 

It is very important to remember that a lobbyist is someone who is compensated by a client to engage in “lobbying activities” and make “lobbying contacts.” HLOGA reduced the calculations for determining compensation from $5,000 during a six-month period under the old law to $2,500 during a three-month period, effective January 1, 2008. An adjustment made in accordance with the Consumer Price Index increased this threshold to $3,000 as of January 1, 2009.

How is the $3,000 calculated in most circumstances? If a client retains a lobbyist and agrees to pay an amount equal to $3,000 over a three-month period, then that is sufficient to meet the monetary test.

Recess District Lobby Days, Site Visits, Townhalls

August 10th, 2011 by Brittany

It’s recess time for Congress, but while “recess” sounds like fun and games, these times are district work periods for congressional members. Congress will be in recess for the month of August, and advocates can be involved in several types of activities to connect with their elected officials while they are home.

District-Based Lobby Days / Weeks

What is it?

Under this approach, advocate leaders work with advocates to coordinate meetings with policymakers in their own district offices.  An organization might, for example, ask members of the advocate network to set up meetings with relevant members of the U.S. House when those members are in their legislative district during a district work period.

Why is it useful?

District lobby day / week events can be a great way to connect advocate network members with their policymakers, but without extensive travel expenses.  Meeting with policymakers while they are home also further strengthens the message about the impact of state or federal level policy issues on the home district. 

When should it be used?

As with traditional lobby days, any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating a district lobby event, either individually or in concert with a coalition partner.  Lobbying events are most successful, however, when the organization has a specific policy agenda and core ask.  Advocate leaders should work to coordinate the timing of the event with key legislative initiatives as well as other advocacy activities.  For example, holding a district lobbying event during the work period directly after a national lobby day can serve to reinforce messages that were delivered in conjunction with the national event.

Site Visits

What is it?

A “site visit” is an in-person visit by a policymaker or member of his or her staff to facilities, groups and individuals in their district or state.  These might include visits to:

  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Business headquarter offices to meet with key personnel
  • Hospitals, school, libraries, recreation centers or other community service providers
  • Local chapter meetings of interest groups
  • Special events held by local groups

In essence, a site visit occurs whenever a policymaker or staff person goes to see something or meet someone in the district.  These are different from district lobby events only in that the policymaker generally goes to see the advocate, as opposed to the other way around.

Why is it useful?

These visits help policymakers connect what sometimes seem like esoteric policy issues to the needs and concerns of individuals in their districts or states.  When conducted properly, site visits help “bring the issue alive” for the policymaker.

When should it be used?

Any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating some type of site visit program.  Those organizations with a network that already has some experience with other advocacy techniques, such as lobby days or written campaigns, may have more success.  This is because arranging a site visit often takes a bit more time and commitment on the part of the advocate.

Townhall Meetings

What is it?

Policymakers often arrange what are called “townhall” or “community” meetings to hear from people in their districts and states.  They generally occur when the legislators are at home, such as during the district work periods of the U.S. Congress, although “telephone townhalls” (see notes below) are gaining in popularity.  The meetings may be scheduled to address specific topics, such as economic issues or a local concern, or they may simply be arranged as general “listening sessions.”

Why is it useful?

Townhall or community meetings are generally pretty sparsely attended.  Those advocates who do attend can often get some one-on-one face time with both the policymaker and key staff people.  This face-to-face connection serves to build a strong relationship with the policymaker and delivers the message that the advocate really cares about the issues.  Attending a townhall meeting is a relatively easy way for an advocate to raise the profile of an issue and make the connections necessary to achieve change.

When should it be used?

Any organization with a core of committed advocates can benefit from coordinating some type of townhall attendance program.  The commitment on the part of the advocate can range from simply attending (either in-person or through a telephone event), to connecting briefly with the policymaker and staff before or after the event, to raising an issue publicly.  It should be noted, however, that a public townhall meeting may not be the best venue to raise new or controversial issues.  Advocate leaders should provide detailed instructions and talking points to ensure that messages are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible.  In some cases, this may mean talking directly to the staff as opposed to raising the issue with others.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Freshman Senators Start Tea Party-Leaning Leadership PACs

August 8th, 2011 by Autumn

Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) filed paperwork to create Reclaim America PAC, but the PAC does not yet have a website, and representatives have declined to comment to the press.  The PAC will benefit like-minded candidates as the 2012 election season gets underway, and is projected to position Rubio for the national stage.  Rubio is the second freshman Tea Party senator to establish a leadership PAC this year.  Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) founded the Constitutional Conservatives Fund,  “dedicated to the cause of finding, funding, and supporting conservative candidates who are committed to the cause of restoring constitutionally limited government,” according to its website.

