The Fireworks Lobby: Quiet Federally, Making Noise in the States

July 3rd, 2014 by James Cameron

AS ANYONE WHO FOLLOWS associations and lobbying knows, there’s an association and a lobby for everything—and fireworks are no exception. The industry is represented by the American Pyrotechnics Association, which retains K&L Gates to lobby on such issues as safe packaging and transport of chemicals under the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and amending the Harmonized Tariff Schedule to benefit fireworks manufacturers.

But the association doesn’t have a tremendous presence on the Hill; since 2012, it has spent just $14,165 on federal lobbying efforts. Likewise, its political action committee, Americans Supporting the Pyrotechnics Industry (or PAC-4-PYRO), spent a mere $6,000 during the 2013-2014 election cycle.

Given the myriad of different state laws governing fireworks, it’s probably not surprising that the industry wields greater influence at the state level. An article for New Hampshire Public Radio details how fireworks manufacturers poured money into the state to prevent New Hampshire’s legislature from banning mortar style fireworks, which are among the best-selling fireworks both in the state and nationwide. The article notes that Phantom Fireworks, a manufacturer based in Ohio, spent close to $7000 to lobby against a ban on mortars. With little financial clout on the other side, it’s likely that mortars will remain legal in New Hampshire.

While the fireworks lobby has a token Washington presence, it’s clear that its real impact is at the state level, where a lack of organized or funded opposition give it an advantage.

NCAA Pays Lobbyists in Hopes of Never Paying Athletes

June 20th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

BOTH THE NATIONAL Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big 12 have hired lobbyists for the first time.  The issue: the “welfare of student-athletes,” what The Hill describes as “a key turn of phrase being used to underscore that players are students…and not professional athletes who should receive compensation.”

The debate on whether student-athletes deserve pay has been heated for years, and came to a boil most recently when the Chicago division of the National Labor Relations Board decided that Northwestern football players qualify as “employees” and therefore can unionize.  But until now, the NCAA has relied on in-house lobbyists to bring the issue to the Hill, which cost them $180,000 in 2013 alone.

It’s unclear how difficult the NCAA’s task will be.  One lobbyist speculated that when Major League Baseball was last on the Hill, it caved on its steroid policy.  Whether there’s even a chance that the NCAA will do the same depends on how earnestly the issue is taken up by Congress.  At the moment, The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has yet to reschedule a hearing.

K St. Drools Over Cantor

June 12th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

AFTER HOUSE MAJORITY leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) unpredictable defeat Tuesday night, a predictable response: what’s next for the Virginian?

Perhaps the most eager to know are those willing to coax the lame duck into working for them.  His leadership position, writes the Hill, makes him an incredibly lucrative prize.  And depending on the results of this year’s midterm elections, his stock could rise in just a matter of months. The timing of his defeat combined with his length of service and rank within the Republican party are the chief ingredients that make Cantor even more magnetic than “Blue Dog” Democrats, a “popular breed” on K St. for their bipartisanship and amity towards business.

Whether Cantor’s staff will get a share of this fortune is less certain.  Some are arguing that their value will sink as a result of the defeat, while others are skeptical of this assessment.  Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group, told The Hill “being in leadership means you know the entire caucus; that’s something that’s really important. Those relationships don’t go away because your boss is not there.”  POLITICO’s stance appears to incorporate both views, noting that former Cantor staffers on K St.

are [all] lobbyists with extensive relationships all over town who will ultimately be fine without their Cantor connection on Capitol Hill. But Cantor’s exit – assuming he doesn’t mount a quixotic write-in campaign – shifts the center of gravity and talent on K Street significantly.

As for Cantor’s donors, a potential measure of his influence, POLITICO adds that it’s “futile” to list them “because it’s essentially a who’s who of Fortune 500 and major trade associations.”

Of course, these discussions tend to invite needless speculation, so it’s worth ending on two points of consensus: Eric Cantor has his pick of the crop, and whoever gets him will profit immensely.

On K St.’s Heterogeneity

June 5th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

TWO BLACK VULTURES recently made K St. their home, prompting the sort of jokes that one would expect when the caricature of an entire industry nests on its doorstep.  When lobbyist Charlie Dewitt was informed of the vultures’ arrival, he provided the most telling response: “of the bird variety?”

