New Report on Lobbying Expenditures

November 5th, 2010 by James

We have a new white paper up at www.lobbyists.info.

This white paper covers 3rd Quarter Lobbying Reports: Issues and Expenditures. We profile several interesting issues covered in this quarter by Congress, and talk about top lobbying firms and our continuing case study on Patton Boggs.

Issues that we cover include:

  • “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Lobbying
  • DISLCOSE Act Lobbying
  • Health Care Reform Lobbying
  • Oil Spill Lobbying
  • Patton Boggs Case Study
  • Top Lobbying Firms

If you’re a subscriber, you’ll just want to log in to your lobbyists.info account, or if not, just enter your email address and download your free report!

Compliance Q and A: Fees and Jail Time Edition

November 4th, 2010 by James

Q: What are the penalties for non-compliance with HLOGA?

A: There are criminal penalties for wrongful statements submitted by lobbyists. Since lobbyists must certify that the information they submit is true to the best of their knowledge, a wrongful disclosure a criminal act. Lobbyists must certify under penalty of perjury that they have read and understood the standing House and Senate gift and ethics rules, twice per year, on their LD-203 form.

The statute states that:

“Whoever knowingly fails: (1) to correct a defective filing within 60 days after notice of such a defect by the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House; or (2) to comply with any other provision of the Act, may be subject to a civil fine of not more than $200,000, and whoever knowingly and corruptly fails to comply with any provision of the Act may be imprisoned for not more than 5 years or fined under title 18, United States Code, or both.”

According to lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov, the Office of the Clerk has referred an aggregate of 887 potential non-compliant registrants to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Today’s post is condensed from the Lobbying Compliance Handbook

Celebs Lobby Against DADT

November 3rd, 2010 by Autumn

This week, a federal appeals court struck down an earlier ruling repealing the military’s long-standing “Don’t Ask,

Lady Gaga uses her international stardom to speak out against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Don’t Tell” policy.  Time magazine reports that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court that stayed the ban on openly gay military personnel, is “regarded as one of the most liberal in the land.”  Tell that to Lt. Dan Choi and other gay and lesbian soldiers ousted by the military recently.

Lady Gaga, an openly bisexual pop star, has led the charge of celebrities fighting DADT.  She has been the most vocal advocate on the subject, it seems, pulling stunts like wearing a meat dress to symbolize her belief that if not repealed, the policy reduces the LGBT rights to equal those allotted a piece of meat, and recording a seven minute advocacy video.

Russel Simmons also joined the fight, penning an open letter to Pres. Obama for Huffington Post, urging him to “fix” the policy, and “take the fight to the right.”

Interestingly, neither Lady Gaga nor Russell Simmons has filed an LD-1 or -2 form, making them merely advocates, and not officially lobbyists.  Unless, of course, they are lobbying and think their celebrity status will save them from repercussions related to not filing.

Other entities embroiled in the fight against DADT include the American Nurses Association and the  American Bar Association.

The changing of Congress following yesterday’s election is expected to play a major part in the future of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation.

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Election Day Edition

November 2nd, 2010 by Autumn

There has been lots of talk recently about lobbyists’ campaign contributions to state-level candidates.  For example, the backlash one Tennessee lobbyist received after donating to a gubernatorial candidate’s campaign and the interest in the amount of money donated by PACs to Alabama governor-hopefuls.  Rules on contributions by lobbyists to these campaigns vary from state to state.

The good news is, thanks to guidelines on LD-203 disclosure released June 2009 by the House Office of the Clerk and Secretary of the Senate, these state and local-level campaign contributions do not trigger disclosure on a lobbyist’s LD-203 form. Because these candidates do not register campaign donations with the FEC, any amount a lobbyist contributes to said campaigns is exempt from LD-203 disclosure.

Other exceptions to LD-203 reporting requirements include:

  • Donations to an entity on which a covered legislative or executive branch official serves as an honorary board member with no vote in board affairs,
  • Contributions to a charity established by a covered official prior to his/her term in the covered office,
  • Contributions to a charity to which a covered official makes only “de minimus” donations, and
  • Costs related to sponsorship of a multi-candidate debate.

