Posts Tagged ‘LobbyBlog’

Revolving Door Spinning at Cyclone Speed

Monday, February 10th, 2014 by Vbhotla

IT’S WELL KNOWN in Washington that congressional staffers tend to be underpaid and overworked. One might assume that they accept these conditions in exchange for the connections and prestige that Congress affords. Increasingly, however, the motivation is a lucrative job on K Street.

Despite HLOGA, more than 1,650 former Congressional aides have registered to lobby less than a year after leaving Congress, according to the New York Times. These freshly-minted lobbyists often return to the Hill to lobby on the very legislation that they worked on while they were staffers. The rules that intended to prevent this “revolving door” effect are so weak, particularly in the House, as to be practically nonexistent. As the Times points out, former House staffers can avoid the one-year moratorium on lobbying as long as their salaries are less than the paltry sum of $130,500.

In fact, restrictions on the revolving door have been so easily circumvented that, according to the Sunlight Foundation, the number of registered lobbyists with previous government experience actually peaked in 2009, two years after the passage of HLOGA. To make matters worse, as LobbyBlog reports, even though lobbying registrations are on the decline, there is a well-known shadow industry of unregistered lobbyists who are working as “strategic advisors” while still technically complying with current disclosure rules. It stands to reason that there are even more former staffers who are “unlobbyists” to whom the current lobbying restrictions don’t apply at all.

So why is this a big deal? The biggest concern is that staffers and members who are eyeing a cushy job on K Street will try to influence legislation to favor their future employers before they even leave Capitol Hill. Indeed, as the Times points out, staffers are often hired because of specific legislation or issue areas on which they worked, and when the turnaround from staffer to lobbyist can be measured in months or even weeks,  the current system’s potential for abuse becomes apparent.

Lobbyists as “Strategic Advisers”

Friday, January 3rd, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

IN TUESDAY’S New York Times, opinion writer Thomas Edsall wrote about the changing face of lobbying since the passage of HLOGA, echoing many themes that have recently appeared on this blog.  On earmarks, for example, Edsall wrote that “…the lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates has paid a heavy price for the earmark ban.”  LobbyBlog had previously asserted that “for Cassidy and others, losing earmarks was like losing the ground on which they stood.”  Edsall also cited a recent study that used data:   “Using LaPira’s reasoning, total spending to influence legislative and regulatory outcomes in 2012 doubled from $3.1 billion to $6.7 billion.”  LobbyBlog had, of course, cited the same study: “The current figure, which only accounts for legally disclosed spending, is $3.31 billion.  LaPira estimates that over twice that – an eye-watering $6.7 billion – was actually spent last year.”  (For the record, $3.31 (not $3.1) billion is the correct figure).

If these excerpts are indications that Edsall is a fan of this blog, then your humble bloggers are pleased.  If, more likely, they merely highlight the general consensus among the few of us who write about lobbying that certain undeniable trends are reshaping the business, then your humble bloggers are no less pleased.  This is mostly because Edsall casts refreshing new light on the phenomenon of de-registration to supplement the old arguments about lobbying drifting into the shadows, or the inaccuracy of disclosure numbers (Edsall: “If you look at the numbers, it may seem that lobbying is in decline, but it isn’t; it’s just taking different forms.”  LobbyBlog: “A decline in reported lobbying is not always synonymous with a decline in lobbying.”)

For example, most commentaries on de-registration or the “driving underground” of a formerly functioning disclosure framework don’t even attempt to explain what these newly underground lobbyists are doing with themselves.  Edsall’s, on the other hand, focuses entirely upon this point.  “The action has shifted,” he writes, “to what is known in the business as strategic advice: how to convince and mobilize voters and opinion elites in support of a client’s agenda.”  This description demands greater clarity, which Edsall is quick to supply:

So what does this new strategic adviser actually do? He or she can plan out a legislative campaign or a drive to affect the implementation of regulation, determine which officials and agencies must be dealt with, and propose potential coalition partners….Interestingly, all this can be done without making direct contact with elected officials, congressional aides or top-ranked department and agency appointees and employees. This arms-length approach permits strategic advisers to avoid lobbying registration and reporting requirements.