Yet generalizations of any sort would seem unfitting after reading the Washington Post’s brief sketch of K St.’s “new landscape.”  The article provides short portraits of four firms – Franklin Square Group, Chamber Hill Strategies, Policy Resolution Group, and lobbying powerhouse Holland & Knight – each of which is distinguished by some unique characteristic.  Holland & Knight, for example, was the first lobbying group within a law firm to cease using billable hours.  According to Rich Gold, the firm’s head of public policy, this decision meant “not having to worry about how many people to put on a client matter for fear that their collective hourly billing might surpass the monthly retainer the client is paying.”  Policy Resolution Group is equally notable for being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the law firm Bracewell & Guiliani.  According to senior leaders in the firm, “having a separate subsidiary allows non-lawyer lobbyists and professionals to rise to a position that is equivalent to partner, and that helps recruit the best people.”

And it’s not just structural and operational nuances that separate these firms from the pack.  Franklin Square Group, which specializes in technology, prides itself on being the “bridge” between the vastly different cultures of Silicon Valley and Washington.  Of course, they too have a structural distinction in that every partner owns some form of stock option in the firm, but they prefer to see themselves as straddling the line between the fast-moving and risk-driven milieu of the Bay Area and the stodginess of the Beltway.  Taken together, all of these differences account for nothing when the K St. stereotype is very much alive.  The vultures’ choice for nesting grounds helped drive this point home.

Association Lobbying: A Boon for K Street and a Tool for Associations

May 28th, 2014 by James Cameron

FOR MANY ASSOCIATIONS, a crucial aspect of their mission is to advocate their legislative agenda before Congress. Likewise, association lobbying can be a welcome boon to firms, especially since lobbying revenue has declined in recent years. But which firms are the most influential in the association space, both in terms of clients and income? And, conversely, which associations spend the most on lobbying, and therefore are among the most influential in government relations?

Based on data from Lobbyists.info, we were able to determine the top five lobbying firms for total active association clients as well as for total association income in 2013:

  1. K&L Gates LLP: 24 association clients
  2. Ernst & Young and Patton Boggs LLP: 23 association clients
  3. Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville, PC: 22 association clients
  4. Capitol Counsel LLC and The Podesta Group: 21 association clients
  5. Hogan Lovells LLP and Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc.: 20 association clients

There are few surprises on this list for anyone familiar with the government relations industry, but how do these firms stack up in terms of total association income for 2013?

  1. Patton Boggs LLP: $6,090,000
  2. The Podesta Group: $4,430,000
  3. Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc.: $4,100,000
  4. Ernst & Young: $3,940,000
  5. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP: $3,930,000

While this list contains some of the biggest firms on K Street, it’s clear that catering to the association space can prove lucrative. It’s also evident that associations see the worth in investing considerable funds to lobby Congress effectively, but which associations (and industries) wielded the most significant monetary clout on K Street in 2013?

  1. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA): $275,781
  2. National Cable & Telecommunications Association: $211,365
  3. Edison Electric Institute: $148,962
  4. Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO): $130,845
  5. U.S. Chamber of Commerce: $128,832

These associations represent some of the biggest and most lucrative industries in America, so it’s no shock that they have the most money to spend on lobbying, but they’re not the only associations who are willing to spend significant cash to further their legislative agendas; four other associations spent six figures in 2013, and 35 others spent more than $50,000. Despite congressional gridlock and a government shutdown, associations are finding ways to make themselves heard on Capitol Hill.

195…

May 19th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

…the number of times “affordable care act” has been referenced in a federal lobbying filing since 2011, according to data from Lobbyists.info.

Because The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in March, 2010, virtually all relevant lobbying activities have been attempts to either amend or repeal it.  Some of the activities are very precise (“To amend subtitle B of title I of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to extend the temporary high-risk insurance pool program to the territories.”).  Those that are less so are commensurately more ambitious (“To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”).