Sens electronic cigarette sales. Lee and Rubio join Sens. Rand Paul (R- Ky.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in creating PACs to help further the Tea Party agenda.

According to the FEC definition, a Leadership PAC is “a political committee that is directly or indirectly established, financed, maintained or controlled by a candidate or an individual holding federal office, but is not an authorized committee of the candidate or officeholder and is not affiliated with an authorized committee of a candidate or officeholder (so is not campaigning on behalf of that person’s election).”  Individuals, including lobbyists, can still contribute up to $5,000 per year to federal PACs.

 

 

Travel Rules

August 3rd, 2011 by Brittany

It’s the summer recess for Congress, and while many are returning to their districts, they may also be traveling elsewhere for meetings. It is important for lobbyists and organizations to know what is permissible so that they do not inadvertently pay for impermissible travel. The following list shows different groups, the travel that may be paid for, and the actions that those organizations must take to get travel sponsorship approved.

Source of Payment: Lobbyist, Lobbying Firm

Payment of Travel Permitted: None.  Zilch.  Zero. Never…

Exceptions: …unless an individual lobbyist is also:

  • A relative
  • A personal friend
  • A significant other (Senate)

Source of Payment: Organizations, associations, corporations, labor unions or other entities employing or retaining a lobbyist to lobby only for the organization’s interests

Payment of Travel Permitted:

  • One-day attendance at conference or meeting; pre-approval required
  • Second day possible if approved
  • Local transportation (including in Washington, D.C.) for “widely attended event”
  • Local transportation attendant to site visit

Exceptions/Requirements:

  • Submit for pre-approval (14 days in advance for the House; 30 days in advance for the Senate)
  • Must have pre-approval in order to pay for travel
  • Local transportation for site visit or widely attended event does not require pre-approval on the travel forms

Source of Payment: Organizations, associations, corporations, labor unions or other entities not employing or retaining a lobbyist or lobbying firm

Payment of Travel Permitted:

Senate:

  • Three-day domestic trip
  • Seven-day foreign trip
  • No lobbyist participation allowed

House:

Exceptions/Requirements:

For House and Senate:

  • Submit for pre-approval (14 days in advance for House; 30 days in advance for Senate)
  • Must have pre-approval in order to pay for travel
  • Maximum stay extended for extraordinary reason only
    • Extension of trip at personal expense of Member/staffer must be approved by ethics

Source of Payment: Private higher education institutions (even those employing or retaining lobbyists)

Payment of Travel Permitted:

Senate:

  • Three-day domestic trip
  • Seven-day foreign trip
  • No lobbyist participation allowed

House:

  • Four-day continental United States (Four 24-hour periods)
  • Seven-day trip outside continental United States (Seven 24-hour periods)
  • Lobbyist may accompany Member/staffer

Exceptions/Requirements:

For House and Senate:

  • Submit for pre-approval (14 days in advance for House; 30 days in advance for Senate)
  • Must have pre-approval in order to pay for travel
  • Maximum stay extended for extraordinary reason only
  • Extension of trip at personal expense of Member/staffer must be approved by ethics committee

Source of Payment: 501(c)(3) charitable and educational organizations including those employing or retaining lobbyists

Payment of Travel Permitted:

Senate only:

  • Three-day domestic trip
  • Seven-day foreign trip
  • No lobbyist participation allowed

NOTE: House treats 501(c)(3) charitable and educational organization same as other entities, except for private universities

Requirements/Exceptions:

  • Submit for pre-approval 30 days in advance
  • Must have pre-approval in order to pay for travel
  • Maximum stay extended for extraordinary reason only
  • Extension of trip at personal expense of Member/staffer must be approved by ethics committee

For more information or to purchase the Lobbying Compliance Handbook click here.

Can FARA Registration Preempt Espionage Charges?

