Archive for the ‘Lobbying News’ Category

New York State Advisory Opinion Broadens Definitions of Lobbying

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

By: Jason Torchinsky – Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC

In a January 2016 Advisory Opinion, the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) clarified reporting obligations for those individuals and entities compensated for consulting services in connection with lobbying activity. The Advisory Opinion, referred to as AO 16-01, specifically addresses grassroots lobbying, “door-opening” lobbying, and the presence of a consultant at a lobbying meeting.

Following the release of AO 16-01, several public relations firms filed suit in federal court to prevent the JCOPE from enforcing the portion of AO 16-01 that would require individuals who are being paid to discuss legislation with editorial writers to register and report with JCOPE as lobbyists.

The following summary will focus on the new advisory opinion and the ensuing litigation.

1.      Grassroots Lobbying

Although New York’s lobby law already covered “grassroots lobbying”, this type of lobbying required a “call to action” in addition to a reference to specific legislation and a clear position on legislation. As a result of AO 16-01, however, public relations professionals working on matters that directly or indirectly involve communicating with public officials are now considered to be engaged in these lobbying activities. A communication is considered to be grassroots lobbying when it:

(1)   References, suggests, or implicates a state or local “government action”;

(2)   Takes a clear position on the issue in question; and

(3)   Is an attempt to influence a public official through a call to action.

For example, a solicitation, exhortation, or encouragement to the public or a segment of the public to contact a public official is considered grassroots lobbying. Further, an individual or organization that participates in the formation of the content and delivery of such a communication may be considered to be lobbying. In other words, public relations discussions with editors about current or pending legislation may require registration if the discussions involve the formation of content and delivery of a communication.

Individuals engaged in grassroots lobbying must register with JCOPE as a lobbyist if they or their employer receives or expends more than $5,000 for this and/or any activity that New York State considers lobbying. JCOPE has noted, however, that public relations consultants would not need to disclose “the content or details of specific communications with reporters or others.”

2.      “Door Opening” Lobbying

Preliminary contact by a consultant with a covered official is lobbying if it is intended to enable or facilitate the ultimate advocacy.

Under AO 16-01, certain activities by a consultant may constitute reportable direct lobbying. Specifically, a paid consultant engages in reportable direct lobbying under this opinion when the consultant has preliminary contract with a public official to enable or facilitate lobbying by a client or has any direct interaction with a public official in connection with lobbying by a client. As a result, a person who makes introductions between a covered official and his/her client may need to register as a lobbyist even if he/she does not engage in any substantive discussion of an issue if his/her employer receives or expends more than $5,000 for this and/or any activity that NY State considers lobbying.

3.      Consultants Attending Meetings

According to AO 16-01, merely attending a meeting with a covered official may be sufficient to trigger registration. To be clear, an individual who has direct interaction with a public official in connection with lobbying must register. These interactions include, but are not limited to:

(1)   Verbal or written communications, including communications made for the purpose of facilitating access to a public official;

(2)   Attendance at a meeting with a public official; and

(3)   Presence on a phone call with a public official.

AO 16-01 does confirm the long-standing exemption that individuals who attend meetings with public officials to address technical questions are not considered to be lobbying. This includes individuals such as architects, scientists, and engineers among others. 

Examples of Lobbying Which Trigger Registration

Considering the broad scope and application of AO 16-01, it is worth noting certain examples that would trigger registration by an individual. Consider actions and communications like the following:

  • Rallies to “get involved”
  • Billboards with a call to “Contact the Governor”
  • Radio or television ads stating  “Tell your Senator”
  • Websites/online petitions to “click here to sign this petition to our Assemblyperson”
  • Letter writing campaigns organized to oppose a regulation before a State agency
  • Speaking to a trade group to encourage them to contact a public official about a specific government action
  • Appearing on television to support the client’s position with respect to a government action
  • Contacting a newspaper to encourage editorial board to support the client’s position

