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.

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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)?

Candidates Seek to Distance Themselves from Lobbyists

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.

White House Weighed Funding for Ethics Website

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.”

In California, Public Pension Planners Must Register as Lobbyists

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.

Industry Moves and Changes

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.

Weekly Lobbying News Round-Up

October 8th, 2010 by James

Opponents say Nancy Pelosi’s “swamp-draining” ethics pledge of 2007 seems to be a low priority for theWeekly news embattled speaker.

The State Department has rolled out new per diem rules after a series of lawmakers admitted to keeping excess funds from overseas travel.

More on the mid-term problem for some candidates of having to “overcome” lobbyist ties. (From Open Secrets)

Following up on reports that lobby shops are beefing up their Republican practices in anticipation of a heavily-favored GOP mid-term season, The Hill reports on K St. firms making advances towards Democratic lawmakers in danger of losing their seats.

The House has passed a bill to resolve conflicts between states’ pay to play laws, according to LobbyComply blog. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), sponsored the bill; Rep. Quigley is a legislator who is noted for his work toward continuing ethical best practices (his Transparency in Government Act included new disclosure requirements for lobbyists).

Congressional cage match! It’s the Rahalls v. the lobbying firm that used to employ Tanya Rahall (sister of Congressman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.). The firm (which hasn’t done much lobbying in recent years, according to their Senate LDA filings) claims that Ms. Rahall improperly used client data.

I’m a little foggy on the details of public pensions placement agents, but if that phrase makes any sense to you, you may want to read this report from Pay to Play Law Blog on California’s new lobbyist registration law.

Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center has an interesting look at the OCE’s recent cases, and what the outcome “should have been.” Worth a read!

The Onion riffs off those press releases you see all the time about such and such organization hiring so and so to advance their lobbying goals. (And their fictional lobbyist “Jack Weldon” works for Patton Boggs.)   “American People Hire High-Powered Lobbyist to Push Interests in Congress.”

Quote of the Week

“[CDFPAC] policy dinners are ‘one of the best things that happen in Washington… [they’re] a little bastion of enlightenment and intellectual discourse… If I’m gonna give money, I’d rather have it go to this than to some inane TV commercial,’” Former Rep. Toby Moffett, a Democratic consultant, Politico, 10/5/2010

Who’s Afraid of American Crossroads?

October 8th, 2010 by Madiha

Like you didn’t see that one coming: a pair of campaign-finance watchdog groups have asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Crossroads GPS, a conservative nonprofit that is spending heavily (and when we say “spending heavily,” we mean it), to influence the midterm elections.

Karl Rove

If you watch the news, read Politico, or dig around the FEC site as a pastime (not us… ok maybe a few Friday nights FEC.gov has provided entertainment), you have heard about American Crossroads. Since its creation earlier this year, many in the media have cast shadows of doubt on the activities of the political grassroots organization.

So we decided to whip up a quick, fact-based rundown for those who aren’t clear on what American Crossroads is, think Crossroads GPS might be a global positional system, or are just excited by anything that comes out of the prolific mind of Karl Rove (you know who you are).

FACT 1: American Crossroads is not a cover for an underground mobster. It is actually organized as a 527 committee under the IRS tax code, has a DC office, and even a phone number that you can call on. And, being a 527 group, it’s actually within legal limits to collect unlimited contributions. While it remains to be seen if the FEC or IRS will crack down on it for abusing the law as alleged, on paper at least, it seems to be cautious and regularly filing its required documents within deadlines.

FACT 2: Crossroads GPS is not a space-based global positioning system. It is, however, an offshoot of American Crossroads, formed last June as a 501(c)(4). And because it has a 501 (c)(4) status, it does not have to disclose its donors. However, since a majority of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit’s activities must be apolitical, Crossroads is in the hot seat as yet another nonprofit allegedly operating as a lobbying outfit that doesn’t get to pay taxes.

FACT3: While Karl Rove is one of the founders of American Crossroads, he doesn’t actually run its daily operations. He’s more of an informal advisor, the fundraising brains, guru — you get the drift. A guy named Steven Law is the CEO (for those of you who don’t read your Wash Reps Weekly, Law is a former deputy secretary of labor in the Bush administration and was previously general counsel to the US Chamber of Commerce).

The FEC filings of American Crossroads show that between mid-August and early October, the organization had already filed 21 contribution notices, reporting massive media spending of almost $18 million. Just to give a rough idea of the nature of the contributions, they include media expenses to oppose the campaigns of Democrats Michael Bennett (Colo.) and Jack William Conway (Ky.), and to support Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), among others.

While one can argue against the wisdom of the FEC and IRS laws being too easy to manipulate, it can’t be denied that American Crossroads seems to have done its homework and done it well. If there’s a scandal in here, it’s definitely not flagrant and in-your-face a la Abramoff.

Karaoke in the Capital

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.

New Lobbying Certificate Program Session

October 6th, 2010 by Brittany

Join the American League of Lobbyists for their upcoming Lobbying Certicate Program (LCP) session:

Effective Communications: Congress and the Media
October 18, 2010 from 8:45-11:45 am EDT
Hall of States, Washington, DC

What you’ll learn:
Register for up-to-date training on how leverage more efficient and effective communications in the “New Washington,” including:

  1. How different government officials like to receive their information – and how to take advantage of the newest trends
  2. Today’s best new and traditional media – and when to use them
  3. How to get high ROI from what you spend on media communications
  4. How to support your contacts and give them greater persuasive power
  5. What to say (and not say) to get an appointment with Congressional staff
  6. How to craft a strong presentation and leave-behind materials
  7. What lobbyists must know about communications involving federal contracting -including bid negotiations, collateral policies and dispute resolution
  8. How to make sure your communications comply with all relevant rules – including the new lobbying requirements

Click here to register today!

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Bundling

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.