The 195 references are (predictably) dispersed unevenly.  2011 had by far the most with a grand total of 72 ACA references.  2012 and 2013 saw 57 and 58 respectively.  When broken down by quarter, Q4 and Q3 2011 take first and second place with a combined 40 references.  And 2014 isn’t the end of it.  If the midterm elections are as bad for Democrats as some expect, there should be more ACA activity to come.

Disclosure ‘Round the World

May 8th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

IT’S NOT JUST to satisfy a peculiar curiosity that one studies the minutiae of Taiwan’s lobbying disclosure.  Nor does one graph data from Canada’s Federal Lobbying Registry to pass the time.  These things are done, rather, in an effort to better understand “the impacts of technology-driven transparency policies around the world.”  It’s in the hope of learning something useful that the Sunlight Foundation, with funding from Google.org, Google’s charitable arm, is taking this initiative very seriously.

Lobbying disclosure is only one issue area in the research, but will include three case studies: Canada, Hungary, and Taiwan.  So far only an analysis of Canada’s disclosure has been published, with Hungary and Taiwan forthcoming.

The Canadian case study is staggeringly detailed: an over 5,000-word analysis is accompanied by three graphs and over four hours of interviews with experts on the country’s disclosure framework.  Whether this impressive assemblage of data will have any application in the U.S. is yet to be seen, but it would surely be a shame if it didn’t at least point us in the right direction.  The section on enforcement, for example, argues that Canada’s  Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying is a “credible threat.”  If we learned from our neighbors, perhaps the same could be said for our Department of Justice.

May the Least Worst Site Win

April 28th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

IMAGINE IF YOUR organization’s website received an award for showing “signs of improvement.”  Though “still weak,” it’s beginning to provide “basic” information.  This less-than-cheering diagnosis comes from the Congressional Management Foundation’s 113th Congress Gold Mouse Awards, which recognizes House and Senate offices (including committees) for effective websites and citizen engagement on social media.

The awards shine a welcome spotlight on an abysmal set of sites, some of which are utterly unnavigable.  The issue would be hilarious were access to lawmakers anything less than elemental to a healthy democracy.  By praising those few Hill offices who work hard to ensure their websites are functional and inviting, the CMF brings us a step closer to a day when they’ll all be like that.

In future editions of the awards, it would be nice if the CMF could draw attention to those sites in most need of repair (National Journal has since taken down its list of the worst committee websites).  That ought to really get people talking.

History Matters

April 15th, 2014 by James Cameron

THOSE WHO CANNOT REMEMBER the past…cannot lobby effectively. That’s why Lobbyists.info recently unveiled its latest feature: historical links between staffers, federal lobbyists, and members of Congress going back to 1987.  Since lobbyists’ connections to lawmakers can matter just as much as their skills and experience, this is a crucial resource.

Why are these historical links so valuable?  For one, lawmakers are staying on the Hill for longer than they used to.  A report by the Federation of American Scientists found that the average years of service for members of the 113th Congress is 9.1 for the House and 10.2 for the Senate.  If you want to lobby on a piece of legislation before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and a lobbyist you’re thinking of hiring was a staffer for Henry Waxman in 1993, then that historical link may play a crucial role in picking the right advocate.

With the revolving door between staffers and lobbyists spinning at cyclone speed, the links between former staffers and Congress have become vital to understanding the influence game.  It’s increasingly clear that understanding these historical links can give advocates a leg up on the competition.

McCutcheon’s Effect on Lobbyists

April 7th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

WHATEVER ONE’S VIEWS on the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcehon v. FEC, there’s one incontrovertable fact: lobbyists will suffer.

According to CNN, “lobbyists fret that the ruling could mean they’ll be on the hook to hand over even more campaign cash to lawmakers.”

POLITICO added that these lobbyists “are already inundated by fundraising calls from lawmakers, email solicitations and events that fill their calendars for breakfasts, lunches and dinners in the run-up to the quarterly deadlines.”

The Hill called the decision “groan-inducing” for lobbyists, noting that the aggregate limits had until now acted as “a ready-made excuse for turning down fundraising appeals.”

Of course, not everyone is extending their pity.  Huffington Post blogger Jason Linkins bitterly remarked that these complaints teach only that “there is no greater disadvantage in life than having all the advantages.”