Though campaign contributions by lobbyists can be virtually unregulated in some states like Texas, it is still advised that lobbyists tread lightly when working on behalf of candidates at the state and local levels.  Candidates are increasingly under fire for accepting special interest money, making them reluctant to be associated with government relations personnel.

“Nobody wants the Brooks Brothers Brigade out there campaigning for you,” Democratic lobbyist John Michael Gonzalez told a Roll Call staffer.

Today’s ethics tip is condensed from the Lobbying Compliance Handbook. New 2010 edition out this month!

Lobbying For Governments That Want To Exist

November 1st, 2010 by David

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

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

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

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

Independent Diplomat's FARA filing for the Republic of Somaliland

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

They represent, among others:

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

FARA filings are publicly available. Search the database here: http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fara/links/qs_primary.html.

Weekly News Round-up

October 29th, 2010 by Autumn

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is seeking information regarding why Jack Abramoff was prevented from talking to the media about his role in what the organization’s executive director, Melanie Sloan calls “one of the largest congressional corruption scandals in history.”  The full complaint filed in a suit against the Department of Justice can be found here.

Following up with a story posted earlier this week, “Campaign Finance Reformers see a tough road ahead,” the FEC has again come under fire for its lax regulation heading into the mid-term elections.  Huffington Post reported, “according to campaign finance experts, it’s unlikely” that the FEC will punish campaign finance law violators any time soon. The article goes on to refer to the FEC as ” a toothless tiger made up of six members that usually deadlocks on the important decisions.”

Lobbyists and organizations may be given a "get out of jail free" card by the FEC and the Obama administration, at least for a little while.

This snowballs into another issue: President Obama’s demonstrated lack of commitment to advance his campaign reform platform.  So far, despite having the opportunity (and perhaps responsibility, since the terms have ended) to replace three commissioners whose aversions to the regulatory laws reportedly prevent them from voting in favor of committee action against potential violators, the FEC’s make-up remains unchanged.

Donald McGhan, who remains a commissioner pending appointment of a successor, once said “[The FEC is] ‘not like other agencies because you have the charge of the fox guarding the hen-house. You gonna appoint your guys to make sure you are taken care of. The original intent was for it to be a glorified Congressional committee. That’s the way I see it,’” according to a column written by Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The president is reportedly waiting on members of the Senate to recommend new FEC commissioners for him to appoint before replacing any members.

The Veterans’ Alliance for Security and Democracy (VetPAC) is one of several organizations griping about the Chamber of Commerce election spendings.  The group filed suit against the Chamber Oct. 18, alleging its receipt of foreign funds may in some way damage the purity of its campaign contributions.  VetPAC is surely banking on FEC regulation (no pun intended).

Advocacy Halloween Edition: Making advocacy less scary

October 29th, 2010 by Brittany

An excerpt from the Advocacy Handbook:

Depending upon the issue and the nature of the network, advocate leaders may occasionally find themselves needing to either encourage more people to actively participate in advocacy efforts or encourage more quality communications with the target audience.  Outlined below are a few of the key barriers to participation, options for overcoming those barriers and ideas for recognizing advocates’ efforts.

Barriers to Participation
Advocates often cite one of the following reasons to explain why they might be unwilling or unable to participate in efforts to make policy change:

  • Lack of time
  • A feeling that their participation doesn’t matter
  • A feeling that the organization should do the lobbying, not them
  • Unsure what to do / intimidated
  • Advocate fatigue / over-activation
  • Lack of progress
  • Disagreement over policy direction