July 28th, 2011 by Autumn

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai was accused last week of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and was arrested for working to influence Congress and develop White House and State Department contacts on behalf of the Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence.  Had he not also been accused of hiding millions of dollars for his illegal lobbying, he may have been able to avoid arrest by registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The Act, which is housed under the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section, was intended to counter German propaganda agents in 1938.  It respects freedom of speech, and simply requires disclosure of “any person who acts…at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a foreign principal,” which is defined as being any foreign government or political party, or person outside the U.S., or an entity organized outside the U.S.

There is no doubt that his activities constituted “political activity” under the FARA definitions; the Act defines “political activity” as “[A]ny activity that the person engaging in believes will, or that the person intends to, in any way influence any agency or official of the Government of the United States or any section of the public within the United States with reference to formulating, adopting, or changing the domestic or foreign policies of the United States or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party.”

Indeed, it is not illegal for foreign governments to contract lobbyists in the U.S. (Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai is an American citizen) to petition their interests.  And the Inter-Services Intelligent unit for which he was accused of spying is cooperative with the US on some issues, including terrorism.  The arrest could have been avoided with a simple registration and better accounting practices.

Facebook #1 in Congress

July 27th, 2011 by Autumn

According to a recent study by the Congressional Management Foundation, nearly three out of every four staffers surveyed say social media allows Members to reach people they had not previously communicated with, and over half (55%) believe that the benefits of social media outweigh the risks, both indicative of a sweeping trend on the Hill.  As such, “[m]ost members of Congress have thoroughly integrated social media into their communications operations, and are using new media tools to gauge public opinion, communicate with constituents, and reach new people.”

A new study by the Congressional Management Foundation found congressional staff say Facebook is most effective social network for connecting with constituents.

Of these social media platforms, Members and staffers look to Facebook as the preferred method of connecting with constituents online.  With 74% of those surveyed saying Facebook is somewhat or very important for communicating Members’ views, the social network has a slight edge over YouTube (72%), which has been popular as video becomes an increasingly prevalent forum for disseminating messages.  Just over half of respondents (51%) say Twitter is somewhat or very important for the same purpose.

While offices seem to value all three networks for getting their own messages out, the impact of social media on the Members’ ability to gauge the needs of those they represent is lessened.  When asked about the importance of the online tools to helping Members understand constituents’ opinions, 64% say Facebook is somewhat or very important to this task, 42% say the same about Twitter, and only 34% feel YouTube is an important tool to collect constituent beliefs.

District visits, individual communications, and other more tangible forms of communication are still preferred, the report says, but “it is clear that congressional offices are taking Members’ Facebook friends seriously.”

Bradford Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, told USA Today that social media tools are more prevalent and have been more readily adopted by members of this Congress than email or fax communications.

“These technologies are starting to change how Congress communicates with their constituents and is allowing members to reach citizens who otherwise might not engage in democratic dialogue,” he told USA Today.

There is, however, still a generational divide over the topic of social media in Congress: two-thirds of staffers under 30 say engaging on social media is worth the offices’ time, compared with only one third of those 51 and older.

Young Lobbyists Give Back by Building Home in Northeast D.C.

July 26th, 2011 by Brittany

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Saturday, July 23, 20 members of the Young Lobbyists Network (YLN), a subgroup of the American League of Lobbyists (ALL), grabbed hammers and nails and helped to build homes in Northeast Washington, D.C.  In addition to giving their time, these energetic volunteers also raised more than $1,880 for Habitat for Humanity.

YLN is committed not only to providing networking opportunities and professional development for government relations professionals, but it is also dedicated to bettering the community in which we live.

“Saturday’s YLN Day of Service was an amazing experience,” noted Dakotah Smith, Government Affairs Representative for Bayer MaterialScience LLC and a Habitat for Humanity participant. “Habitat for Humanity is a great organization, and it was very rewarding to have the opportunity to contribute to the hard work that they are doing every day here in the District. As young lobbyists, we are all invested in our community, and this was a great way for us to give back.”

This YLN Day of Service is another example of ALL’s commitment to community involvement.  Since professional lobbyists represent the unusual pokies and puffies galleries full spectrum of interests within every town and city in the nation, ALL will continue to be involved with those in need of a home, clothing, tutoring help, and mentoring that shows young men and women that they have real options in choosing a productive career over a life with little future.  “The future of our profession is in great hands with this kind of attitude,” said ALL President Howard Marlowe.  “Our Young Lobbyists Network is more active this year than ever before, and really raised the bar with this event.  It is encouraging to see the enthusiasm and commitment they have for ethical advocacy as well as for their community.”

