State of the Union

January 25th, 2012 by Vbhotla

Every time I watch the State of the Union address, I always wish I was a more optimistic person. I remember being genuinely excited when President Clinton used the line (not very original) “the state of our union is STRONG” in 1998. I have always believed, whether a Democrat or Republican is speaking, that the State of the Union address should be used to inspire and present the ideas that we should aspire to. Basically, I think the perfect State of the Union should make me want to sing out a certain “Team America” song whose name I can’t print here. Last night, while listening to President Obama, I kinda, sorta felt that way.

And I don’t mean that in a partisan way. Like most of the people now on the outside looking in, I’ve always believed that for President Obama to maximize his potential in office, he needs to be more combative. Even when I disagree, I’d rather he or the Republicans in Congress take a bigger chance; it isn’t like either side’s poll numbers are that great now. At the moment, it feels like I am watching a football game where both sides are so scared of turning the ball over they punt every 1st down.

What’s more sickening is the idea that we need a rebuttal response from the opposition. The idea that it is even needed in the first place just rings of two kids going “No, you’re wrong!” Can’t we put aside partisan bickering for one night and let the President, whichever party they are from, have the limelight? Even when President Obama said something that traditionally is “right of center” he couldn’t catch a break. I really don’t know why you’d even want to respond. It seems like the better political strategy is to just let it go, not seem contrarian, and move on to the next thing. Also, because it airs right after the State, there is no way for them to truly prepare online casino poker to “respond” to whatever the President actually says.

Why do I say that? Because the rebuttal is just another chance to make a mistake when you don’t have to. Michelle Bachmann’s ‘tea party’ response last year was a great example of this. Also, despite popular opinion, it isn’t like it really makes a difference in the polls. The historic “bump” that people believe the State of the Union gives the incumbent (especially during an election year) is minimum, if at all. Gallup did a great break down in 2010. (Already two years ago!)The biggest bump since the ‘70s came from that ’98 Address, though granted it was the first time in most people’s lives they were hearing or remembering the President announcing a balanced budget.

One last thought. Legislatively, it seems like the big issue the President pushes for each State of the Union has just around a 50/50 shot of working out well. Just ask President Bush about Social Security. Even when it does work, like Obama’s health care plan, it can seem like a Pyrrhic victory. I think it is just hopeful thinking that in the Halls of Congress we’d all have a “come to the light” moment where everyone goes “Oooooohhhhhh, that’s what we should be doing! OK”.

While President Kennedy didn’t declare we would end up on the moon in his State of the Union Address (I’m cheating here because it was still a joint session when he did it) that is what I believe the Address should be about. It is supposed to be a night where we come together and say “ok, this is where we are as a country.” Now we can’t even agree what our problems are, much less the solutions. As an American, I want to hear the unbridled and hopeful optimism regardless of the “political lean” of the idea. For me, the State of the Union has always been about defining the impossible: and how we will turn it into possible.

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Grassroots lobbying and SOPA/PIPA

January 20th, 2012 by Vbhotla

In the 1980s the National Rifle Association pulled off one of the great lobbying/advocacy moves that is still remembered to this day. In an effort to defeat Congressional action, the NRA was able to organize over a quarter of a million calls and letters to Congressional offices within a 48 hour period. And this was during the 1980s! Before the Internet, before email, even fax for the most part! Since they proved their ability to organize members and generate interest, they have rarely had to do so again on such a mass scale. While there is debate as to whether they are still capable of organizing the required numbers of constituents to affect legislation, few offices in swing districts want to call their semi-bluff. Since it happened once, it can happen again. This week Congress saw the 2012 version of that NRA plan, and moving forward there are going to be some important lessons to be learned about grassroots advocacy and organization structure.

First, grassroots, like most legislative activity, can be divided into defensive (for example: trying to organize to prevent Congressional action) and offensive (trying to make changes to the current situation that will require some kind of active action). Offensive action is more technically complicated, since everyone needs to be on the same page, asking for the same thing, giving the same reason why it needs to happen, etc., but has the advantage of usually choosing the time it is required. This allows thing to be planned out and, more importantly, gives the upper tiers of the organization time to mobilize their members. Therein lays the weakness of most defensive grassroots organizational efforts: you don’t get to choose the time they are required.