Pending Litigation

In March 2016, a group of five public relations firms filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York seeking to prevent JCOPE from enforcing the portion of AO 16-01 that would require public relations professionals, who are paid to discuss legislation with editorial writers, to register and report with JCOPE as lobbyists. The group claims that AO 16-01 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by unlawfully subjecting public relations firms to a disclosure and punishment regime designed for true lobbyists, when in fact, public relations professionals only speak to the press about public issues. The group further argues that the result of AO 16-01 is that public relations firms, their clients, and members of the press are deterred, chilled, and silenced in violation of their First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order that would prevent JCOPE from taking action to enforce AO 16-01. The Southern District of New York has authorized a temporary stay of enforcement of AO 16-01 as applied to the group of plaintiffs. However, litigation is ongoing and the parties will be filing briefs in opposition to, or in support of, the various motions before the Court in the coming weeks.  A decision in expected this summer.

Termination of a Registered Lobbyist

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

By: Cleta Mitchell – Foley & Lardner LLP

The most common error experienced by my clients is properly terminating a lobbyist registration when a lobbyist leaves the firm or the organization or falls below the 20% threshold for lobbying registration for two consecutive quarters.   A full explanation of the procedures to follow can be found in the Lobbying Compliance Handbook, in addition to some sample forms and letters.

Below is a short checklist of the steps to follow when any person who is a registered lobbyist departs from the organization or ceases to be a lobbyist for the client or the organization:

1.  The LD-2 report is the key report reflecting termination.   Suppose Susan Lobbyist leaves the organization at the end of March, having worked on 3 clients (or 3 issues) during the first quarter.    The First Quarter LD-2 report, filed in April, must reflect the issues or clients on which Susan Lobbyist worked during the first quarter.   But, in addition, the organization/firm must complete Line 23, “Lobbyist Update”,  which asks for the names of ‘each previously reported lobbyist who is no longer expected to act as a lobbyist for the client.”  Susan Lobbyist’s name should be reported on Line 23 on the first LD-2 after ceasing to act as a lobbyist or departing from the firm or organization.

2.  Susan Lobbyist must still file an LD-203 for the January – June reporting period.  When Susan Lobbyist leaves the firm or organization, it is important to document that Susan must still file an LD-203 in July because she was a registered lobbyist for at least a portion of the reporting period.    The firm or organization should send written reminder before Susan leaves the firm/organization, which contains a statement that the LD-203 must be filed no later than July 20 (if Susan has departed at the end of March).  If Susan is leaving the lobbying industry altogether and is not planning to remain as a registered lobbyist,  the best practice is to have Susan file her LD-203 before she leaves her present position.   If Susan is planning to continue as a registered lobbyist in her next employment, providing a written document of the filing obligation is sufficient to protect the current employer from liability is Susan fails to file as required by law.

3.  Letters from the Secretary of the Senate and the House Clerk for failure to file.  If Susan fails to file the LD-203 as required, her last employer will be notified by the Senate Secretary and/or the House Clerk.   When those letters arrive, it is important to be able to respond with a copy of the written directive that had been provided to Susan prior to her departure.   However, the Secretary of the Senate and the House Clerk will also look to the last employer for whom Susan was registered to correct any problems with reporting.  Failure to have listed Susan on Line 23 of the first LD-2 following Susan’s departure will require an amended LD-2 to reflect her status as no longer lobbying for the organization or the client.

4.  Failure to respond to letters from the Secretary of the Senate or the House Clerk may result in a subsequent communication from the Department of Justice.  It is important to realize that simply because someone has departed from the organization or has stopped serving as a lobbyist does not relieve the registrant OR the organization from properly reporting all such changes.   Ignoring the letters from the Secretary of the Senate or the House Clerk will trigger letters from the Department of Justice – and ignoring letters from the DOJ can result in a lawsuit filed by DOJ seeking substantial penalties for disregarding the filing and reporting obligations.

