State of the Union goes High Tech

January 25th, 2011 by Autumn

President Obama has unveiled a webpage designed to supplement tonight’s State of the Union address.  The first of its kind, the website boasts that “Americans can choose an enhanced viewing experience for the President’s State of the Union address.”

A White House panel consisting of Brian Deese, Deputy Director, National Economic Council; Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy; David Simas, Director and Aide to the Senior Advisor; and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications has been assembled to answer questions submitted via Facebook, Twitter, or the site itself immediately after the address.Other key members of the administration will be participating in online discussions throughout the week.

President Obama himself will engage in a YouTube interview Thursday afternoon.  Also on Thursday, there will be a live roundtable discussion featuring the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chairman of the Council of Economic AdvisorsAustan Goolsbee and Dennis McDonough, Deputy National Security Director.

The page will stream the address live and also includes charts, graphs and other content to supplement the speech.

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Former Obama Chief-of-Staff Ineligible for Mayoral Race

January 24th, 2011 by Autumn

Rahm Emanuel has been declared ineligible for the Chicago mayoral race by an Illinois appeals court.  Emanuel has been a front-runner in fundraising and popular polls, and did not expect this reversal of an earlier court’s decision deeming him eligible.

The rationale for this reason, that he does not meet the residency requirements, due to his White House position, had previously been ruled invalid by the Chicago Board of Elections and a lower court, which maintained that Emanuel, who has maintained a Chicago residence, did not intend to relinquish his residency in the city.

A 2-1 vote by the Illinois Appellate Court overruled this contention.  The debate is sure to ensue in the Illinois Supreme Court, as the elections deadline approaches.

ALL names Interim Executive Director

January 24th, 2011 by Autumn

Gina Bancroft has been named interim executive director of the American League of Lobbyists.  Bancroft, who served on the ALL Board as 1st Vice President in 2010, has over 20 years of experience in Federal government relations.  The former Congressional Chief of Staff has extensive knowledge of both regulatory and legislative affairs and the overall political landscape.

She has assumed the position after the league’s former executive director, Patti Jo Baber, passed in December after a battle with cancer.

The American League of Lobbyists has represented the lobbying profession for over 30 years.  Its mission is to “enhance the development of professionalism, competence, and high ethical standards for advocates in the public policy arena; and to collectively address challenges which affect the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances.’”

Business lobby thrilled with new appointee

January 19th, 2011 by Autumn

William Daley’s White House arrival excites many on K Street.  Daley, who has replaced Rahm Emmanuel as White House chief of staff, is expected to be a great advocate for business in his new position.  The former Clinton Administration Chamber of Commerce secretary and LDA-registrant is being viewed as a “kindred spirit” by business executives, according to Roll Call.

Though largely liberal, many are optimistic that Daley will plead the case for businesses on the issues of trade, tax and regulation, and may “seek common ground with business and the White House.”  Daley’s former posts on the board of Fannie Mae and as vice president of banking giant JP Morgan put him in a key position to address the mortgage and banking crises, two of the nation’s most pressing economic issues after employment.

During the 2008 election, Daley, then an Obama economic advisor, took heat from presidential candidate Sen. John McCain for being a lobbyist, a claim which Daley denied.  A search of the lobbying database reveals that a William Daley has indeed lobbied on behalf of Community Organizations in Action and the Washington Community Organization Network, although Daley’s lobbyist son also bears his name.

2010 Election Cycle “Most Negative”

January 17th, 2011 by Autumn

The Wesleyan Media Project released two studies last week detailing its findings on campaign ads and spending.   The group found that 2.8 million ads ran in the midterm campaign cycle, amassing over $1.4 billion in spending between January and November 2010.  It also deemed the most recent campaign cycle the “most negative,” noting that 87.2% of ads run by independent expenditure groups, made more powerful by the Citizens United ruling, were negative, versus just over 37% of ads run by candidates’ campaign committees.

In the House, where significant Republican gains were projected, the group found that the number of ads by interest groups increased 168%, compared to just a 44% increase in Senate races.  In the first study, the authors concluded “with the increase in competitive races in 2010, the volume of advertising rose too, as did its negativity.”  They also mentioned that “Republicans [took] up some unusual themes, like health care and ‘change.’”