The dirty little secret to real grassroots political power isn’t the number of members your organization actually has, but what you can do with those members and whether those members can be used at critical legislative times. If you have 10 million members that aren’t actually going to demi moore pokies do anything and can’t be mobilized, then they really aren’t going to make a difference in your legislative agenda when you need them. The number helps you get into meetings or maybe access to more resources, but when it comes down to generating letters or votes then the cat is out of the bag and the group can lose one of their main legislative tools.

However, a smaller group with a good top-down structure that can generate calls, letters, and e-mails, hold town hall meetings, contact other constituents, etc., in a timely basis can be much, much more effective. The question has always been how do you find a balance between an organization large enough to make a difference, but nimble enough to come together quickly, when needed?

This past week might answer that question. The opposition to the Senate’s Protect IP Act was able to passively organize a defensive grassroots movement. People go to Wikipedia on a daily basis, and when it blacks-out, they then want to know why. All Wikipedia had to do is shut down and post some info on what they want to be done, the site’s users do the rest. Google didn’t even have to shut down to generate interest and action; they just needed to black-out the site’s name. Most of the sites didn’t really provide facts or briefings for their users, just the message “Protect IP Act = BAD”. When people contacted their Congressional offices, they often didn’t have the correct facts on the phone or e-mail, but they were able to register their opinion with the legislation.

By shutting down, Wikipedia and others fulfilled the dream of every grassroots organization: they activated their members, and changed legislative policy. While black-outs aren’t a long-term legislative strategy, like the NRA they only need to be done once and then everyone knows that you can. Maybe the real lesson moving forward is the best way to organize your grassroots is to not go to work the next day.

Legislative Strategy: Co-Sponsorship Solicitation

January 18th, 2012 by Vbhotla

A common mistake is to overvalue the recent past.  It is easy to look at the last action or series of actions, and say that was the cause of success or failure for a given issue, when in fact the seeds may have been planted long before the legislation is ever actually introduced.  As a result, the planning that was put into the introduction of legislation is rarely re-evaluated since it happened at the beginning of the process.  One of the aspects of that planning that is often over-looked is the process of gathering co-sponsorships and that a genuine strategy needs to be developed, rather than just trying to get as many as possible as fast as possible.  Because most issues aren’t going to lead the 6:00 news or become the point of major partisan policy, what determines their success or failure is the plan that is put in place at the beginning.  To avoid getting bogged down, buried in a committee schedule, or become part of the partisan debate, a plan needs to be in place from the beginning that keeps these factors in mind when soliciting co-sponsors for your topic.

First, figure out where you are, where you actually need to go legislatively, and how many co-sponsors you need to get there.  From that number, set your goal for 10 more offices than you need as your minimum in the House, 5 in the Senate.  Throughout the year members that support you are going to retire, resign, etc., and you want to make sure you have enough lee-way to still pass your issue. Knowing from the start how broadly you need to craft your legislation to reach your goal will make life easier down the road and give you guidelines for all the co-sponsor decisions you will be making.  If you make a deal that gets you one co-sponsor at the cost of not getting two down the road, it only makes sense if you are at or near your goal and not at the very beginning of the process.  Sticking with a goal will keep you from mortgaging the future for the short-term, a more temping thought in the heat of the moment that people expect.  It is an extremely dangerous game to start adding or subtracting things after introduction to get more co-sponsors and still keep the ones already on it happy.  REMEMBER: you don’t need everyone!  You just need enough to win and no one piece of legislation is ever going to make everyone happy.

Alright, so we have a number, how do we get to it?  Getting co-sponsors is a lot like throwing a party.  You’re going to want to make sure that everyone you want comes and, most importantly, you aren’t stuck with a bunch of pizzas by yourself at the end of the night. Therefore your first goal is going to be to introduce the bill with as large a number of initial co-sponsors as possible.  In every Congress thousands of bills are introduced, sent to committee, and die.  The initial co-sponsor offering and constant follow-ups are what is going to separate your legislation from those other dead pieces of legislation.

To do this, you’re going to have to consider the order in which to solicit co-sponsors.  First, who are the friends of your issue and of the legislation’s sponsor?  Consider those your first picks, they should be easy and added upon introduction.  Who is on pokies hard the committee of jurisdiction for the topic

?  Usually the Chair and Ranking Member won’t co-sponsor legislation in their committee, but you’ll want as many of the other members as possible, if for no reason other than they are easy to approach and “cold sell” as well as allowing potential legislative maneuvering later down the road.