###

The Young Lobbyists Network is a group of lobbyists and government relations professionals who are dedicated to professional development, peer-to-peer networking opportunities, and charitable activities throughout the National Capital Region. The YLN is part of the American League of Lobbyists, which has represented the lobbying profession for over 30 years.

On the web:  www.alldc.org

Photos of the YLN Habitat for Humanity project are available upon request.

Summer Camp Training Advocates

July 13th, 2011 by Brittany

When training advocates, it is important to bear in mind that these individuals do not need the same level of policy or process expertise as a professional lobbyist.  In most cases, advocates will not be determining strategy, negotiating delicate matters of legislative language or counting votes.  As such, much of the basic information about “how a bill becomes a law” or the section-by-section ins-and-outs of a particular policy issue will be of little relevance.  Yet, many advocacy training courses focus on legislative process and procedure as a means to introduce advocates to government.  Unfortunately, this approach sometimes leaves advocates feeling overwhelmed and under-motivated.

To avoid this situation, advocate leaders should focus on the following key elements in their training curriculum and avoid long discussions about bicameralism, the subcommittee process or how the appropriation level of Program X has changed over the last 20 years.  These more minute details of legislative process and policy can certainly be addressed in advanced courses for those advocates interested in more information, but should not form the core of a basic course.

  • Why citizen voices matter:  Many individuals simply do not believe that their voice matters, in part because they do not fully recognize why an elected official or staff person might pay more attention to them than to anyone else.  Citizen advocates need to understand that most elected officials and their staff are eager and excited to meet with real, live constituents and will respond more readily to their requests than those of non-constituents.
  • A corollary – what influences elected officials:  Most participants in a training session will immediately answer this question with one word: “money.”  Advocate leaders should make clear that policymakers are influenced by a variety of factors, including their own principles and passions, their friends, family and staff, their play pokies free online party leadership and, most important, their constituents.
  • The importance of asking for something specific:  Having a vague or even positive conversation is ultimately far less useful than asking a policymaker to take a specific action, whether it is to support a piece of legislation or visit a facility in the legislator’s district.  Advocate leaders should help participants understand and practice the key policy asks as well as other “easier” asks (such as site visits and public statements) that will both capture a policymaker’s interest and support.
  • Understanding the audience and framing the message:  Advocates should have both a macro- and micro-level understanding of the audience with whom they are communicating.
  • Effective messages from advocates:  Advocates should recognize that their job is to make sometimes esoteric policy issues real for the policymaker.  They can achieve this goal by telling a personal story.  Hence, any advocacy training session should include opportunities for participants to develop their own compelling stories.
  • The importance of following up:  Most advocates do not follow-up on their communications with policymakers — and then wonder why their representatives don’t do what they were asked to do.  Advocate leaders should impress upon network members the context in which decisions are made in the legislature, pointing out that initial requests for action may not be followed up on.
  • Working with staff:  Most state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, along with their related executive branch agencies, utilize staff people to assist policymakers.  Advocates should understand that staff people are critical to the process of effective policymaking.  In too many cases, advocates are disappointed to meet or work with “just the staff.”  Instead, staff should be viewed as critical components of the policymaking process.

For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.

Social Media Advocacy: Get with it or get left behind

July 11th, 2011 by Autumn

There are conflicting viewpoints on the role of social media in political advocacy: dissenters believe that social media promotes “slacktivism,” and that those who claim to be engaged are actually less informed, merely voicing unfounded opinions because they have a forum on which to do it.  Others argue that social media opens the public up to more information, promotes democracy, and encourages political action among users who are already socially and politically engaged.

Whatever your viewpoint, one thing is sure: from Capitol Hill to the White House, elected officials are turning to social media as a way to cut costs, increase access, promote their platforms, or just meet the public where they’re already playing to solicit political donations.  President Obama’s Twitter town hall last week — the first, but surely not last of its kind — saw a number of lobbyists getting in on the conversation.  From the Chamber of Commerce to health groups, a large number of organizations used the #AskObama hashtag to make a point, ask online blackjack that uses checks questions, and generally interact.  And whether the questions were directly addressed by the president or not, the messages were seen by his staff and others using the hashtag, making this communication vehicle more effective than simply sending a letter.

