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.

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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.

Young Leadership Network Happy Hour Tonight!

October 21st, 2010 by Brittany

Make sure you come out tonight to mix and mingle with other young and young-at-heart government relations professionals.

When: 10/21/2010 from 5-7 pm
Where: Ping Pong Restaurant

900 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Metro: Chinatown
Map it

About the YLN: The Young Leadership Network, an extension of the American League of Lobbyists, exists to provide young professionals with a peer-to-peer network designed to foster deep roots in Washington and throughout the lobbying community. The YLN hosts monthly networking happy hours in the DC metro area on the 3rd Thursday of each month as well as other events throughout the year. YLN members are also eligible for discounted membership rates (only $99!) for the American League of Lobbyists. Click here to join the ALL.

Questions? Contact Brittany Carter at bcarter@columbiabooks.com

Filing Alert: LDA Forms Due TODAY

October 20th, 2010 by James

Don't forget to file today!

Finish compiling your paperwork and submitting it to the House Clerk and Secretary of the Senate – entities registered to lobby must file their LD-2 forms with the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate TODAY, October 20.

These reports cover the 3rd Quarter of 2010, from July 1 – September 30, 2010.

Find forms and instructions here at the Clerk of the House’s website.

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Travel Rules at a Glance

October 19th, 2010 by James

Today’s ethics tips is a refresher on Congressional travel rules. Below is a listing of when individuals (who may or may not be lobbyists) may pay for Congressional travel.

Before you fly... check the rules!

If you are a…
Lobbyist, lobbying firm

The rule is…
None. Zilch. Zero. Never… unless an individual lobbyist is also:
• A relative
• A personal friend
• A significant other

If you are a…
Organization, association, corporation, labor union or other  entity employing or retaining a lobbyist to lobby only for the  organization’s interests
The rule is…
• 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
• 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 visitor widely attended event does not require pre-approval on the travel forms

If you are a…
Organization, association, corporation, labor union or other entity not employing or retaining a lobbyist or lobbying firm
The rule is…
• Three-day domestic trip
• Seven-day foreign trip
• No lobbyist participation allowed

• Four-day continental United States
• Seven-day trip outside continental United States
• No lobbyist may accompany Member/staffer on any segment

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

Compliance Q and A: Gifts to Members of Congress

October 18th, 2010 by James

Q: What is the difference between a gift and an award, as given to a member of Congress?

A:  Under one of the statuatory exceptions to the gift rule, you are allowed to give as a gift a “commemorative” item that has minimal artistic or intrinsic value. So, for instance, you could give a plaque that says “Association X thanks Congressman Y for his 20 years of Service.”

You could not, however, give a valuable sculpture with the same inscription.  The difference is that the first item – the plaque – has no artistic or intrinsic value on its own, but that the second item – the sculpture – has value on its own merit. In addition, if you give a gift that exceeds $305 in value, it has to go on the member’s financial disclosure form.

Commemorative Items

  • Presented to Member/staffer in person
  • Substantially commemorative in nature: plaque or trophy, engraved with Member’s/staffer’s name
  • No significant utilitarian or artistic value (framed photo, print, figurine, clock, etc.)
  • Senate: Disclosed on personal financial disclosure report if valued at more than $250

The House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct also has a short booklet with a summarization of rules on their website.

Remember, the overall rule is: you may not offer anything of value to a member of Congress or staffer, unless it fits under one of the exceptions.

Today’s post is summarized from the Lobbying Compliance Handbook, now with a brand-new chapter on Campaign Finance for the Lobbyist!

Questions for Compliance Q&A? Send them to web@columbiabooks.com.

Weekly Lobbying News Round-Up

October 15th, 2010 by James

DC insiders are just not sure of the chances of campaign finance reform these days. With the failure of votes of DISCLOSE, Congress seems reluctant to address the issue again. They have a lot of work to accomplish in their post-mid-term lame duck session, and campaign finance reform seems to be lacking a true champion in the Senate – especially with Harry Reid’s political future in play.

Another clip from December’s upcoming “Casino Jack” feature film on Jack Abramoff has surfaced. This time, it features Kevin Spacey as Abramoff and Barry Pepper as Michael Scanlon.

A look from Roll Call at the connection between the “natural gas lobby” and Democratic allies… and where they’re going from here.