Yet virtually nobody is challenging the fact that lobbyists will be expected to pony up a larger share of their income in the years ahead.  Perhaps a collective reluctance will help minimize the damage.

20,391…

April 2nd, 2014 by James Cameron

…the number of GR professionals in D.C., according to data collected for Lobbyists.info.  This makes the nation’s capital the number one city in the U.S. for lobbyists.

Two D.C. suburbs take a distant second and third.  Alexandria and Arlington, Va., boast 1,272 and 1,258 GR professionals, respectively.

The drop-off is considerable between No. 4 New York (1,162) and No. 5 Chicago (299).  Rounding out the top 10 are Sacramento, Calif. (292); Boston (279); Bethesda, Md., (255, and another D.C. suburb); Austin Texas (248); and McClean, Va. (214).  Overall there are 1,884 U.S. cities where at least one GR professional is located.

More state capitals that make the top 50: Atlanta (166); Indianapolis (148); Harrisburg (147); Albany (147); Tallahassee (128); Phoenix (114); Raleigh (122); Madison (105); Lansing (101); Richmond (92); Baton Rouge (78); Annapolis (75); Oklahoma City (74); Nashville (69); and St. Paul (67).

‘Tis the Season to Fly-in

March 31st, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

BARRING ERRATIC WEATHER, it’s around this time of the year when the D.C. area thaws and blossoms and bustles again.  Included in this resurgence are the droves of advocates who partake in the annual pilgrimage known as the fly-in.

Yet unlike a pilgrimage, conscripts are expected to do more than mere ritual.  There’s a craft to advocacy for which even once-a-year novices are not exempt.  That means fly-in organizers must ensure their advocates are properly prepared, lest their collective efforts amount to no more than a field trip.

Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates has made it part of her job to instruct fly-in organizers.  In a sense, she trains the trainers.  Earlier this month, Vance conducted a webinar for Lobbyists.info titled “Preparing Advocates for Fly-ins,” in which she detailed, among other things,  how to educate advocates on congressional procedure.

Without spoiling the program (available for purchase here), Vance promotes a balanced approach to fly-in prep in which advocates are taught the essentials without being bogged down by procedural minutiae.  Remind advocates of how bills are passed, Vance argues, but don’t exceed the basic tenets of Schoolhouse Rock.  This approach helps avoid the sort of confusion that would only serve to confound and frustrate an already anxious group.  It also frees advocates to direct their attention where it’s most needed, which is not in general procedure but rather in specific policy issues.

Vance covers much more ground than this, but it all links to the same general message: if you’re hoping for a successful fly-in, learn how to train your advocates.

The Return of Enforcement

March 26th, 2014 by James Cameron

NO ONE ENJOYS filling out paperwork, but if you’re a lobbyist, failure to do so can be costly. The Washington Post reported last week that Alan Mauk and his firm, Alan Mauk Associates, failed to file required quarterly lobbying reports at least 13 times in the past four years—an indiscretion that carries a hefty price of up to $200,000 per violation. The civil complaint filed against Mauk and his firm is the latest of several lawsuits the government has filed in the past year as a result of negligence.

Back in June, the Blog of the Legal Times reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia slapped Biassi Business Services Inc., a consulting firm based in New York, with a  lawsuit that could cost the firm up to $33 million in fines. Biassi reportedly filed several disclosures for 2012 and 2013 after the lawsuit was filed, and it remains to be seen how much of the fine Biassi will ultimately have to pay.

But lobbyists aren’t merely being fined for domestic lobbying violations. In August, this blogger wrote on how federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against two lobbyists for alleged violations of U.S. sanctions and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by lobbying on behalf of Zimbabwe and its president, Robert Mugabe. Likewise, in 2011, a lobbyist was charged with FARA violations for failing to disclose lobbying activities for a foreign entity.

So, why are we just recently seeing the Feds come down hard on disclosure violators? As noted before on this blog, between 1995 and 2010 the U.S. Attorney’s Office settled with just three lobbyists, yet since 2010 there have been at least five lawsuits filed related to HLOGA and FARA violations.