The second study, which analyzed the impact of the Citizens United ruling, found that “while interest groups were aggressive players in the air war, their impact may not have been as negative or as large as initially predicted.”

The group admonishes that “knowing what campaign themes brought [the 112th Congress] to power is an important prerequisite of holding government accountable.”

NFLPA takes fight to Congress

January 17th, 2011 by Autumn

Even in the midst of the playoffs, when fans may not be concentrating on the NFL’s failure to reach a collective bargaining agreement, the NFL Players’ Association has sought to urge Congress to force team owners to act before March 3.  Between 2008, when league officials decided not to extend the current agreement, and 2010, when the agreement actually expired, the NFLPA tripled its lobbying spending over the years before.

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth told Politico that players need to “level the playing field” before Congress, considering the league has had a strong lobbying presence on the Hill for years.  (For more on the NFL’s lobbying history, see lobbyists.info’s free white paper “Political Activity of the National Football League.”)  He argues that if there is a lockout next season, he, along with his wife and newborn child, would be left without health insurance.

Players contend that Congress can exercise its oversight authority to force the league, which has been granted an antitrust exemption, to force the league’s hand, though Congress traditionally has stayed out of labor fights.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lavar Smith (R-Tx.) says the committee does not have any hearings scheduled, and the chairman does not seem interested in the dispute.

“The NFL and NFLPA are literally and figuratively big boys.  They do not need Congress’s help to referee every business dispute.  That’s what courts and labor negotiation processes are for,” Smith told Politico.

Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief negotiator, says he is frustrated with the NFLPA’s lack of effort at the negotiating table, stating that the players are spending much more time and energy in the media and on Capitol Hill than actually trying to work out a deal with owners.

Important to Note in the 112th

January 14th, 2011 by Autumn

There has been a lot of discussion of “changing Washington” in the months leading up to the transition from 111th to 112th Congress.  Obviously, some of that was simply rhetoric, and some of it will be pursued with vigor (at least in the first session; enthusiasm may die down once the freshman class realizes some of the proposed changes will get in the way of effectively doing their jobs, just as high school and college freshmen realize by the second semester that things will not go exactly as anticipated).

Earmarks – You should know that the ban on earmarks is not in the House nor Senate rules.  It is, however, in the Republican Conference rules (which point to the House rules for guidance on defining earmarks).  As the definition of earmarks and what will and won’t be permissible is worked out, it is safe to assume if it was considered an earmark within the last five years, it will be considered an earmark moving forward.

However, experts argue that the current talk of an outright ban doesn’t make policy sense and will eventually reveal itself as allowing too much to the discretion of the Executive Branch.  New members of the House, in particular, are expected to tone down the rhetoric once they realize an all-out earmark ban would tie their own hands.

Transparency – Electronic texts have newly been added to the House rules regarding accessibility of legislation to the American people.  Though Congress has traditionally been concerned with the security implications of making legislation accessible online, this is expected to be the new standard as electronic media becomes more and more prevalent in society.

“Budget Czar” – Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will have the power to unilaterally set policies regarding certain budgetary decisions, including the spending aggregate.  He may also decide to sub-allocate funds to advance the conservative agenda.

The LD-203: Compliance for Campaign Finance Disclosure

January 13th, 2011 by Autumn

Tuesday, lobbyists.info hosted the semi-annual ethics boot camp to prepare you to sign the LD-203 “under penalty of perjury.”  Here are the basic things you will need to know ahead of the January 30 deadline:

  • Every lobbyist must file the LD-203, whether you have contributions or expenditures to report or not.
  • Sole practitioners must file on behalf of the business and as an individual lobbyist.
  • Registrants include both entities that employ lobbyists and every individual listed on an LD-1  or LD-2 form.
  • The report covers July 1-December 31 2010 and must be filed electronically.
  • Contributions of $200 or more from individual registrants or PACs controlled by an individual registrant to federal candidates, leadership PACs, federal party committees AND contributions of $200 or more to presidential inaugural committee or library must be reported as FECA contributions.
  • Payments AND expenditures are subject to reporting
  • Your signature certifies that, beyond just HLOGA rules, you have read both the House and Senate Gift and Ethics rules and exceptions, and have in no way violated them.
  • If an event honors, recognizes covered official, costs are subject to disclosure on LD-203 of sponsor – but not donor unless donor participates in honoring Member

Review filings and supporting documents closely before you sign.  Remember the “perjury trap.”