It is not difficult to ensure that the lobbyist termination forms are properly completed and that all reports are duly and timely filed.   But it is important that steps are taken to know what is required and to proceed in the proper manner.

Too many firms, lobbyists and organizations simply fail to follow the simple process and face letters from the Department of Justice and threats of litigation and civil penalties.

Questions?   Refer to the Lobbying Compliance Handbook for more thorough explanation and suggested form letters.

Hedge Funds Launch New Lobbying Arm

Thursday, May 19th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

A new Washington D.C. based trade association has been created a select group of hedge funds. The new association is named the “Council for Investor Rights and Corporate Accountability,” or “CIRCA.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “it is the first coordinated effort by activists to make their case to lawmakers and the American public that their investment strategy helps, rather than harms, companies and the U.S. economy.”

CIRCA is supported by a consortium of five different activist firms, but does not name them in the press release. However, Reuters reports that, “According to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, the group’s backers are: William Ackman of Pershing Square, Carl Icahn, Daniel Loeb of Third Point, Paul Singer of Elliott Associates and Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners.” The five backers manage approximately $90 billion according to the Wall Street Journal.

In recent weeks activist investors have come under fire and have attracted the attention of politicians. In March Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced S.2720, “The Brokaw Act.” The act was cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

According to Sen. Baldwin’s press release on The Brokaw Act, “The problem of short-termism is real and there is growing chorus who believe short-termism is holding America back from reaching its full potential to create stronger economic growth for our nation. Put simply, short-termism—also known as “quarterly capitalism”—is the focus on short time horizons by both corporate managers and financial markets. It results in corporate funds being used for payouts to shareholders in the form of dividends and buybacks rather than investment in workers, R&D, infrastructure, and long-term success. Activist hedge funds are leading the short-termism charge in our economy. They abuse lax securities laws to gain large stakes in public companies. Once there, they make demands to benefit themselves at the expense of the company’s long-term interests. The most common demands are for more debt, stock buybacks, reduced R&D, cost-cutting, layoffs, and general reduction any investment in long-term growth.”

In CIRCA’s press release Senior Advisor Rob Collins argues, “CIRCA was founded on the widely accepted idea that a well-functioning system of checks and balances between boards of directors and shareholders is fundamental to long term economic growth and U.S. prosperity,”  according to the Reuters report.

Contractor’s Return on Government Relations Spending

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

New analysis of lobbying spending and government spending from MapLight has revealed that in the past decade U.S. government contractors have received $1,171.00 in taxpayer dollars for every $1.00 that they contribute to lobbying and PACs. MapLight reports, “The 25 largest federal contractors, as ranked by value of contracts received during the 2014 fiscal year, have received almost $1.6 trillion for their work since October 2005. These companies spent about $1.2 billion on lobbying and contributed more than $150 million to PACs during that time, according to MapLight’s analysis of federal procurement data and lobbying and PAC contributions from the Center for Responsive Politics.”

The return for every dollar invested in political influence between October 2005 and September 2015 by the three largest government contractors is listed below. All figures are provided by MapLight.

  • Lockheed Martin Corp. – Spent at least $140 million on lobbying and political contributions and received $331 billion in federal dollars, yielding a $2,366 return on every $1 invested.
  • Boeing Co.- Spent $150 million on lobbying and political contributions and received $201 billion in federal dollars, yielding a $1,341 return for every $1 invested.
  • General Dynamics Corp. Spent $96 million on lobbying and political contributions and received $136 billion in federal dollars, yielding a $1,421 return for every $1 invested.

Interestingly, MapLight reports that not all major government contractors have relied on heavy spending on lobbying. “The consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, based in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Tysons Corner, Virginia, has earned $29 billion in government contracts since October 2005. During the same period, it spent $80,000 on lobbying and none on political contributions, giving it a return of $362,564 for every $1 spent on political influence.”