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s hold on Norm Eisen’s nomination is profiled at Foreign Policy. Sen. Grassley is unhappy with Eisen’s handling of the firing of Gerald Walpin as Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). (H/T Eric Brown at Political Activity Law). UPDATED: Rick Hasen has confirmed that Norm Eisen is still at the White House: http://electionlawblog.org/archives/017387.html

Quote of the Week:

“Campaigns will typically try to go as far as they think they can get away with… [but] the hazard is if you don’t pay your vendors, it’s hard to get anybody new.” Unnamed source on unpaid campaign debts, Roll Call, October 14.

Lobbing Lobbying Accusations in the Heartland

October 14th, 2010 by Autumn

In an interview with a South Bend, Ind. radio station,  Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) described the difference between his ties with special interests groups and his opponent’s work as a Washington lobbyist. (Interview audio here).

Ellsworth and his Republican opponent, former Sen. Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), are both running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

Ellsworth claims that his opponent is suffering from conflicts of interest with his lobbying career:

“Mr. Coats has a conflict of interests.  Lobbying in itself isn’t a bad thing but going through that revolving door and coming back to the Senate after you’ve purchased a $1.8 million house in North Carolina, you’ve lived off that income.  If he was on a jury or [were] a judge…it would be a conflict of interest to now decide cases and or make laws that involved over the [hundreds] of lobbying clients that his firm represented.”

In the interview, Rep. Ellsworth argues that donations from special interests groups fund campaigning while Coats’ work with special interests provided personal gain.

This is in response to a video from Sen. Coats “fact-checking” Rep. Ellsworth’s claims about Coats’ Washington ties. (Coats claims that Ellsworth has received the most campaign contributions of any Senate candidate nationwide.)

Filing Alert: LDA Forms Due Oct. 20

October 13th, 2010 by James

Filing time!

You have one week to finish compiling your paperwork and submitting it to the House Clerk and Secretary of the Senate.

That’s right, it’s that time of the year again – 3rd Quarter 2010 LDA reports are due to the Clerk and Secretary by October 20, 2010.

Read more about filing, and find forms and instructions here at the Clerk of the House’s website.

Now’s a good time to review what you need to file.

Ghosts of Lobbyists Past

October 13th, 2010 by Brittany

LD-1 lobbying registrations for new clients of lobbying firms must disclose the prior government service of each individual lobbyist for 20 years preceding the filing of the registration. (This is known as the “20-year look-back” provision). New individual lobbyists employed by an existing registrant will also need to disclose this look-back information on the entity’s next quarterly LD-2 report. Employees of the organization registered as lobbyists prior to January 1, 2008 are governed by a two-year look-back provision only.

New employee lobbyists must report their prior government service for the twenty years preceding the reporting period in which they are newly registered as lobbyists.

Prior government service is defined serving as a “covered executive or legislative branch official.” For purposes of disclosing prior government employment, all registrants and filers must use the LDA definition of “covered executive or legislative branch official.”

Covered executive branch officials under the LDA 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:

  1. A Member of Congress
  2. An elected officer of either the House or the Senate
  3. 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
  4. 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

For more compliance information visit the Lobbying Compliance Center on Lobbyists.info.

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Compliance System Edition

October 12th, 2010 by James

Today’s post is an excerpt from the Lobbying Compliance Handbook:

Prior to the enactment of HLOGA, most registrants had not reviewed their tracking and filing systems for many years. HLOGA in 2007 provided a reminder that it is a good idea to periodically review the internal compliance and tracking systems toassure they are current.

Periodically ask these questions to help keep your LDA disclosure compliance up to date:

  • What are we doing to prepare and file LDA reports?
  • How do we determine the information that is included on our reports?
  • Who has been compiling the information that is used for preparing the reports?
  • What are the standards and definitions being used to account for income ortime/costs and expenditures?
  • Who reviews the reports prior to filing?
  • Who signs the reports?
  • What training is needed for ensuring accuracy of the information in the reports?
  • What is the documentation for substantiating the contents of each item of information contained in the reports?
  • What is the document retention system and policy?
  • Who in management should play a role in the review and approval of the systems and the reports?
  • What expertise is needed to ensure the existence of a good faith compliance effort?
  • What training is needed for the lobbyists and/or others engaged in lobbying activities or communications?
  • What are the backup systems to ensure that more than one individual is responsible for the information that is reflected in the reports?
  • What are the legal protections in place for the organization and the individuals preparing and signing the reports?
  • What process is in place in the event of the organization’s receipt of a letter of inquiry from the House Clerk, the Secretary of the Senate (or the GAO in the event of an audit letter)?