Continuing on that train of thought, an often overlooked resource is the Congressional caucuses.  People tend to forget about caucus membership (even those who actually belong to the caucuses), as well as “axillary” committees, for example Veteran Affairs for an Armed Services issue.  Next, look at other members of the sponsor’s state or region of the country, especially if it is a rural issue.  Lobbyists.info’s US Congress Online database of members will allow you to quickly locate good targets, especially the ones that fall under more than one of your groups.

Another good target group are the Freshmen Members.  They tend to be “cheap dates” as they are eager to get their name out, do favors, and like being asked to help more than some of the more senior offices do.  Finally, seek out the more “popular” members.  People in leadership positions tend to make the issue “safe” for the rest of their party and makes recruiting other co-sponsors easier.  Using the party analogy, people will often ask “is XYZ on it” when first contacted and you want as many people out of the gate since it is easier to keep the ball rolling than it is to jump-start it.

So while that gives you a good list of targets, there are a few pitfalls to avoid.  First, make sure you don’t go heavy on either Dems or Reps early.  Try to keep the ratio as close to even as possible and it will be much easier to recruit on both sides.  Stray too far to one direction and you might pick up the “partisan” tag when it isn’t necessary.  Same thinking for regional issues, make sure everyone isn’t just from the Mid-West or cities.  Also, avoid anyone who might be seen as “toxic,” which I loosely define as “would you cringe if you saw their name next to your issue in the paper.”  Very controversial members can sometimes cost more co-sponsors when other offices see their name attached to an issue than having their one co-sponsorship gains.

Keep in mind, even though adding their name to a bill doesn’t technically “cost” a Member anything, they are free to co-sponsor as many pieces of legislation as they want, most offices are hesitant to actually co-sponsor anything without getting something in return.  This is primarily for two reasons.  One, co-sponsoring something is basically a favor and it is rare in DC that favors are done without getting something in return.  Two, because so many bills aren’t successful, offices feel that the odds of any one thing going through are low so why support a failure?  Get ready to hear “we can’t help now, but come back when you have the required number and we will join then.”

After all, success has many fathers while defeat is an orphan.  A good co-sponsorship strategy will often lead to an overwhelming victory, as it is not uncommon to see something like 90+ Senators on a winner.  However, a poor effort with no plan or momentum will add yet another “Cosponsors (12)” tagline to the thousands of other lost bills on Thomas.

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Election year legislation: Legislative planning

January 12th, 2012 by Vbhotla

Too often, individuals and their organizations jump feet first into a new session of Congress without getting an idea of where they ultimately want to end up.  That isn’t to say they don’t know what they want to do, certainly if you are taking a check you should know what your organization’s goals are, but rather they don’t know what they are realistically able to accomplish OR they don’t have a firm grasp on how they are going to accomplish it.  When starting a new session of Congress, especially during an election year, it is important to sit down and come up with a legislative strategy for the year.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

What are the exact legislative objectives I am trying to achieve? Something as vague as “improve Metro transportation between Maryland and DC” will cause individuals and organizations to waste time once the Session gets busy trying to define and explain what is to happen.  Make sure that your legislative language is good to go and ready to be shopped at a meeting.  If not, sit down within your organization and start hammering out the specifics as soon as possible.  Second Session Congress is more about doing than debating. By the end of the year, legislation should always have been introduced or discussed among Congressional offices so that, worst comes to worst, next Congress already has a kick-off point.

What is the required legislative mechanism to achieve the above? Does it require a separate bill?  Can it ride a larger piece of legislation or be added as an amendment?  If so then must it be on the same topic?  Approps bill?  Executive Order?  Write down everything that can possibly house your language and keep track of the movement status for each.  Luck is preparation plus opportunity and this is one way to create your own luck.

Is it the issue’s “turn” in the cycle? Some issues are brought up simply because they are required to be addressed every few years.  Education is a perfect example of this.  Just this week new language has been introduced on the House side to reauthorize ESEA (NCLB for some) because it is expiring.  If it isn’t handled this Congress, it will have to be done at the beginning of the next.  Thus is it going to education’s “turn” for discussion and major Congressional focus.  It is easier to get on the schedule if it is an issue’s turn than if it isn’t.