Overcoming Barriers

  • Quick and Easy Activities: Advocate leaders should look for ways to draw potential advocates in to the network through some quick and easy activities.  These might include sending an e-mail to a legislator through an action alert site, signing a petition, responding to a poll or survey or sending a postcard.  This might be viewed as the “crawl before walking” approach.  Once advocates become familiar with and comfortable with these simple activities, advocate leaders can work to encourage these individuals to engage in more substantive and effective communication strategies.
  • Cultivating the Active:  It’s not the number of communications that have an impact on policy outcomes, it’s the quality. Hence, it may make sense for advocate leaders to focus more attention on the powerful 5 to 20 percent of the network willing and eager to take substantive action, without, of course, ignoring the rest of the network.
  • Training: The following components of a training program will help address some of the more common barriers to participation: why their voice matters, role in the GR campaign, long-term focus, and how to advocate.
  • Engaging Champions:  Legislative or regulatory champions of an organization’s issues can help deliver the message to advocates that their voice matters.  In some cases, advocates may be more apt to believe a legislator than an organization’s government relations staff.  Advocate leaders should consider asking policy champions to speak at events or make public statements about the importance of citizen advocates to the policymaking process.
  • Strategic Activation:  Advocate fatigue can be managed, in part, by being as strategic and focused as possible when activating the network.  Organizations that frequently issue high-priority action alerts, particularly when those alerts aren’t warranted, may find their advocates becoming immune to their requests – and unwilling to take action when truly needed.
  • Change the Definition of Victory:  In developing advocacy plans, advocate leaders should identify internal goals that can be achieved regardless of external events.  These might include targets for numbers of advocates in the network or developing a pilot program for coordinating a few site visits during a recess.  These aspects of the campaign may be more within the control of the organization than, for example, whether a bill moves forward to the hearing stage or not.
  • Managing Set-backs:  How an organization manages the inevitable set-backs associated with any advocacy effort can make or break their future success.  Advocate leaders should look to be as up-front as possible about set-backs, while identifying future plans of action.
  • Setting the Policy Agenda:   Organizations that set their policy agenda in concert with the advocacy network will likely have fewer disagreements with members about policy direction than those that adopt a more hierarchical approach.  Before asking advocates to communicate with policymakers on a critical issue, it is imperative to ascertain that most members of the network are in agreement on the overall message.
  • Agreeing to Disagree:  In some cases, organizations may need to take controversial positions that may be unpopular with some percentage of their members.  Advocate leaders should identify these potential disagreements as soon as possible and be prepared to address questions about the decisions made by the organization.

The Advocacy Handbook, written by the “Advocacy Guru” Stephanie Vance, and its insight into helping your advocates shake off their anxieties will help your advocacy mission become a success. Click here for more information on the Advocacy Handbook.

Compliance Q and A: LDA vs. FARA

October 28th, 2010 by James

Q:  What is the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and what are the differences in registration and reporting between FARA and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)?

A:  The Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (as amended) requires any lobbyist who represents a foreign government, elected official or political party as a foreign agent to file his financial information and published materials with the Department of Justice. This only applies to foreign public officials; lobbyists representing foreign private companies register under the LDA. See the full text of the law, forms, and other disclosure requirements at Justice.gov.

On registration and reporting:

  1. The Act requires every agent of a foreign principal, not otherwise exempt, to register with the Department of Justice and file forms outlining its agreements with, income from, and expenditures on behalf of the foreign principal. These forms are public records and must be supplemented every six months.
  2. The Act also requires that informational materials (formerly propaganda) be labeled with a conspicuous statement that the information is disseminated by the agents on behalf of the foreign principal. The agent must provide copies of such materials to the Attorney General.
  3. Any agent testifying before a committee of Congress must furnish the committee with a copy of his most recent registration statement.
  4. The agent must keep records of all his activities and permit the Attorney General to inspect them.

According to guidance issued by the House Ethics Committee, the technical amendments to the LDA made in 1998 reflected a determination that the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) standards are appropriate for lobbying on behalf of foreign governments and political parties, but that LDA disclosure standards should apply to other foreign lobbying. An agent of a foreign commercial entity is exempt under FARA if the agent has engaged in lobbying activities and registers under the LDA. An agent of a foreign commercial entity not required to register under the LDA (such as those not meeting the de minimis registration thresholds) may voluntarily register under the LDA.

