Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Cinco De Mayo Edition

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 by Vbhotla

This week’s Ethics Tip preps you to have a great time tomorrow on Cinco de Mayo. Since everyone seems to embrace any sort of holiday around here (You’re probably not REALLY Irish, right? But you went to a pub on St. Patrick’s Day, didn’t you?) we’ve put together a short tipsheet on buying drinks for your favorite Congressional staffers at the bar this Cinco de Mayo.

Remember the gift rule: no lobbyist may offer any thing of value to a member of Congress or Congressional staffer. But there is an exception for food and drink of nominal value. The guidance is a little complicated, so stick with us here:

When can an item of food and drink of nominal value be offered by a lobbyist to a Member/staffer?

The recent interpretations by the House and Senate ethics committees would suggest some possible rules of thumb:

Drinks at the Bar – A Guide

Food / Beverages Offered Setting and Circumstances Senate Standard is food items from lobbyists and others valued at $10 or less and offered at an organized event, media interview or other appearance where such food items are normally offered to others House Standard is “group or social setting”
Pitcher of beer at the bar Spontaneous, accidental; no invitations, not a  planned event Probably, because it is drinks only, no food Yes, offered in a group, social setting
Pitcher of beer at the bar Emailed invitations to specific people:  “Meet at Tortilla Coast 5 to 7 on Thursday” Yes, because it is an “organized event” Yes, offered in a group, social setting
Bottle of wine at the bar Offered to anyone who wants a glass Probably, but only if no food and only if wine is of nominal value Yes, offered in a group, social setting and only if the wine is of nominal value
Bottle of wine at the bar Organized wine tasting, invitations sent to specific people Yes, provided the wine is of nominal value, because there is no food and it is an organized social event Yes, provided the wine is of nominal value
Margaritas and nachos Lobbyist pays check for everyone in the bar on Cinco de Mayo night Probably, but only if the nachos offered do not exceed $10 value Yes, offered in a group, social setting and nachos are light appetizers, not part of a meal
Margaritas and nachos Cinco de Mayo gathering organized by a certain group, lobbyist pays a share of the costs Yes, an organized social event akin to a reception, nachos are light appetizers, not part of a meal Yes, offered in a group, social setting, also organized event akin to a reception and nachos are light appetizers, not part of a meal

This information is covered in much more detail at Lobbyists.info’s Compliance Center, and in our Lobbying Compliance Handbook. Check it out!

Weekly Lobbying News Round-Up

Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Vbhotla

This week in lobbying news:

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the “Close the Revolving Door Act of 2010″. Among other things, the bill would ban members of Congress from ever lobbying, and would increase the “cooling off period” already in place for Congressional staffers, post-employment. Read about the bill here, at Sen. Bennet’s website.

Long-awaited legislation: on Thursday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his fellow Senate co-sponsors finally introduced the Senate version of the DISCLOSE Act (read about that here, and the text of the bill is here). Rep. Chris Van Hollen, along with his two Republican co-sponsors  introduced the House version, which is just a little shorter).

Reps. Hodes and Flake demand access to PMA probe documents. The OCE and House Ethics Committee have investigated and cleared seven lawmakers in a earmarking matter. But Reps. Hodes and Flake are demanding to see the thousands of pages of background documents that have not been released to the public.

A couple of news stories on new media and lobbying, from the Washington Post and Roll Call. (Roll Call is subscription, Washington Post free registration).

Travel & Events: Overview

Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Yesterday, Lobbyists.info hosted an audioconference with Ki P. Hong of Skadden Arps, a top political law practitioner.

While of course we want you to attend our seminars to get the full inside scoop, here’s a look at a couple of the topics he covered.

  • Overview of the LDA / HLOGA filing requirements: In order to register as a lobbying entity (with in-house lobbyists): A company must have at least one employee who spends 20% or more of his or her working time engaging in lobbying activity; That same employee must have made 2 or more lobbying contacts; and the company must spend more than $11,500 on such lobbying activity over a 3-month period.  If registering a lobbying firm, the same personal thresholds, AND the firm’s  lobbying income for a particular client must exceed $3,000 over a 3-month period.
  • LD-203 filing: As a best practice, make sure your company, association, or lobbying firm has a robust and enforceable gift policy across all levels, not just for your government relations staff.
  • Sponsoring travel: organizations employing or retaining a lobbyist to lobby on their own behalf may sponsor one-day travel for members of Congress or Congressional staffers, but MUST submit their proposed sponsorship to the appropriate (House or Senate) Ethics Committee for pre-approval.

More detailed info on sponsoring travel & events is in our handy-dandy Compliance Center.

Travel and Events Training Session this Thursday

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Brittany

Join Ki P. Hong of Skadden Arps – one of the nation’s leading legal authorities on HLOGA – as he explains exactly how travel and event requirements have changed since 2007, including how to comply with tough certification rules that apply even to employees not usually covered by lobbying law (including federal contractors).

Click here for complete conference details and to register online.