How time intensive is the topic going to be? Is every Congressional office going to require some kind of outreach?  Does it need to get 2/3 co-sponsors in both the House and Senate?  If you only look at the legislative calendar, is there Pokies enough time to meet with all the required staff?  In an election year, always pretend that no one is going to be around except for days on the legislative calendar.  While this obviously isn’t the case, the staff you’ll be required to meet with and who make decisions are going to be out this year more than usual.  If time is short, try to think of larger meetings.  Staff briefings aren’t always well attended or offer the individual impact of a one-on-on, but they do allow for talk with multiple offices at the same time.

Risk vs. Reward Because there is less time available to exert influence there is less time to manipulate each part of the process.  Take this into account when determining each risk vs. reward.  Asking for less money might secure a few more votes quickly, but you will still end up with less money.  Changing 10 regulations can be easier to accomplish than changing 15, but the 15th might be a deal breaker for someone in the coalition.  Weigh the potential gains of asking for less to get more done vs. not doing enough to make the difference that is being aimed for.

Political Capital While planning, try to get a sense of the amount of political capital that will be expended during the year.  If it is decided that this is going to be the make or break year, then prepare to call in IOUs as needed.  If not, then make sure not to start burning through favors in what turns out to be a half-hearted pursuit.
Plan for a major sit-down during the first week of August for a frank evaluation of where the topic is at and what needs to be done.  That way during the rest of the Recess, adjustments can be made and you can be ready for a huge push out of the gate.  Then, act like Congress is going to end in mid- September.  After that point everyone will be home campaigning and it will be nearly impossible to get everything (or, for that matter, anything) done in a timely fashion.

Following the election, there might be a lame duck session, but never bank on it.  Depending on the outcome, one party will usually hold-up a lot of work because they will be in a better position to negotiate next year when their new members get into office.  Either way, consider lame duck sessions like Overtime in the NFL: yes the game is still going on, but it could be over before your team even gets a chance with the ball.  Regardless of what happened, remember the following: there is always another Congress coming up, so final victories are few and far between.  Luckily, so are the defeats.

Arizona Politicians Cleared of Fiesta Bowl wrongdoing

January 2nd, 2012 by Vbhotla

Maricopa County (Ariz.) prosecutors were investigating claims that Arizona politicians violated state lobbying gift laws by accepting tickets to College Football’s Bowl Championship Series Fiesta Bowl.  County Attorney Bill Montgomery reported just before Christmas that he had found that the evidence presented was not enough to determine that the law had been broken.

Montgomery blamed the state’s lobbying ethics laws, saying, “Despite the public’s legitimate expectations that current laws ensure a reasonable degree of open and honest government, Arizona’s statutes governing receipt of gifts and reporting requirements fall short of meeting those expectations.”

State Sen. Russell Pearce allegedly received tickets and travel totaling over $40,000, and was voted out of office during a recall election in November Pokies, in part due to his connection to the Fiesta Bowl scandal.  Pearce was also a staunch Montgomery supporter.

Also implicated in the investigation was Gov. Jan Brewer, whose top political strategists lobbied on behalf of the Fiesta Bowl for six years, beginning in 2005. Brewer was not, however, a subject of investigation.

Montgomery put the onus on legislators to hold public officials accountable, saying via emailed media statement, “I trust that members of the legislature, sharing my concern for upholding the integrity of our respective offices, will address these recommendations in an appropriate manner.”

A federal grand jury is also investigating charges related to Fiesta Bowl impropriety, though no charges have been brought against Arizona state politicians.

Abramoff, Marlowe square off

December 27th, 2011 by Vbhotla

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission has hired Jack Abramoff to teach an ethics class to state legislators.  Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, calls this decision “disgusting,” saying in a statement, “How in the world do people think this man has any credentials to teach ethics to lawmakers? Not only does he not know a thing about ethics, he has never apologized or accepted responsibility for the crimes that sent him to jail.”

Abramoff, who will earn $5,000 for the gig, says, “I have not only reduced my speaking for this event, but like all income I earn, it will enable Online Pokies the victims of my case to receive restitution payments.”

Abramoff took issue with Marlowe’s statements, saying “Does Mr. Marlowe find that objectionable? Or is he just acting as the lobbyist for the lobbyists in trying to silence the messenger?”