Information for today’s post is from the Department of Justice, with further information condensed from the Lobbying Compliance Handbook, now with an all-new chapter on Campaign Finance for Lobbyists.

Have a question for Compliance Q &A? Send your questions to web@lobbyists.info.

Reminder: Comments on LDA Process Due Soon

October 27th, 2010 by James

Don’t forget to turn in any comments that you have to the Senate Office of Public Records or the Office of the Clerk of the House regarding the LDA filing process.

The Secretary and the Clerk review their LDA Guidance semi-annually.

According to their latest guidance, published in June 2010:

“Any questions, comments and suggestions should be directed to the Senate Office of Public Records and the House Legislative Resource Center in sufficient time for evaluation before the next semiannual reporting cycle (by November 5, 2010).”

Read the latest guidance (June 2010), here at the House’s Lobbying Disclosure site.

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Unethical Candy Corn Edition

October 26th, 2010 by James

National Confectioners Association is one organization that might want to hand out some of that candy corn they’ve surely got hanging around their office (which we imagine looking somewhat like this). If they’re hoping to use the “home state exemption” to hand out candy to members of Congress, here are some guidelines.

Photo by Liz West on Wikimedia

The “home state exemption for gifts to members of Congress:

Lobbyists (or entities that are employ or retain lobbyists) are allowed to give gifts to members of Congress or Congressional staffers, if they meet several requirements:

  • Items must be available to constituents or visitors to his office
  • Items must be of minimal value
  • The item must have been produced or grown in the Member’s home district or state

These are not items for the member to keep for himself, but to be given out to constituents or visitors.

A good example would be peanuts: a member from Georgia would be allowed to have peanuts from his home state in packages to hand out in his office. So if NCA wishes to give out candy under the exemption, they must search out members of Congress whose districts coincide with the origin of that candy.

The National Confectioners Association is represented by The Podesta Group, as well as Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PC. NCA also has in-house lobbyists. Issues that they are registered to lobby on include: Agriculture, Budget, Food Industry, Labor issues, and Trade issues.

Fun fact:

Candy Corn was invented by George Renninger and originally produced by the Wunderlee Candy Company of Philadelphia in the  1880′s.

The Ethics Tip is condensed from information found in the Lobbying Compliance Handbook.

Campaign finance reformers see a tough road ahead

October 25th, 2010 by Autumn

The Federal Election Commission does not intend to publish a rulemaking on the Citizens United decision until after the November mid-terms, despite having had almost ten months to do so. Democrats have urged the FEC to utilize their rulemaking power to blunt what they see as overwhelming corporate money in federal elections.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) led the charge of 15 senators requesting greater regulation of foreign campaign contributions, penning a letter to the FEC saying “while Congress will need to act, the Commission must immediately do its part to protect our elections from foreign influence,” and calling for strengthened policies and less ambiguous interpretations of the ruling.

After the failure of this summer’s DISCLOSE Act in the Senate, campaign finance reformers are not seeing action on the controversial judicial decision in the immediate future. Craig Holman, Public Citizen’s campaign finance lobbyist, told Politico, “This is a low point for the campaign finance reform movement — I’ve never seen it lower.”

Indeed, the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act has suffered tremendous blows at the hands of the Supreme Court and FEC regulation. The agency has said it will alter its enforcement to be in compliance with the ruling, but has failed to implement any actual policies to do so thus far. Lobbyists who manage PACs or contribute to federal campaigns should be aware of the massive amount of maneuvering going on behind the scenes with campaign finance reform and potential implementation.

Emails center-stage in Ring trial

October 25th, 2010 by Autumn

The prosecution of Kevin Ring, the former lobbyist and Jack Abramoff associate, has called into question privacy matters in ethics investigations. Relying heavily on evidence of “behind-the-scenes dealmaking” outlined in personal emails, prosecutors are seeking to convict Ring of bribery.