Roll Call‘s Kate Ackerly reports, “Obama mostly took questions from individuals, not the lobbying groups, but he did have a message for well-heeled interests. ‘The debt ceiling is not something that should be used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners or oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars,’ he said.”

Whether it’s the president’s Twitter town hall, a Member’s being urged to cosponsor a bill thanks to redundant Facebook posts, the Obama Administration’s “white board” issue videos, Congress’ use of Skype and other video messaging services to allow virtual constituent meetings, social media is changing the way legislators legislate.  Be a part of the (digital) conversation or be deemed irrelevant.

Skype, Oovoo given green light in Congress

July 6th, 2011 by Autumn

In an effort to “help enhance constituent communications,” the U.S. House of Representatives is authorizing the use of video chatting software Skype and Oovoo for Members and staff.  The sites, which were previously blocked as cybersecurity risks, are now permissible, following special licensing agreements designed especially to ensure that House rules are upheld and privacy and security are ensured.

From Skype’s “The Big Blog”:

Photo credit: AP/Getty images

“Skype’s engineers worked closely with the Congressional network security team to ensure that Skype is used safely for official business… In addition, Members of Congress and their staff Pokies can personally configure important privacy settings to provide the highest level of security available on Skype… We look forward to working with the U.S. Senate, as well as other government agencies and lawmakers around the globe to facilitate the use of Skype and other broadband-enabled applications. Skype will open up new channels of communication between government officials and the people they represent, and potentially help reduce costs, increase transparency, and improve communications, which is something I think we all agree is a good thing.”

Among Skype’s most vocal congressional supporters over the past year is GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

 

What to Report on the LD-203

July 6th, 2011 by Brittany

The single most significant change in HLOGA is the semi-annual filing of what is referred to as the “contributions reports.” The LD-203 is required to be filed individually by every registered lobbyist, as well as organizations that employ lobbyists, in addition to each registrant’s LD-1 and LD-2 reports. 

The LD-203 is known as the “Semi-Annual Report of Contributions” and is filed according to the following calendar.

Reporting Period                                                                             Filing Date

Jan. 1 through June 30                                                                   July 30

July 1 through Dec. 31                                                                    Jan. 30

The report is filed electronically and every lobbyist must obtain his/her own separate filing password from the Senate. Do not wait until the week or day before the report is due to obtain the electronic password for any newly registered lobbyist employee. It takes several days to obtain a password for the mandatory electronic filing. Obtain all required passwords – for both the registrant and all lobbyist employees – well before the report is due to be filed.

There are three primary provisions of the LD-203:

  • Certification of compliance with the House and Senate Ethics Rules related to gifts and travel
  • Disclosure of certain political contributions
    • PAC contributions to candidates, leadership PACs and national party committees ($200 or more)
    • Contributions to presidential libraries ($200 or more)
    • Contributions to inaugural committees ($200 or more)
    • Disclosure of certain payments and disbursements
  • Contributions of any amount to events and entities involving covered executive or legislative branch officials Pokies

Guidance from the House and Senate Regarding Costs and Payments Subject to LD-203 Reporting

The official guidance to the LDA reporting was amended on July 16, 2008 and substantially narrowed the payments and contributions subject to reporting on the LD-203.

The key points of the guidance include:

  1. A speaking role by a covered official does NOT trigger disclosure.
  2. A contribution to another organization which honors a covered official does not necessarily trigger reporting on the LD-203 (but could under certain circumstances).
  3. A separate segregated fund PAC established and controlled by a lobbying registrant must be disclosed on the registrant’s LD-203. If a registered lobbyist serves on the board or as treasurer of a PAC that is a separate segregated fund, then he/she must disclose ONLY that role on his/her individual LD-203, and only the connected organization registrant (the firm, the association or the company) must disclose the PAC contributions of $200 or more to federal candidates, leadership PACs and federally registered political party committees.

However, for non-connected PACs (associated with partnerships such as law firms and lobbying firms that are organized as partnerships), not only must the firm report all the contributions from the PAC, but also any lobbyist who serves on the non-connected PAC board or who directs the contributions from the non-connected PAC must report the contributions on his/her individual LD-203 report.

For more information or to purchase the Lobbying Compliance Handbook click here.