LOBBYISTS HAVE TAKEN a lot of damage over the years. Abramoff inflicted a wound that was salted by HLOGA. Obama campaigned on combating special interests, and landed his first blow by way of executive order.
The obstacles these produce, both real and imagined, make the business of advocacy more challenging than it should be. Yet lobbyists have reason to enjoy the status quo while it lasts, because things could soon get worse.
According to Karen Hinton, an advocate representing Ecuadorians in a long-standing oil pollution suit against Chevron, lobbyists could soon be vulnerable to racketeering charges by their opposition. If Chevron wins their case on the grounds that Hinton and others are colluding in a fraudulent lawsuit, then a precedent will be set whereby “hard-hitting press releases and lobbying before Congress and government agencies by (insert you and your client) against (insert your client’s competitors or opponents) about (insert issue that financially benefits your client) could equal extortion and be a violation of the RICO statute.”
RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. By law, a plaintiff who wins a RICO case “…shall recover threefold the damages he sustains and the cost of the suit.” Hinton argues that because of this “treble damages” clause, companies and trade associations targeted by RICO cases could go bust. Pursuing this to its obvious conclusion, advocates with less to spend could be bullied out of lobbying altogether.
That would be bad indeed, and is something for which lobbyists should collectively oppose.