The Push for Self-Driving Cars

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

Taking a big step forward for self-driving cars, Ford Motor Co., Google, Lyft, Uber Technologies Inc. and Volvo Cars joined together to form “The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.” The goal of the group, according to Automotive News is to “work with lawmakers, regulators, and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of self-driving vehicles…The five companies, which all are working on self-driving cars, say one of the group’s first tasks is to ‘work with civic organizations, municipalities and businesses to bring the vision of self-driving vehicles to America’s roads and highways.’” Reuters reports that in “2014 there were 32,675 fatalities and 2.3 million injured in 6.1 million crashes on U.S. roads. NHTSA says about 94 percent of all traffic crashes are caused by human error.”

The coalition will retain David Strickland as its counsel and spokesman. In a statement Strickland said, “”The best path for this innovation is to have one clear set of federal standards and the coalition will work with policymakers to find the right solutions that will facilitate the deployment of self-driving vehicles.”

Strickland is a Partner in Venable’s Regulatory Group. Before that he “served as the fourteenth Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  As the top automotive safety official in the United States, he was responsible for executing the agency’s mission to reduce crash-related fatalities and injuries while insuring the highest standards of safety on the nation’s roads.”

Strickland has experience lobbying for auto industry groups according to his lobbying disclosures. He also represents Cox Automotive and the Association of Global Automakers.

The lobbying push for self-driving vehicles has started to grow in recent weeks with other prominent organizations such as General Motors hiring lobbyists to represent their interests on the issue. GM “brought on The Fritts Group, a boutique lobbying firm, to advocate on self-driving cars, connected cars and cybersecurity privacy, according to a disclosure filed” in early-April reports The Hill.

One possible reason for the lobbying push is that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has previously announced that he planned to develop policy for autonomous cars by this summer. In January, The Verge reports, Secretary Foxx announced that, “within six months, his agency will work with states, manufacturers, and others to develop a “model” state policy for autonomous cars with the goal of creating a consistent national policy.”

2016 Convention Fundraising

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

As we move into summer, those who are closely following the 2016 presidential campaign cycle have begun to start to looking ahead to the national party conventions in July and all the political drama that is expected with them. The Republican National Convention will be hosted in Cleveland from July 18th-21st, with the Democratic National Convention, kicking off the next week in Philadelphia from July 25-28th.  

However, this year’s conventions are facing an unforeseen challenge: corporate sponsorship. Both Republicans and Democrats are having trouble fundraising for their conventions. Politico reports, “Several Fortune 500 companies — including Bank of America, Duke Energy and Time Warner —are taking a pass on chipping in for the Democratic convention in Philadelphia or, with just 100 days to go until the event, won’t say whether they’ll participate. Target, which has had a presence at both parties’ conventions in the past, is joining other companies in skipping this summer’s events in Philadelphia and Cleveland.”

While the reason for not sponsoring a convention will vary from company to company, the New York Times has reported that, “Some of the country’s best-known corporations are nervously grappling with what role they should play at the Republican National Convention, given the likely nomination of Donald J. Trump, whose divisive candidacy has alienated many women, blacks and Hispanics.” This has had a knock-on effect for the Democrats as many companies prefer to give to both the Democrat’s and Republican’s convention, or neither of them. According to the Politico report, “People are more hesitant this time,” said one the lobbyists, who has worked at previous conventions. “And the clients that end up going don’t want to be featured as a marquee sponsor. Before, you would be fighting for signage. Now it’s about, let’s not fight [for] any branding.”

No matter the outcome in regard to fundraising, the conventions are fast becoming a must see political event.

Changing Culture at CREW

Thursday, April 14th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

In the backdrop of a highly polarizing election year, Bloomberg investigates changing culture at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, a high profile government watchdog group.  According to the group’s website, the “Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests. We advance our mission using a combination of research, litigation, policy advocacy, and media outreach. CREW employs the law as a tool to force officials to act ethically and lawfully and to bring unethical conduct to the public’s attention.”