One explanation is that we’re entering the enforcement stage of a cycle that begins with complacency (itself a symptom of lax enforcement) and ends in scandal. With the lobbying industry moving underground, it’s only a matter of time before a lobbyist or firm stretches the current rules too far, at which point we may see a successor to HLOGA.  Until then, we’ve yet to experience the kind of enforcement that these laws originally intended.  But it looks as if we’re getting closer.

8 Terms to Describe the Lobbying Landscape

March 21st, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE PRESS HAS employed a unique terminology to describe recent trends in federal lobbying.  Replete with shadows and suspicion, here are eight terms readers are likely to encounter:

DASCHLE LOOPHOLE – The details of current federal lobbying law that allow de facto lobbyists to legally to go unregistered.  The loophole’s namesake is former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who currently lobbies for DLA Piper yet calls himself a “Policy Advisor.”

DEACTIVATE -  to remove oneself from disclosure responsibilities by going UNDER THE RADAR. (Not to be confused with DEREGISTER).

DEREGISTER -  to remove oneself from disclosure responsibilities by terminiating lobbying contracts.  Since there is no deregistration paperwork, lobbyists are considered formally deregistered when they terminate all of their contracts. (Not to be confused with DEACTIVATE).

SHADOW LOBBYIST – A term used to designate a de facto lobbyist who is not legally registered.

STRATEGIC ADVICE – A cunning alternative to “lobbying” that can allow de facto lobbyists to go UNDER THE RADAR.  “Consulting” is another popular choice, although one can obviously act as a consultant or strategic advisor without actively lobbying (i.e., there’s a distinction between genuine consultants and lobbyists who merely call themselves consultants).  Asked about his lobbying for Freddie Mac, Newt Gingrich claimed that he was hired by the company as a “historian.”

UNDERGROUND – To go “underground” is to go “UNDER THE RADAR,” although the former is more commonly used as an alternative explanation for a recent decline in the number of registered lobbyists.  Many in the press had originally attributed this decline to a general descent of lobbying.  Closer examination revealed that lobbyists hadn’t left town, nor had they left work–they had simply “gone underground.”

UNDER THE RADAR – The status of a de facto lobbyist who is not legally registered.  Someone who works “under the radar” is operating through the DASCHLE LOOPHOLE.

UNLOBBYIST – Short for “underground lobbyist,” “unlobbyist” is synonymous with SHADOW LOBBYIST.

Camp vs. Washington

March 6th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

DAVE CAMP’S (R-Mich.) raison d’etre is to change the way Washington does taxes.  Washington’s is not to change at all.

Last week, Camp revealed plans for the Tax Reform Act of 2014, which aims to simplify the current tax code by reducing the number of tax brackets and significantly scaling back deductions and exemptions that The Economist claims “leak $1 trillion in revenue a year and make compliance a nightmare.”

As good as these proposals sound (despite many kinks), essential to the political terrain of Washington are two insurmountable obstacles that will keep them from becoming law.  The first is partisanship.  Neither party is in the habit of giving a passing thought to tax reform without strings attached.  The Democrats want to see their projects funded and the Republicans won’t consider higher revenue.

The second obstacle is what this blogger is for the first time calling “special interests.”  The term is misused, abused, and overworked for a variety of reasons, but applies quite nicely to the special treatment afforded to certain groups and industries through tax preferences.  Anyone who currently enjoys such treatment is vehemently against the bill.  The National Association of Realtors, a lobbying powerhouse, is “extremely disappointed.”  The Private Equity Growth Capital Council also finds it all “so disappointing.”  These groups enjoy the mortgage interest and carried interest deductions respectively, two features of the status quo that Camp would like to see vanish.

Since Camp’s logic is to simplify brackets, widen the base, and patch the leaks caused by preferences, the bill is expected to generate revenue. The House Joint Committee on Taxation predicts that, were the bill to pass, it would generate an extra $3 billion in the next decade.  Sadly, however, Camp’s most vocal opponents don’t care much for its overall impact.  They care about their industry, and that’s enough to keep them going.  As one reads this, “a tribe of lobbyists is pressing conservatives to snuff Camp’s proposal, threatening to withhold precious campaign dollars.”  Such is the fate of someone who dares challenge Washington.