New Year – New Advocacy Approach?

January 12th, 2011 by Brittany

Unfortunately, many advocate networks have been started without a thoughtful analysis of potential structures and approaches:  they’ve grown haphazardly over time.  In these cases, the information below should be used to help the reader analyze the network’s current structure with an eye toward potential improvements (and resolutions in the new year!).

Following are different options for who an advocacy leader might decide to include in an advocate network:

1.)    All members of an organization (or employees of a corporation)

Many organizations choose to comprise their advocacy network of all members of their organization or employees of the corporation.  This means that everyone is considered an advocate by virtue of their membership in the organization regardless of whether they have specifically signed up for that role. Under this structure, everyone will be included in the advocate database and will receive action alerts and other materials about policy activities.

2.)    A subset of members of an organization (or employees of a corporation)

In some cases, advocacy leaders at an organization may decide to have a subset of members or employees be part of the advocacy team.  For associations, these may be individuals who specifically request to be part of the network, members of the public policy committee of the board and/or organization members who live in key legislators’ districts.  For corporations, the network may be built of only managers, owner / operators of franchises or facilities or only those employees who live in a certain geographic area or who have a certain job title.

3.)    A targeted group of individuals affiliated with an organization or company but not necessarily members or employees

Many corporations build advocacy networks as a service to their customers, as a benefit to retirees or other beneficiaries of their products or services.  Some pharmaceutical companies, for example, help finance the development of advocate groups made up of patients who benefit from their product.  In some cases, these may be established as separate, independent organizations.  In other cases, they may be directly associated with the company in question. 

4.)    Citizens-at-large or the general public (whether targeted to a specific geographic area or policy topic or more general)

Some advocate leaders find their cause to be of sufficient interest to members of the general public that they are able to recruit members of their advocate network from this broader pool.  This may include members of the general public in a specific geographic area (for example, in the case of advocacy on a city or neighborhood-specific initiative, such a new park) or more broadly, such as across a state, across the country or internationally.  In many cases, particularly with associations, a strong advocacy effort can also serve as a marketing tool to boost membership in the overall organization.

5.)    Some combination of the above

Finally, many advocate networks may include combinations of the above approaches. 

  • Scenario A:  An association includes all of their individual members as members of their advocate network, as well as members of the general public that support their ideas.
  • Scenario B:  A corporation asks all managers to be a part of the advocate network, as well as customers, retirees and others that will benefit from proposed policy changes.
  • Scenario C:  A professional association builds an advocate network based on the expressed interest of anyone, whether a member of the organization or not, in being an advocate for the policy issue in question.

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

How not to land yourself in jail

January 11th, 2011 by Autumn

You have probably heard by now that Paul Magliocchetti, the founder of the now-defunct PMA Group, was sentenced to 27 months behind bars for his role in organizing a campaign finance scheme.  In addition to the prison sentence, which will be served at a North Carolina federal prison hospital, the former House Appropriations Committee staffer was fined $75,000.

The sitting judge, the Honorable T.S. Ellis, issued the sentence as a warning to other lobbyists, and simultaneously expressed his displeasure with prosecutors who seek only fines in similar cases.  He did not grant the 57 month prison term and $629,000 fine the prosecutors sought initially, and told Magliocchetti that his good works were not obliterated, he was not responsible for a PMA Group-favorite donor’s suicide in light of the investigations, and said he should make amends with his son, who plead guilty to charges related to the case.

So what can be drawn from the Magliocchetti case?  First, people are seeking to make examples of lobbyists, so tread lightly.  Make sure you are in compliance with HLOGA and all of its developments, and be sure to carefully review your LD-203 filings for errors, remembering that your signature is “under penalty of perjury.”

Make sure that you disclose any campaign donations, be they to PACs, independent expenditure groups, political parties, or candidates and their election committees, on the form.

Bundle with care.  You will need to be aware of the limits and follow them closely.  Citizens United opened the door for unlimited giving, but did not take away the reporting requirements.

A good rule of thumb: if you can’t report it, don’t give it.  Recent cases have shown that prosecutors are looking and will find any missteps.  Repercussions may not be immediate, but they are coming.  US News & World Report found that only 20% of companies properly disclose their political donations, and only 14% actually have indirect disclosure policies.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by the LD-203′s reporting requirements, it is not too late to join today’s LD-203 bootcamp, which will be held at 2p.