However, Bloomberg reports that “Over the past two years…some of the group’s most influential work has been quietly dropped. Annual rankings of the “most corrupt” members of Congress and a bi-annual list of the “worst” governors have stopped. A pipeline of in-depth reports on issues ranging from financial markets to timber-industry lobbying has gone dry. The group walked away from a spat over Hillary Clinton’s treatment of e-mails as secretary of state, even after an Inspector General found that CREW’s public records request had been improperly denied.”

The Bloomberg report identifies the addition of prominent Democratic operative David Brock as a Member of the Board in 2014, as a changing point in the direction of CREW’s mission, goals and culture. Demonstrating the changing culture associated with Brock’s arrival, Bloomberg highlights the change in CREW’s legal filings. “By 2013, CREW was filing an average of eight federal lawsuits each year, with a peak of 15 in 2007, public records show. In the nearly two years since Brock arrived in August 2014, the group has filed a total of four.”

Co-Founder and former Board Chair of CREW, Louis Mayberg, has pointed to the more partisan orientation of the organization after Brock’s arrival contributed to his decision to resign from the board in March 2015 saying, “I have no desire to serve on a board of an organization devoted to partisanship.”

Nevertheless, CREW’s Communication Director, Jordan Libowitz, has said “The board membership may change, but we have always maintained the highest level of integrity and absolute independence in the work we do—and that remains the case.”

Daschle Registers to Lobby

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

In a surprising turn of events, Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has officially registered as a lobbyist. According to The Hill, “He is part of a team at Baker Donelson Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz that is lobbying for the health insurer Aetna, according to forms filed to the Senate. The disclosure forms say the the team will be working with the insurer — which recently withdrew from a major industry trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) — on issues related to the Affordable Care Act and Medicare Advantage, among other things.”

Prior to his registration as a lobbyist, the term the “Daschle loophole” has become popularized as a way to describe the ability of former officials to cash in on K Street without registering as lobbyists. Politico reports that this is done by either “avoiding direct contact with lawmakers or by spending less than 20 percent of their time lobbying. Daschle always maintained his activities didn’t qualify as lobbying, but those who worked with him said he didn’t want the “Scarlet L” to jeopardize his prospects of returning to public office. His nomination to be Obama’s health secretary was nevertheless thwarted by a tax error.”

Since losing his Senate seat in 2004, Daschle worked at “Alston & Bird, then DLA Piper, and, since late 2014, Baker Donelson, where he set up his own subsidiary, The Daschle Group,” according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

Venezuela Lobbying in Legal Fight

Thursday, March 24th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

In a strategic move, Venezuela has registered part of its legal team at Hogan Lovells as lobbyists in its international dispute with a U.S. oil company that could land before the Supreme Court. This move will enable them to “sit down with Justice Department lawyers as the legal fight intensifies,” reports to The Hill. The firm “will seek to meet with the Justice Department’s solicitor general, according to forms filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act signed by counsel Bruce Oakley, the managing partner of the firm’s Houston office.” In 2015 Hogan Lovells brought in $12.6 million in lobbying revenue according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Oil rigging company Helmerich & Payne brought a legal challenge against Venezuela following a drilling dispute in 2010. The Hill reports, “Helmerich & Payne’s local subsidiary — H&P-V — had been operating in the country for decades. But in 2010, following a contract dispute with the state-owned oil company, Helmerich & Payne said its subsidiary would stop drilling in the country. The country’s National Guard then blocked off 11 rigs with its boats, and Venezuela seized the subsidiary’s oil rigs and other equipment. The confiscation was part of then- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s move to nationalize his country’s oil industry.” According to the suit the confiscation of the oil rigs and equipment breached a contract, hurting the Oklahoma-based parent company and violating international law.

As the case progresses Venezuela’s lobbyists will likely urge the administration to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case after filing documents with the court encouraging action.