Something is striking about the idea that “…all this can be done without making direct contact with elected officials….”  If this is so, are we still talking about lobbying?  The case can be made here that if the “unlobbyist” is refraining from the fundamental activities that define lobbying, then maybe lobbyists aren’t being driven underground but rather driven out.  Even if Edsall doesn’t make direct appeal to this point, he at least provokes one to explore it, and to explore lobbying’s future, rather than dwell on its present.   The future of lobbying: that, alas, is for another blog post.  Or, if he gets to it first, another article by Thomas Edsall.

McCutcheon v FEC: A New Perspective

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

ORAL ARGUMENTS are set to commence in a mere two weeks for McCutcheon v FEC, a Supreme Court case that could decide the constitutionality of biennial limits on individual donors’ total contributions to candidates, PACs, and parties. LobbyBlog last wrote on the case in March, citing lobbyists’ misgivings towards a future without a contribution ceiling.  One such lobbyist, Tony Podesta, explained how a total contribution cap “is helpful to fend off entreaties from candidates who need more money.”

Now, OpenSecrets is pushing the argument that by abolishing the biennial cap, the Supreme Court would effectively nullify all contribution limits. Bob Biersack, Senior Fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics and contributor to OpenSecrets blog, calls this hypothesis “McCutcheon’s Multiplying Effect.” Currently, donors cannot give more than $74,600 total for each two-year cycle to PACs and parties, and no more than $5,000 each calendar year to a single PAC. Because of the biennial cap, each donor is ultimately limited to the number of PACs to which he or she can contribute. If, therefore, the biennial cap is abolished, so too would this limit.

So how would this negate the force of limits imposed on individual candidate contributions (currently set at $2,600 per election), which aren’t even being considered in the McCutcheon case? Here’s the crux of Biersack’s argument: “One of the first things that would surely happen without overall limits would be a wave of newly created PACs focused on specific candidate’s campaigns…” In other words, candidate X, now limited by the number of income sources from which his campaign depends, would benefit from a potentially infinite number of nominally varied PACs, all of which would transfer some portion of its coffers to him.  Biersack again: “Without [biennial] limits, tens of thousands could become hundreds of thousands and hundreds of thousands could turn into millions….So much for $2,600 per election.”

So while it’s still possible the Supreme Court could reach beyond the scope of biennial limits and question other limits imposed by the FEC, it’s likely, according to Open Secrets, that it could achieve the same result with far less effort.  The biennial cap seems much like a keystone holding the other limits in place.  Pulling it out sends the whole edifice crumbling down.

For Their Eyes Only: CIA Lobbying Disclosures Under Wraps

Friday, September 20th, 2013 by Vbhotla

WITH GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY very much in the spotlight in recent months, it’s no surprise that agencies’ lobbying disclosure is under scrutiny. As LobbyBlog wrote back in July, six different government agencies, including the NSA, FBI, and CIA, rebuffed requests for lobbying disclosure forms, instead advising POLITICO to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which can sometimes take years to be answered.

Now, POLITICO reports that the CIA is flatly refusing to disclose lobbying reports by its contractors. They do so on the grounds that the reports, the “existence or nonexistence” of which the agency would not confirm, may or may not contain classified information.

In addition to the standard lobbying disclosures that must be filed with the Senate or House, there is a supplemental form that must also be submitted by any company that has received money from the federal government. Despite the fact that this form is filed with the Office of Management and Budget, the OMB claims that it doesn’t collect information from the forms:

OMB does not collect information from the public through the SF-LLL; for details about the use of information collected with a specific form, OMB would refer you to the relevant agency issuing the form…

Of course, as the CIA makes clear, there is little accountability and no transparency for these agencies, and the only way to obtain lobbying disclosure information is through cumbersome and expensive FOIA requests. As Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation notes, “this is one of these strange things where the federal government has laws on the books that they don’t follow themselves….”

It would seem the only way to turn government opacity into transparency is through specific legislation prohibiting the loopholes and gray areas that federal agencies are using to hide lobbying disclosures. But even then, it’s likely that agencies will continue to flaunt the law. In other words, if you’re hoping to find out how money changes hands between contractors and the government, don’t hold your breath.