Lobbying in the Public Interest

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Note: From the Eyes of the Editors will be a recurring post each week. From our team of editors, who spend hundreds of hours scouring thousands of lobbying registrations and filings, these pieces will look at common errors, misperceptions, and ways to improve your understanding of lobbyist filings.

Last week it was reported that Washington-based non-profit Public Citizen approached retiring senators and congressmen, suggesting that they sign a pledge promising to avoid future jobs with lobbying firms.  In a bit of humorous commentary, The Huffington Post noted that the spokeswoman for Public Citizen, the very woman leading the charge against public servants becoming lobbyists, is herself a registered lobbyist.  Her response was “I’m like a people’s lobbyist.”

This got me thinking, “Aren’t all lobbyists representative of the people?” In reality, each lobbyist on K St. is representing the interests of some person or some group of like-minded individuals.  In fact, of the thousands of lobbying reports I have read, the only client I have encountered that seems to include no people is a filing on behalf of “Boo,” a family dog from Staten Island who is being represented on a number of issues including disaster planning, housing, and animals (obviously).

Lobbyists represent groups of American citizens. For example, former Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) represented Cleveland in the House for 30 years and is now Senior Counsel at Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey.  Though he has left Congress, Stokes is still representing Cleveland on the Hill through one of his clients, the Cuyahoga County Board of County Commissioners.  While in the House, Stokes represented one area of the city.  By now lobbying for the entire county, Stokes essentially represents twice the number of people he did as a Congressman.  Given the role that the county plays in the entire region, one could argue that the number of people his actions affect has  quadrupled.  Now in my opinion,  Cleveland, though it has its problems like all places, is the greatest city in the country.

As a lobbyist, former Rep. Stokes is able to continue representing his hometown as he lobbies on issues including alcohol and drug abuse, economic development, and water quality.  And, given that the Cuyahoga River is about to enter its 41st fire-free year, I can only assume that he’s doing a good job.  Also, go Cavaliers!

Members opting to lobby makes sense.  Lobbyists can work to serve the needs of former constituents, hometowns, home states, and the variety of industries that play integral roles in the daily lives of Americans.  Former Members intimately understand the legal process and how to disseminate information on the Hill.  Lobbyists don’t inherently serve the forces of evil and former Members who become lobbyists are no exception.  Besides, all citizens have the right to petition their government.  Should former Members be asked to sign away that right?

Tuesday Ethics Tip

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 by Vbhotla

Baseball season is upon us. From President Obama’s first pitch at Nationals Stadium, to escaping the dog days of summer with a little baseball stadium R&R, to October’s playoffs (maybe?), lobbyists must be careful when inviting their favorite members of Congress or Congressional staffers out to Nats games. (Or, for our other DC-sports fans, Capitols, D.C. United, or Wizards games. What did I forget? Shout it out).

Below is an abbreviated explanation of when you can or cannot invite someone to a sporting event.

Remember: The gift rule is that lobbyists or lobbying firms may not provide anything of value to a member of Congress or Congressional staffer.

Tickets and Events: Members and staff may be offered tickets to sporting events, concerts, and other types of events. The rules specify what may and may not be accepted and how such tickets are to be priced for purposes of personal payment by Members and staff.

How much does a Member or staffer have to pay for a ticket to a sporting event or concert? The price would differ depending on the source of the ticket and the amount (if any) on the ticket.

Source: The source of tickets is the entity or person who paid for the tickets.  For example, if a lobbyist wants to take a Member or staffer to a ticketed event using tickets provided by his/her firm or company, he/she would not be the source of the tickets. In this case, the firm or company is the source, AND the personal friendship rule would not permit a Member or staffer to accompany a lobbyist date to an event using such a ticket. The individuals themselves would be required to pay the face value of the tickets to the firm or company in order for the tickets to be used.

Valuation: Generally speaking, all gifts are valued at their retail, not wholesale, value under the gift rules.  Further, for tickets to sporting or other entertainment events, the rules provide specific guidance as to how to value tickets for purposes of Member/staff payment for their use.  The general rule: Members and staff must pay market value for all gifts unless there is an applicable exception.


Type of Ticketed Event House Senate
Athletic, sporting event – ticket with face value Member/staffer pays face value, if identical to price available for tickets sold to the public

Member/staffer pays face value, if identical to price available for tickets sold to the public
Athletic, sporting event – ticket with NO face value Member/staffer pays highest individually-priced ticket for the event Member/staffer pays highest individually-priced ticket for the event or may ask for Senate Ethics approval in advance of event to pay price of a comparable ticket to same event.  Written and independently verifiable information (including seat location, parking, access to areas not open to the public, and the availability of food and refreshments) must be submitted to show that the ticket offered them is equivalent to another ticket that does have a face value
Event in a skybox with food, beverages, and/or parking Member/staffer pays either face value or highest individually-priced ticket for the event plus the value/costs of food and parking in accordance with other gift rules and exceptions See above

This information is adapted from Lobbyists.info’s Compliance Center.