The Value of Lobbying

Thursday, March 10th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

For many people lobbying has become a dirty word, alluding to professional government insiders who pull the strings in a defunct Washington. In the ongoing presidential campaigns we have heard candidates from Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump condemn the industry saying, ““I know the system better than anybody. The fact is that whether it’s Jeb, or Hillary, or any of ’em—they’re all controlled by these people! And the people that control them are the special interests, the lobbyists and the donors.” However, we know that this is not the case for majority of government relations professionals. I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to Connie Tipton, President and CEO, International Dairy Foods Association discuss our right to petition the government and the value of lobbying before the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) 2016 Americans Associations Day on the Hill. In her remarks Ms. Tipton did a terrific job of explaining our right to lobby and its value.

Remarks by Connie Tipton, American Society of Association Executives Washington, DC Fly-In, American Associations Day, March 9-10, 2016

“We also have the freedoms granted us in the United States Constitution. Most notable, at least for our purpose at this conference, is our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and to petition our government.

Let’s consider these constitutional freedoms separately for a moment. Free speech is frequently hailed as an unassailable right, supported by many Americans even when they don’t agree with what’s being said.

But petitioning our government through issue advocacy, or lobbying, seems to always get thrown under the proverbial bus as something evil. Even the term “lobbying” has taken on a sinister meaning for some, especially in recent political campaigns.

In fact, President Obama took villainizing lobbyists to a new level when he came to the White House. He loudly threatened that he would bar any former lobbyist from serving in his administration and made sure no one with a lobbying background could serve on any advisory committees. As you may have guessed, that eliminates a lot of extremely qualified and well informed people, so in the end, it was a threat he found impossible to stick with, but he succeeded in putting another black mark on the name of lobbying.

Even in the current presidential primaries, lobbyists are often served up as something corrupt or unscrupulous. Of course there have been “bad apples,” just as there are in any profession or political campaign, for that matter, but the work of our government relies on people representing their interests and those of their constituents in order to arrive at the best outcomes on policies. There is no way members of Congress can imagine all of the tangential impacts a particular proposal may have when it’s put into law. Informing them of the nuances only someone steeped in a particular issue or industry would know is our right and responsibility; that’s why you’re here – and why it is important to share your stories.

It is our right as American citizens to advocate for our interests with our elected officials and to try to have a real impact on the policies and programs that govern our lives.

As Americans we are very fortunate, indeed, to have these freedoms to invest in endeavors we enjoy and believe in, to associate with others we agree with, and to use our collective voices to make a difference in policies that will shape our future.

I have served for a number of years on the board of the Bryce Harlow Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships to people pursuing advanced degrees that will help them in careers as business advocates. Bryce Harlow was an early leader in providing and promoting business advocacy with integrity. Before he became a lobbyist, he worked in the Eisenhower White House as the first congressional liaison. And he spoke often of the importance of maintaining relationships with members of Congress.

In a 1965 speech about business advocacy, Harlow said, it “is not simply good citizenship, it is hardheaded realism. It often means dollars and cents in profits. It may well mean avoidance of economic disaster.” And then he continued, “Many are the times that it means keeping the ‘free’ in free enterprise.”

Simply put, lobbying is advocating a particular point of view. Lobbying is a legitimate and necessary part of our democratic political process. Government decisions affect both people and organizations, and public officials cannot make fair and informed decisions without considering information from a broad range of interested parties. All sides of an issue must be explored to produce equitable government policies.”

Apple’s Battle in Washington

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

On Tuesday, March 1, 2016 FBI Director James Comey and Bruce Sewell, Senior Vice President and General Counsel to Apple, Inc., among others, participated in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy.” The hearing represents the first confrontation between law enforcement and Apple over accessing the data stored on the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the terrorists in the Dec. 2015 San Bernardino attack.

