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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 13th, 2010 by James
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.
October 12th, 2010 by James
The special interests are at it again. At least, that seems to be the story from the campaign trail, as candidates of all political stripes seek to portray opponents as part of the “Washington problem.” Stories relating to the campaign contributions that lobbyists are spending to help elect or re-elect ideological friends in Congress have proliferated in the past two months.
Very few lawmakers will defend their working relationships with lobbyists, although Minority Leader John Boehner has never apologized working with them, even after an uncomplimentary New York Times article portrayed him as “tightly bound” to lobbyists.
Linda McMahon was recently in the news when she claimed that she “[had] not spent lobbying dollars in Washington,” a claim that was subsequently proved wrong, when her company WWE was reported to have spent more than a million dollars on federal lobbying in the past ten years.
The Washington Post makes the point that both President Obama and then-candidate John McCain made a point of attacking the lobbying industry. Post writers also call out former Senator Dan Coats, who is attempting a comeback Senate run, as being hit by his opponent for his post-Senate career as a lobbyist, and Senate candidate Sharron Angle in Nevada, who is blasting her opponent, Harry Reid, for being the top recipient of lobbyist campaign contributions.
The Washington Post article is here; an Open Secrets blog post on the topic is here.
October 12th, 2010 by James
The Hill reports that the Obama Administration did attempt to fulfill its campaign pledge to house all government ethics related content at a single URL, to be known as Ethics.gov. The campaign promise in question, according to The Hill, was Obama’s website pledge to “create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.”
Public interest groups have been calling for the introduction of the website in order to aggregate data from campaign finance, lobbying and other types of ethics disclosures, currently spread out among the various agencies’ websites. The newspaper reported that the administration had been working on finding funding for the project, but have hit walls in the actual implementation.
The Sunlight Foundation’s John Wonderlich told The Hill that “There is definitely a big distance from President Obama’s Ethics.gov campaign promise and what they have done so far… They are failing to live up to their promise, but their promise was aimed very high.” This comes after disappointment from some groups earlier this year when Norm Eisen’s post as White House special counsel for ethics was not refilled at the same level; Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, among other groups, saw this as a step backwards for ethics efforts.
After the exit of Norm Eisen as the administration’s ethics chief, the focus on ethics seems to have gone mostly to pushing for passage of the DISCLOSE Act, and little else. The White House blog, once Eisen’s favorite format for announcements, now has posts in the “Ethics” category from Dan Pfeiffer and Jesse Lee, both high-level staffers in the White House communications department.
The Hill article is here: “Watchdog group waiting for Obama to fulfill ethics pledge for online hub.”
October 12th, 2010 by James
In California this week, a law was passed requiring state pension placement agents to register as lobbyists in the state. This is according to Pay to Play Law Blog, which said that the law is “aimed at terminating “bounty-based compensation” and unrestricted gift-giving.”
The legislation was pushed by California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), state Controller John Chiang and Treasurer Bill Lockyer. As lobbyists, the California state pension placement agents must comply with California’s Political Reform Act of 1974. A similar law in New York, according to the blog’s authors, is much more restrictive, with an outright ban on placement agents in place.
Agents are banned from contributions to elected board officials, and must file quarterly compensation reports if doing business with CalPERS or the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).
A goal of the bill was increased transparency. The blog reports that Lockyer said the legislation “embodies a principle that has been forgotten and flouted in California and across the nation: Workers, retirees and taxpayers come before politically-connected middlemen and wealthy Wall Street interests.”
Read the background on the legislation here, and the post from Pay to Play Law Blog here.
October 12th, 2010 by James
Jerome Murray has been named director of federal policy and government relations at Merck. Murray previously served as legislative director for Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)
Julie Scott Allen has been hired as government relations director in the health government relations practice of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. Allen most recently was vice president and managing director at Thompson Advisory Group
Michael C. Obrock has been hired as a legislative associate with the federal relations office at the National Governors Association. Obrock was previously with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
James A McGreevy III has been promoted to senior vice president for government affairs at the American Beverage Association.
John Fuller has left Van Scoyoc Associates to work for Capitol Decisions, Inc.
October 7th, 2010 by Brittany
Luke Russert clearly takes his karaoke seriously
Last night a few of Washington’s favorites came out to belt- it-out to raise funds for the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation at the Karaoke in the Capital. The foundation provides musical instruments for deserving students and schools.
The event, emceed by Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation, was, as always, fairly entertaining with a stand out performance from Luke Russert.
This year the foundation selected Charles Eliot-Lemon G. Hine Middle School in Washington, DC to receive musical instrument funding. They currently have 20 working instruments which are shared amongst 70 students throughout the day. The students are even sharing mouthpieces (they clean them with alcohol in between classes.)
This year’s event was put on by the AAPC at the Rock and Roll Hotel. Lobbyists.info was a sponsor.
October 5th, 2010 by James
Lobbyist bundling activities must be reported
In the run-up to the mid-terms, government relations professionals might be engaged in a little campaign contribution bundling. This is a perfectly acceptable form of political fundraising, in which one lobbyist gathers campaign contributions from a group of colleagues and presenting the resulting “bundle” to lawmakers.
Regulations and disclosure:
Under HLOGA, candidate committees, leadership PACs and federal party committees are required to disclose to the Federal Election Commission the names of individual lobbyists, registered lobbying entities, or PACs maintained by lobbyists or lobbying entities that donate bundled contributions of $15,000 or more.
The “bundle” can be a physical pile of checks, or a method of assigning credit for certain amounts of money raised.
Registrant PACs and Leadership PACs were required to identify themselves as such on FEC Form 1 no later than March 29, 2009.
As always, members of Congress are prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions in regard to any kind of official action.
Links to information regarding the new rules, related forms and committee filings are here, at the FEC’s site.