According to Politico, Abramoff  continued, “It must be particularly galling to him to have someone with my experience and knowledge of the tricks of their trade spilling them in my book and in speeches. Undoubtedly he is petrified that I am addressing the state Legislature in Kentucky, as they have been most effective in reducing lobbyist corruption and political foul play.”

 

CREW files complaint against Gingrich campaign

December 21st, 2011 by Vbhotla

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an FEC complaint against GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, alleging that his film company, Gingrich Productions, masked campaign events as film screenings, and that the campaign paid Gingrich $42,000 in funds that should have been directed to the company.

“We based our complaint on ABC News and Washington Post stories about these joint events and they seem to be for a dual purpose, for promoting his candidacy and promoting books,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW. “Gingrich Productions is a corporation and this would violate the rule of not white pages reverse phone receiving a corporation’s aid,” said Sloan. “In turn, the campaign was accepting an illegal contribution.”

The campaign responded, saying, “If the FEC considers the complaint, they will find that the rules are being followed and published regulations are being enforced.”

Sloan contends that mailing lists and other services Gingrich received thanks to his connection to the production company and a nonprofit once run by his former spokesman constitute impropriety on his behalf, and that “The FEC needs to investigate this…and get some answers from Gingrich and they should fine him if he’s found to be in violation.”

American League of Lobbyists Bring in the Holidays

December 19th, 2011 by Vbhotla

The American League of Lobbyists hosted its annual Holiday party at K&L Gates Wednesday.


Clockwise from top left: ASAE’s Robert Hay stands with the ALL’s new executive director, Danielle Abe; Lobbyists.info’s Tim Teehan is with Elva Smith of Applied Global Research and Michelle Ly of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association; Julie Strandley of Julie Strandley Advocacy, Prudential’s Ralph Tyler, Lobbyists.info’s Brittany Carter, Eric Weissmann of the Original U.S. Congress Handbook, Justin Meyers of Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, and Matt Nese of Stateside Associates take a Viagra 100mg moment to smile for the camera; Tara Galvin and Kaithyn Kawlett of Levick Strategic Communications pose with Patrick Hardy; we caught Applied Global Research’s Elva Smith again! This time with Bernadette Walker of Carr Workplaces; recent Lobbying Certificate Program presenter Anthony Dale, Dale Consulting, stands with new LCP registrants Arielle Eiser of the American Psychological Association and Robert Whittemore of 4Site, and James Kahrs; Food Marketing Association’s Liz Garner is shown with Nathan Smith of the American Traffic Safety Services Association and Daniel Ulloa.

Throwing a Permissible Holiday Party

December 7th, 2011 by Brittany

Food and beverages offered to congressional members and staff in a social setting, if paid for by lobbyists or lobbying entities, must conform to the restrictions of the rules, which provide an exception for:

“Food and beverages of nominal value, not as part of a meal.”

This is known as the “reception exception.” The rules in this instance clearly envision that nominal value means more minimalist – and that the phrase “not as part of meal” means no heavy hors d’oeuvres that could be considered a substitute for a meal by hungry interns or low-paid Hill staffers.

As the ethics staff advised one House staffer, “pitcher of margaritas, yes…plate of sliders, no.”

Parties and Receptions — Menus 

The House and Senate ethics staff have spent ample time reviewing, editing and discussing catering menus for events hosted or paid for by lobbyists or lobbying entities.  Below is a checklist of do’s and don’ts:

NO:

  • low-cost food that could still be considered a meal item, such as hot dogs, pizza slices, sliders (tiny hamburgers)
  • food that requires a fork
  • carving stations
  • pasta stations
  • dining tables 
  • martini or vodka bars

 

YES

  • appetizers
  • passed hors d’oeuvres
  • finger foods or food eaten with toothpicks
  • beverages, including wine, beer and cocktails (but keep it simple and less expensive)
  • desserts

Invitations and Ethics Approval

The House and Senate Ethics Committee staffs have been gracious about reviewing and approving menus and reception plans in order that hosts and sponsoring organizations can provide comfort to Members and staff that there is no criminal conduct involved in attending a reception Cialis.  The ethics staff may require changes in the type of food or beverages to be served prior to granting approval.