The New York times reports, “Many lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee seemed torn over where to draw the line.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) asserted “The big question for our country is how much privacy are we going to give up in the name of security, and there’s no easy answer to that.” Providing strong support for the FBI Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) questioned if “We’re going to create evidence-free zones? Am I missing something? How the hell you can’t access a phone, I just find baffling.”

The hearings point to Apple being at a strategic disadvantage in Washington. The Washington Post reports, “Apple’s lobbying presence in Washington is tiny compared to other tech firms. The company spent roughly $4.5 million on lobbying last year.” In comparison Mircrosoft spent 8.5 million, Facebook spent almost $10 million, and Google (now Alphabet) spent over 16.5 million on lobbying in 2015. According to the Post, “In some ways, Apple’s relative dearth of relationships on Capitol Hill makes it a more vulnerable target. Unlike companies with large, well-funded lobbying teams, Apple lacks the means to avoid the government spotlight when it happens to settle upon them. Apple has few lawmakers that it can reliably call to its defense.”

According to Politico, “All eyes are on the hearing today as most tech companies, while quietly sympathetic to Apple, are keeping their heads down. One tech lobbyist said his clients are eager for intel on the proposals but don’t want an advocacy push just yet. As Information Technology Industry Council President and CEO Dean Garfield said in a statement yesterday, “this is the beginning of the conversation.””

Fierce Government Relations and Franklin Square Group represent Apple on encryption.

Merger – Squire Patton Boggs & Carroll, Burdick & McDonough

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

Lobbying powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs has announced it is merging with California-based Carroll, Burdick & McDonough.  According to the press release, “The combination will create the world’s premier product quality, brand protection and compliance practice, joining together Squire Patton Boggs’ leading global platform of over 1,500 lawyers spanning 45 offices in 21 countries in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, with Carroll Burdick, a complex litigation and products risk management powerhouse with over 50 lawyers on three continents.” Carroll Burdick has offices in Böblingen, Germany, Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

Politico reports that on the public policy front, cars are key to the merger between the two firms. In a statement issued by Squire Patton Boggs Global Chairman Mark Ruehlmann, he said, “The combination will allow us to enhance substantially our presence in the automotive industry at a time when automobiles are approaching an industry-defining and transformative moment — the widespread deployment of ‘smart cars. Global regulatory scrutiny of the automotive industry will surely grow more intense.”

In last year’s Quarter 4 lobbying disclosures Squire Patton Boggs ranked 5th in terms of lobbying revenue, bringing in $5.44M. Recently the firm’s Joseph LeBaron, the former ambassador, registered to lobby the State Department to use the Sunrise Estate Development for housing embassy personnel in Abuja, Nigeria.

DNC Lifts Lobbying Restrictions

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has removed its restrictions that banned political donations from lobbyists and PACS, which were introduced in 2008 under then presidential candidate Barack Obama. The lifting of the restrictions follows last summer’s announcement that the DNC was lifting a ban on lobbyist contributions to convention-related expenses. The Washington Post reports, “The DNC’s recent change in guidelines will ensure that we continue to have the resources and infrastructure in place to best support whoever emerges as our eventual nominee,” according to Mark Paustenbach, deputy communications director for the DNC. “Electing a Democrat to the White House is vital to building on the progress we’ve made over the last seven years, which has resulted in a record 71 straight months of private-sector job growth and nearly 14 million new jobs.” Of the old rules the only remaining portion is that “lobbyists and PAC representatives will still not be able to attend events that feature Obama, Vice President Biden or their spouses,” according to Paustenbach.

This change in policy at the DNC could have a profound effect on the 2016 election as Sec. Hillary Clinton has a significant fundraising advantage among lobbyists and PACs compared to her Democratic primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders. The International Business Times reports that, “From 2000 to 2008 she [Clinton] raised more than $30 million from those classified as lawyers and lobbyists, data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show. That group’s data show in that same time period, Sanders accepted more than $310,000 from those classified as lawyers and lobbyists.”