George Clooney: Hollywood front man and…lobbyist?

January 10th, 2011 by Autumn

Known for his role in some of Hollywood’s top blockbusters, George Clooney is no stranger to Washington.  While Clooney himself is not actually a registered lobbyist, he has visited the White House to discuss his favorite issue: the genocide in Darfur.  Just over a month after President Obama was inaugurated, Clooney visited the president and Vice President Biden to discuss the crisis in the region.

While not as outwardly vocal as other celebrity lobbyists, including Lady Gaga, Clooney, through “Not on Our Watch,” a monitoring organization he co-founded along with fellow Ocean’s trilogy actors Don Cheadle and Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub, seeks “to focus global attention and resources towards putting an end to mass atrocities around the world,” according to the organization’s website.

The organization is a grassroots organization, urging citizens to contact elected officials, including President Obama, and encourage the US to take action on these issues.

What to Expect in a GAO Audit

January 5th, 2011 by Brittany

January marks the beginning of the new year, and the beginning of the sending out of audit letters by the Government Accountability Office. Below are some tips that organizations should keep in mind if they happen to receive an audit letter.

The GAO sought documentation for the following information on the LD-2 reports:

  • Lobbying income/expenses
  • Specific issues worked on and the lobbyists working on those issues
  • Disclosure of “active participants” in lobbying activities of a coalition or association
  • Disclosure of foreign organizations with a financial stake in an organization
  • Lobbyists who are no longer affiliated with client/issue
  • The congressional house or executive branch agency lobbied on each issue
  • Disclosure of “prior government service” for individual lobbyists listed on the reports

It is imperative to provide additional evidence to show how the numbers, names and other information contained in the reports were collected and that the correct information was submitted.

In addition to the previously mentioned findings of the GAO, the report also mentions some of the bad habits that were reflected on the LD-2 reports. Some of the reports contained dollar amounts that were not correctly rounded to the right number. An example of this would be that if an association spent $23,000 on lobbying activities during a reporting period, instead of reporting that $20,000 was allocated to lobbying expenditures by rounding to the nearest $10,000, as required by the LDA, the association may have rounded up to $30,000 and report that figure on the LD-2.

Another common mistake seen by the GAO was reporting the same people and lobbying figures on their reports for consecutive quarters, even if the information had changed. A related problem that the GAO discovered is that organizations would “over-report” the lobbying figures and the lobbyists working on issues to cover all of their bases. Although the GAO accepted verbal explanations for these, written documentations of these decisions should be kept in the future.

With these possible inconsistencies in mind, it would be mindful to keep accurate records of the items reported on the LD-2. The following are some methods to ensure that lobbying activities are correctly reported:

  1. Explain the decision process for what will be reported.
  2. Standardize the review process for the information in the reports.
  3. Keep any documents related to any of the lobbying reports.

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

Ethics Tip: Travel edition

January 4th, 2011 by Autumn

Lobbying firms and individual registered lobbyists are not permitted to sponsor any trips for Congressional members or staff unless an exception for the payment exists under the gift rules.  Typically, the only exemptions are for personal friends, relatives and significant others where significant history of the relationship can be proven.

Organizations that employ lobbyists, however, may sponsor one-day trips for members of Congress or staffers.  They may also offer local transportation for “widely attended events” or to the event site.  Ground transportation must be only occasional, and must be related to the event, not outside entertainment, and must be provided by the event sponsor, not a lobbyist.  Lobbyist involvement in the planning of the trip must be de minimis.  A 501(c)(3) organization may sponsor a multi-day trip for a senator, as long as no lobbyist accompanies the senator on any part of the trip.  There is no such multi-day provision for House representatives.

Private higher education institutions, whether they employ lobbyists or not, can provide three-day domestic trips and seven-day foreign trips, as long as staff lobbyists do not participate in the trip in any way.

Payment for travel is typically only approved to/from Washington, and not for other stopovers not related to the purpose of the trip.  Alcoholic beverages and flights on private or chartered aircrafts are not considered “reasonable expenses,” and therefore cannot be paid for by event sponsors.  Senate rules do not allow for payment of travel expenses for aides or assistants, but do allow for spouses and children to travel on the sponsor.  The House has similar provisions, but does not specify which “relative” can be paid for.