A reception is not a widely attended event as that term is defined in the gift rules.  A widely attended event requires an educational component or some element that a Member or staffer can claim to fall within his/her official duties. Although attendance at social events is clearly business-related in most instances, the widely attended event exception is not the one that is envisioned by the gift rules to be applied if the occasion is a reception or party to which Members and staffers are invited.

Don’t ask the ethics staff to approve a “widely attended event” that is, in fact, a “social gathering.”  Approval will not likely be forthcoming.

An event that is planned within the spirit and letter of the ethics rules regarding the menu of food and beverages to be served can be denoted as such on the invitation by stating:

Cocktails and Reception Fare Only

or

Cocktails and Light Appetizers

or

Cocktails and Light Hors d’oeuvres

An indication on the invitation that only appropriate reception food and beverages will be served will demonstrate to an invitee that the host is familiar with the rules and is intent upon following them.  That will provide comfort to any guests who are Members and congressional staff and should also help document that the event was in compliance with applicable provisions of the ethics and gift rules.

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

Election and PAC Roles in Advocacy Efforts

November 9th, 2011 by Brittany

Election Activities

What is it?

In some cases, it may be appropriate to engage members of the advocacy network in election-related activities.  Note, however, the restrictions on election-related activity discussed in Chapter 2.  Nonprofits organized under certain IRS “501” designations, in particular, may not engage in partisan election activity, such as endorsing a particular candidate for office.  Individual states and localities may also have restrictions of which advocate leaders should be aware.

Why is it useful?

Engaging advocates in election-related activities serves a number of purposes, including:

  • Raising the profile of an organization’s issue, both during the campaign and long after
  • Offering a new and often invigorating way for advocates to get involved in the policymaking process
  • Enhancing an organization’s access and reach in the legislature 

When should it be used?

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election every two years and U.S. Senators must stand for election every six.  In addition, most states and localities have elections for various state and local offices at least every other year.  Some localities have elections every year for both candidates as well as to address ballot questions, such as sales tax or funding initiatives.  Any election offers an opportunity to engage advocates, to the extent allowed by law.  Advocate leaders should consider, though, which level of government the organization hopes to build relationships with and choose the election cycle for participation carefully.

PAC / Fundraising Efforts

What is it?

As noted in Chapter 1, advocacy efforts should be coordinated in tandem with other government relations activities, include political action committees (PACs).  In fact, organizations will generally find a great deal of overlap between the most active and committed members of their advocacy network and the most consistent donors to their political action committees.  This section provides a few details on PACs and how they can be successfully integrated into an overall advocacy network plan.

Organizations form Generic Cialis PACs to finance political education and to make contributions toward the election or defeat of candidates.  They can contribute up to $5,000 per cycle per election to a candidate’s committee and $15,000 to national political parties.  They may receive up to $5,000 from individuals. 

Most organizations will establish a connected PAC that can solicit contributions only from members.  More information can be found on the FEC site at www.fec.gov.  Key materials on this site include:

Political action committees can also be formed at the state level.  Rules for establishing state PACs vary from state to state.  Organizations should look to their state’s Board of Elections for more information.

Why is it useful?

Overall, political action committees allow organizations to support the election of candidates who support their issues.  Some advocate leaders suggest that PAC contributions give advocates and government relations staff better access to policymakers, in that advocates will have the opportunity to attend fundraising events and be seen as supportive of the candidate.  

Political action committees can also enhance an organization’s advocacy activities and vice versa.  By coordinating existing programs or forming a new PAC to complement an advocacy network, organizations can reduce duplication, reach out in a more focused, targeted manner to politically active network members and possibly reduce overhead and cost.

When should it be used?

Any organization that already has a PAC should look for opportunities to, at a minimum, coordinate and possibly merge activities.  Organizations with advocacy networks but no PAC should determine whether a PAC would assist in meeting legislative and policy goals.

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

Abramoff tells ’60 Minutes’ “Nothing has changed.”

November 8th, 2011 by Vbhotla

Jack Abramoff sat down with 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl in a segment called “The Lobbyist’s Playbook,” and had a lot of criticism about the current political system, saying nothing has changed to improve ethics since he worked on K Street, despite HLOGA and other reforms enacted largely in response to the scandal that erupted around him.

Early in the interview, Abramoff responded to an astounded Stahl, who inquired whether his actions were legal, “We would certainly try to make the activity legal if we could.  At times, we didn’t care.”  He went on to tell her that the problem with our system is that “our system is flawed and has to be fixed. Human beings populate our system. Human beings are weak.”