The 2016 presidential campaigns have thus far painted a similar picture. According to the International Business Times Sec. Clinton’s campaign has raised “roughly $725,000 from lobbyists for this year’s contests. Sen. Sanders has received $4,228 worth of contributions from lobbyists during his presidential bid.”

Following the announcement from the DNC, Sen. Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs said in a statement, “This is an unfortunate step backward. We support the restrictions that President Obama put in place and we hope Secretary Clinton will join us in supporting the president.”

Joining Forces: When Lobbying Meets PR

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

The practice of lobbying has grown and developed over the years with different firms providing many services beyond the traditional “shoe leather lobbying”. Recently, as client’s needs have evolved, firms have begun to incorporate public relations services.  According to The Hill, “Offering PR services, many in the industry say, has become a necessity in an era when controlling the media message is just as important to clients as cultivating relationships.” Incorporating PR capabilities into traditional lobbying practices can turn a firm into a one-stop-shop for their clients, helping them by reducing the need to hire separate firms for grassroots, federal or state lobbying and strategic communications.

In fact, the connection between lobbying and PR is so strong that The New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethic issued Advisory Opinion 16-01 which redefines lobbying to include PR professionals who work with political figures.PR Week reports that “On January 26, the Joint Commission voted 10-3 to treat political consultants’ contact with members of the press as lobbying. All PR consultants and their clients must now disclose communication they have with the media and government officials in the state, if the communication intends to influence.”

On Monday, the all GOP S-3 Group became latest firm to make this transition by merging with Bryant Row Public Affairs to form S-3 Public Affairs. The Hill reports, “Stationed in a row house in Eastern Market, S-3 Public Affairs plans to integrate lobbying services with coalition management, digital advocacy campaigns, crisis communications and brand development.”

Similarly, in September 2015, the Democratic leaning lobbying powerhouse Elmendorf | Ryan merged with the PR firm Home Front Communications to create a new 70-person organization named Subject Matter.  Discussing the merger Steve Elmendorf, one of the firm’s founders said, “I think lobbying is changing. People realize that decision makers get their information in so many different ways than they used to, and there are more channels of information. You need to do more than just [direct] lobbying.”

Lobby Blog will continue to monitor and report on the latest changes and trends in the lobbying community.

The Big 5-0

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 by Matthew Barnes

The Big 5-0

According to new analysis from The Hill, a group of 50 elite companies and trade associations spent $714 million on lobbying in 2015, more than a quarter of all the money spent on lobbying the federal government. In 2015 to make the top 50 lobbying spenders, a company or trade association must have spent at least $7.77 million on lobbying, a little less than a 1% decrease from the $7.83 million threshold for the top 50 in 2014.  The Hill reports, “while $714 million is an eye-popping figure, it is a 5 percent drop from 2014, when the top 50’s spending totaled roughly $749 million, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.”

The 2015 legislative calendar saw a few large battles including over the Export-Import Bank and the Trade Promotion Authority. According to The Hill, “Several groups heavily involved in both those issues, including the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, increased their lobbying expenditures by at least 30 percent.” The National Association of Manufacturers began steadily ramping up its lobbying spending since 2013, spending $7.6 million, $12.4 million in 2014 and $16.9 million in 2015.

In 2015 five new companies or trade associations break into the top 50 list. The new additions included Qualcomm (No. 48), Amazon (No. 35), UPS (No.45), Oracle (No. 40) and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (No. 50).

Other highlights from The Hill’s report include Boeing surpassing Google and Comcast “as the top corporate spender on lobbying as it fought to save the Export-Import Bank. The aerospace giant spent $21.9 million on lobbying last year, a 30 percent increase over the $16.8 million it spent in 2014.” Additionally, “Amazon and the Grocery Manufacturers Association posted the biggest percentage increases in lobbying spending last year, with increases of 91 percent and 83 percent, respectively.”

See the full list here.