Top Headlines of 2010

January 3rd, 2011 by Autumn

Last year saw Executive Orders and court rulings and legislative movements and the passing of some of the profession’s most dearly-loved members.  Here is a look back at the top headlines of 2010:

  1. Trials, convictions and releases – Kevin Ring was convicted on five counts of corruption November 15 and awaits sentencing, after a 2009 trial resulted in a hung jury.  Paul Magliocchetti pleaded guilty in September to making illegal campaign contributions.  The justice department is seeking a 57 month imprisonment for what prosecutors are calling “one of the largest criminal schemes in U.S. history to violate federal campaign finance laws.”  Jack Abramoff, initially sentenced to six years for  fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials, was released from federal prison in June, and his term at a work-release-like program at a Baltimore pizzeria ended in early December.
  2. Court rulings – In January, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission corporate funding of independent campaign ads could not be limited under the First Amendment.  Many consider the March Speechnow ruling to be a follow-up to Citizens United; the spring case allowed for unlimited giving to “independent expenditures committees.”  Both cases, however, upheld disclosure requirements while lifting spending restrictions.
  3. Legislative Bullying - Congress sought to “fix” the Citizens United ruling with the DISCLOSE Act, which would require organizations that back federal election campaigns to disclose the names of large donors, as well as list said donors in any campaign ads the organizations run, and ban foreign governments, government contractors, and TARP recipients from donating to campaigns.  The act passed in the House in June, but failed in the lame duck session in the Senate.  In addition, a proposed ban on earmarks failed in the Senate November 30.
  4. Executive Orders – In June, President Obama issued an order banning lobbyists from advisory boards of federal departments and agencies.  It also banned all gifts from lobbyists to executive branch appointees, appointees-turned-lobbyists from lobbying the branch for the duration of his administration, and tightened revolving door policies.
  5. Deaths – Patti Jo Baber, executive director of the American League of Lobbyists, passed in December.  She was described as the “backbone” of the organization and a prominent member of the lobbying community.

Lobbyists are your friends

January 3rd, 2011 by Autumn

2010 saw a proliferation as “lobbying PR,” representing a shift to a more offensive, proactive approach to controlling the profession’s image, as opposed to a defensive, reactive stance it currently takes.  Perhaps it is because anti-lobbyist rhetoric has been at an all-time high since the 2008 election.  Or maybe it is in response to executive orders banning lobbyists from the Obama Administration and other restrictive policies that have made it more difficult for lobbyists to do their jobs.

Whatever the cause, we took a look at the top five pro-lobbying videos circulating around the internet to kick the year off right and examined what each was trying to say about the profession.

  • Billy Wants a Dog, Hill & Knowlton’s Dick and Jane-esque explanation of why corporate interests retain lobbyists is more of a marketing piece for the firm than an advocate for the profession.  Still, by default, it does include some pro-lobbying points, reminding us that “there are unintended consequences when governments act,” suggesting that “experts help you communicate with the government.”  The very simple, no-frills animation reveals that lobbyists aren’t scoundrels after all, but experts in their chosen fields.
  • This is Tracy Sherman. Tracy is a lobbyist. follows a woman on her way to her office, where it is revealed that she is a lobbyist (cue dramatic music).  Tracy goes on for seven minutes to discuss what it is that she and other lobbyists do.
  • In his animation, How It Happens: Lobbyists., David Gillette attempts to showcase the need for lobbyists: “Poof! Welcome to a world without lobbyists!  You may not believe it, but we just lost a tremendous amount of legislative expertise…as a result, our government is now almost entirely driven by the limited knowledge of our elected officials,” he says.   Gillette breifly explores the age old question: Are lobbyists evil, adding “What we think about them probably rests more on the issues they represent than the actual existence of the profession.”
  • What is Lobbying and Why is it Important? is the American League of Lobbyists’ explanation of lobbying as “your first amendment right” that needs exercising and protection, featuring several prominent DC-area lobbyists.
  • The Rap on Lobbyists begins “If you want city hall to take your call, if you want the state to legislate, if you advocate for the grassroots, be honest. Who else is going to get your words heard in Congress?”