According to a Washington Post report, Ring sent e-mails discussing his preference for working with “amoral pond scum,” because “the ethics thing is a real turn off.” Defense attorney Andrew Wise suggested that the words were being taken out of a context that was more “bravado” and “bragging” than admission of ethics breach; Wise said the words were “obvious jokes.”

Ring maintains that his actions were in accordance with legal lobbying provisions, and that the sporting event tickets he provided to Congressional staffers between 2003 and 2004 did not violate the lobbying laws in place at that time.

In a Roll Call article, Prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds disagrees, insisting Ring and Abramoff intentionally set out to “corrupt the political system,” adding, “The defendant’s actions were not just lobbying, they were corruption… They were crimes.”

This is Ring’s second trial – his first, in October 2009, ended in a hung jury. Ring is the only one of Abramoff’s associates to go to trial instead of pleading guilty.

In other Abramoff-related news, a federal appellate court is grappling with whether or not David Safavian, former top Bush Administration procurement official, received a fair trial in the second hearing related to the Abramoff lobbying scandal, according to the Associated Press.

Nominee’s confirmation stalls in Senate

October 25th, 2010 by Autumn

Amid allegations of misrepresentation to Congress, White House ethics czar Norm Eisen’s nomination for ambassador to the Czech Republic, which was announced in June, has yet to be confirmed.

Foreign Policy reports that several congressmen are concerned about misrepresentations committed by the Obama administration during the June 2009 firing of Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General for the Corporation of National and Community Service. Eisen defended the actions of the White House, maintaining that Walpin was unfit for the position. There are reports that Eisen’s claims in defense of the White House were not founded in real evidence.

Though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the appointment Sept. 21, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO) vehemently opposed the nomination due to his role in the Walpin firing, which sparked a similar response from several others.

Eisen is one of four nominees whose appointments are likely stalled until early 2011, including Frank Ricciardone (nominated to serve as ambassador to Turkey), Robert Ford (Syria), and Matthew Bryzza (Azerbaijan).

In his role at the White House, Eisen has been the President’s point man on lobbying and open government initiatives. He successfully became the bane of lobbyists’ existence with his very first act after joining the White House: leading the charge for an executive order banning lobbyists from serving in the administration (which Obama signed on his first day in office). Eisen has followed that up with successfully convincing the President and his administration to bar lobbyists from federal advisory boards, and making thousands of White House visitor names public.

Industry Moves and Changes

October 25th, 2010 by Autumn

John Feehery has been hired as a director at Quinn Gillespie & Associates. Feehery is the president of the Feehery Group and is the editor of the Feehery Theory blog. He was the executive vice president for global government affairs at the MPAA.

Cliff Rothenstein, who had formerly worked for the Federal Highway Administration and the EPA, has joined K&L Gates as a government affairs advisor.

Charlie B. Sewell has been named senior vice president and director of Hill & Knowlton’s public affairs practice. Sewell previously served as senior vice president of government affairs at the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Sarah Rittling has been named a senior policy adviser at EducationCounsel. She previous served as counsel to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

Brooks A. Brunson was added as policy advisor in the government relations group at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP. He previously was the senior director of congressional affairs for Qwest.

New Audioconference: Need to know lobbying laws for 2011

October 22nd, 2010 by Brittany

K Street Compliance for 2011
Disclosure compliance, filing, gift and ethics rules, and campaign finance
November 16, 2010 · 2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m. EST

After the midterm elections are over, Congress will take fresh aim at ethics. Lobbyists are fair game and “I didn’t know” won’t keep you out of the headlines – or exempt you from the stiff penalties associated with HLOGA, LDA and FARA.

If you aren’t sure what those acronyms stand for, you’re a sitting duck for ethics investigations and compliance violations. Even if you do know the basics of lobbying laws, you’re still at risk unless you’re absolutely certain you’re meeting deadlines, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements.

Why risk fines, penalties and negative PR?  Here’s your “primer” on the basics you must know to follow the rules in the complex world of government relations.

Register now for Lobbying: The Basics of K Street Compliance for 2011.