Abramoff suggested that one way to improve ethics is to close the revolving door between K Street and Capitol Hill.  “If you make the choice to serve the public, public service, then Buy Cialis serve the public, not yourself. When you’re done, go home. Washington’s a dangerous place. Don’t hang around.”  He explained how the revolving door benefited him as a lobbyist trying to wield influence over congressional offices:

“When we would become friendly with an office and they were important to us, and the chief of staff was a competent person, I would say or my staff would say to him or her at some point, ‘You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider coming to work for us.’ Now the moment I said that to them or any of our staff said that to ’em, that was it. We owned them. And what does that mean? Every request from our office, every request of our clients, everything that we want, they’re gonna do. And not only that, they’re gonna think of things we can’t think of to do.”

Study finds companies are independently limiting political spending

November 4th, 2011 by Vbhotla

The L.A. Times reported last week on a study that suggests that in this post-Citizens United world, companies are regulating their own spending in political campaigns.  The study, conducted by the Center for Political Accountability and the University of Pennsylvania’s Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, evaluated companies based on board oversight of political giving, disclosure practices and company restrictions on political spending.

The study found that “voluntary disclosure of political spending is becoming a mainstream corporate practice, and [a] growing number of companies are putting restrictions on the political use of their money.”  According to its research, 57 of the S&P 100 index companies voluntarily disclose their political spending and have adopted board oversight over spending.  Just under half, 43, of the companies voluntarily disclose some of their independent spending through associations and nonprofits.

One in six do not allow funds to be spent directly on candidates or political committees.  It also found two companies, Colgate-Palmolive and  IBM, prohibit spending entirely.  Nearly one-third (30) of companies “place some Levitra prohibitions on using corporate funds for political activity.”

“Our findings are striking. They offer hope for increasing corporate political transparency and accountability at a time when everyone expects massive hidden spending to influence elections,” CPA President Bruce Freed said in a statement.

Twenty-four of the companies have explicit statements on their websites letting Super PAC committees know that they will not spend on independent expenditures.  The study ranked the top-ten companies based on political transparency:

  1. Colgate-Palmolive Co.
  2. Exelon Corp.
  3. International Business Machines
  4. Merck & Co. Inc.
  5. Johnson & Johnson
  6. Pfizer Inc.
  7. United Parcel Service Inc.
  8. Dell Inc.
  9. Wells Fargo & Co.
  10. EMC Corp.

In 2003, the Center for Political Accountability started a campaign to urge corporations to voluntarily disclose political spending and exercise greater oversight in this area.  “Few, if any, companies disclosed their political spending then,” the report says, going on to note that the results of this study “[reflect] significant progress. [They] also [reflect] troubling gaps that leave many shareholders, and citizens, in the dark.”

Hiring People off the Hill

November 2nd, 2011 by Brittany

Lobbying registrants may seek to hire someone off the Hill with the connections and knowledge of particular issues to work with clients. However, depending on who the organization hires, there may be post-employment restrictions in play that may limit the amount of activity in which the former Hill employee may be involved.

Summary of House Post-Employment Restrictions

House Member

  • May not lobby any Member, officer or employee of either house of Congress for one year 
  • May not assist any foreign government seeking official action from any official of the United States for one year
  • Must file Notice of Negotiations with House Clerk if negotiating with a private entity
  • Must file Notice of Negotiations and Notice of Recusal with House Ethics Committee if negotiating with a private entity

Elected Officer

  • May not lobby any Member, officer or employee of either house of Congress for one year
  • May not assist any foreign government seeking official action from any official of the United States for one year
  • Must file Notice of Negotiations and Notice of Recusal with House Ethics Committee if negotiating with a private entity

Very Senior Staff

  • May not lobby Member or employee of former personal office, leadership office or committee, whichever is applicable, for one year
  • May not assist any foreign government seeking official action from any official of the United States for one year
  • Must file Notice of Negotiations and Notice of Recusal with House Ethics Committee if negotiating with a private entity

Non-senior Staff

  • No “cooling off” period Levitra; may lobby after leaving the Hill
  • Not required to file anything with House Ethics Committee or House Clerk

Summary of Senate Post-Employment Restrictions

Senators

  • May not lobby any Member, officer or employee of either house of Congress for two years
  • May not assist any foreign government seeking official action from any official of the United States for two years
  • Must file Notice of Negotiations with the Secretary of the Senate

Elected Officers

  • May not lobby any Member, officer or employee of the Senate for one year
  • May not assist any foreign government seeking official action from any official of the United States for one year
  • Must file Notice of Employment of Negotiations and Recusal with the Senate Ethics Committee

Senior Staff

  • May not lobby any Senator or any Senate employee for one year
  • May not assist any foreign government seeking official action from any official of the United States for one year
  • Must file Notice of Employment Negotiations and Recusal with the Senate Ethics Committee

Non-senior Staff

  • May not lobby former employing Senator for one year
  • May not lobby former employing office employees or the employing committee Members/staff for one year
  • If dual responsibilities during Senate employment (personal office and committee), may not lobby personal office or committee for one year
  • May not assist any foreign government seeking official action from any official of the United States for one year
  • No filing requirement to any Senate office

 

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

Senators Propose Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United

November 1st, 2011 by Vbhotla

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) has proposed a constitutional amendment to change the campaign finance landscape yet again, by “effectively revers[ing] two landmark Supreme Court decisions — the 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, which said spending money in elections is a form of speech, and the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled it unconstitutional to regulate the money spent to influence elections by corporations and unions.

The amendment would allow Congress and the states to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures, by allowing Congress to regulate the amount of money raised and spent for federal campaigns (including independent expenditures), allowing states to regulate fundraising and spending at in state elections, and opening the door for Congress to pass unspecified campaign finance reform legislation in the future.

“Letting this go unchecked is a threat to our democracy. Campaigns should be about the best ideas, not the biggest checkbooks,” Udall said at a press conference.

Huffington Post reports, “Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the proposed amendment, called the Buckley case ‘one of the worst decisions that the Supreme Court has rendered in the last hundred years’ and described the Citizens United ruling as ‘Buckley on steroids.'”

A reversal of the Citizens United decision has been one of the demands of Occupy Wall Street protesters.  “The extent to which money and corporations have taken over the [campaign] process is reflected across our cities in the Occupy movement,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) says. “It is something we have to do something about if we are going to reclaim American democracy as the shining light to other countries that it has always been.”  Sen. Whitehouse is also co-sponsoring the amendment.

Contacting Members of Congress? You’re Not the Only One.

October 14th, 2011 by Vbhotla

A new Congressional Management Foundation report entitled “Communicating with Congress How Citizen Advocacy is Changing Mail Operations on Capitol Hill“ found that constituents are contacting their Congressmen far more frequently than they were 10 years ago: Senate offices reported a 548 percent increase in mail volume since 2002 (including one office that experienced a 1,422 percent jump), and representatives in the House received 158 percent more mail.  Despite receiving overwhelming amounts of constituent mail, 90 percent of congressional staff surveyed still say that constituent communications remains a “high priority.”

Offices that embrace technology find responding to constituent communication much easier than those that don’t, but the report found that in many cases, “‘old school’ habits on Capitol Hill are inhibiting the potential for Congress and citizens to have a more robust, active and meaningful relationship using online technologies.”  In the past, many offices refrained from sending emails, resorting to phone calls and snail mail instead because they were afraid their messages would be altered.  Even still, 86 percent of congressional offices are answering email messages with emails, a rise from 37 percent in 2005.

However, if you’re feeling like an office isn’t getting much done, or is taking forever to respond to your scheduling request, it’s because staff is also spending an increasing amount of time sifting through the influx of constituent mail.  The survey found that on average, staff spend 58 percent of their time on constituent communications, and 46 percent say they have had to shift resources to manage the increased mail volume.  Response time seems not to be dependent on the request: 42 percent of staff surveyed say it takes more than three weeks to draft and approve a response to an issue that previously has not be raised, and 41 percent say they need “more than a week to respond to a constituent email even if a prepared text response has been drafted and approved.”  All of this with the same resources; Congress has not increased office staff sizes since 1979.  In 2009, Congress debate a high number of high profile issues, and as a result, offices also experienced the greatest jump in constituent communications that year.

Senior managers in congressional largely believe that the biggest challenge they face as it pertains to responding to constituent mail is mail volume (35 percent), but 41 percent of “mail staffers” state “the review and approval process” is the mostly responsible for the delay.