Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

The White House's Revolving Door

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

BARACK OBAMA RAN FOR PRESIDENT on a platform that promised to decrease influence by lobbyists on national policy.

He cialis soft tavs vowed to limit connections between the White House and lobbying firms, but despite creating new regulations against lobbyists, many cialis online of those influential ties still remain. Most recently, as The Hill reports, ride-share and taxi-cab alternative company Uber hired Obama’s former campaign chief David Plouffe as its new Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy.

Uber’s co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick wrote in a blog post that Plouffe will help lead Uber in the political fight against “the Big Taxi cartel.”

Connections such as these, while not necessarily Obama’s fault, exemplify how close national policy and lobbying remain. According to analysis from the Washington Post, there are 65 current members of the Obama administration who have direct experience lobbying the federal government. While many of these people have been in their positions since the start of Obama’s first term, questions remain about the constant stream of people going back and forth between positions with the federal government and private sector lobbying firms.

The White House is attempting to crack down on former Congressional staffers and members who are moving into the private sector, but seems to be unable to slow down their departure, especially as mid-term elections approach. It’s hard to know whether or not those 65 members of the Obama Administration are truly getting in the way, or if the number isn’t actually all that significant. It will also be interesting to see how the exodus of Congressional staffers moving toward private government affairs lobbying work is affected by the results of upcoming elections.

 

White House Reverses Lobbying Ban

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 by Linnae O'Flahavan

THE WHITE HOUSE HAS REVERSED part of its ban preventing registered lobbyists from serving on advisory panels. Lobbyists may now sit on advisory panels “so long as they’re examples of evaluation essays acting on behalf of a corporation, trade association or industry group and not as private citizens or representatives of the government,” reports POLITICO.

The original ban was put in place in 2010, but has been challenged in court by 6 lobbyists who, as a result of the ban, were kicked off advisory panels. Those lobbyists include Erik Autor, Nate Herman, Cass Johnson, Stephen Lamar, Bill Reinsch, and Andrew Zamoyski. The courts ruled against the White House by refusing to dismiss the case, and as a result, the Office of Management and Budget has eased up on restrictions by publishing the new rule in the Federal Register.

There appears to be significant criticism of the Obama administration for easing up on promised ethics reforms regarding K Street’s influence, although it is important to note that the reversal in policy is coming after court decisions going against the ban. Bloomberg quotes OMB’s Communications Director Melanie Roussell, who defends the ban, clarifying that “the purpose of the prohibition is ‘to restrict the undue influence of lobbyists on the federal government’ and was ‘not designed to prevent lobbyists or others from petitioning their government.’” Nonetheless, many lobbyists are up in arms about the ban, claiming constitutional rights violations, and are glad to see the White House reversing part of the ban.

It remains unclear exactly how far the White House will retreat on this issue since the administration is admitting defeat by reversing even part of the ban. In addition, POLITICO reports that the Obama administration has hired over 70 previously registered lobbyists including Broderick Johnson, Melody Barnes, James Kohlenberger, and Sean Kennedy. President Obama ran for office on a platform vowing to keep K Street influence out of the White House, but his plans seem to be failing, regardless of his intentions. It’s hard to say what Obama truly intended to accomplish, but quite easy to say that his ethics reforms aiming to minimize special interest influence on government policy are not really working.

Wage War

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 by James Cameron

PRESIDENT OBAMA HAS called the proposed federal minimum wage hike “giving America a raise,” but whether the legislation succeeds or not, lobbyists are likely to enjoy a windfall.  Raising the minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25/hr to $10.10/hr is a centerpiece of congressional Democrats’ 2014 legislative agenda, and groups on both sides of the issue have already spent millions of lobbying dollars to influence lawmakers on the fence.  With recent news that a vote on the legislation will be put off, lobbying campaigns for both sides are heating up.

The Hill reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has delayed a vote on the legislation as support for the hike has waned among vulnerable congressional Democrats. A coalition of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups has hailed the move, saying that it gives them time to mount a national grassroots lobbying campaign to drum up support for the legislation.

Vowing to fight the bill are numerous retail, restaurant, and service organizations. The American Hotel & Lodging Association, which overhauled its lobbying team last year, strongly opposes a minimum wage hike, claiming that it would inhibit companies’ ability to hire more workers.

Complicating the issue is the difficulty of sifting through a myriad of reports from disparate sources to piece together an accurate picture of the hike’s potential impact. Although it seems likely that the Congressional Budget Office’s recent report that the hike could cost as many as 500,000 minimum wage jobs but increase earnings for more than 16.5 million workers is accurate and nonpartisan, data from other sources may be suspect. The New York Times reports that some nonprofits and think tanks that publish economic reports on legislation are in fact funded (often secretly) by groups with a significant stake in the legislation. The Employment Policies Institute, for example, has published academic reports warning that raising the minimum wage would adversely impact poverty, unemployment, and the economy. But the Times also notes that the group is run by a PR firm that also represents the restaurant industry, which strongly opposes the wage hike. Just as lobbying has gradually moved underground and become more opaque, so too are groups attempting to influence policy in nebulous and indirect ways, as the current fight over the minimum wage illustrates.

Although the Congressional battle over “America’s raise” has been delayed for now, the lobbying fight over the wage hike has just begun. With heavy hitters like Wal-Mart still out of the fray, the battle is likely to get even more intense before it’s over.

Another Day, Another Hurdle

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 by Geoffrey Lyons

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.

Much Ado About SOTU

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 by James Cameron

MANY AMERICANS VIEW the State of the Union address as a lot of rhetoric and not much substance.  But for lobbyists and policymakers, what the president does (or doesn’t) say can make or break an issue.

As POLITICO notes, if Obama even briefly mentions an issue or a piece of legislation, it can make the difference between the issue gaining traction in Congress or wasting away. Further, if the President talks about something for which a lobbyist is advocating, it can generate massive credibility for both the lobbyist and his firm, even if they had no part in getting it mentioned in the speech.

Following this year’s speech, for example, LGBT groups were disappointed that Obama made no mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban employers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Indeed, Obama barely touched on LGBT issues at all, making only a brief reference to marriage equality.  As the Huffington Post notes, this may be indicative of the administration’s view that it has enough political capital with the LGBT community that it can afford to ruffle some feathers.  The case nonetheless demonstrates both the impact of the SOTU as well as the delicate political maneuvering involved.

Likewise, the guests invited by members of Congress (each lawmaker is allowed one) can have legislative implications for the coming year.  Predictably, as PBS notes, more than a dozen Republican members brought business owners and individuals who were negatively impacted by the Affordable Care Act.  By the same token, Democrats brought guests who benefitted from the ACA.  Democrats (especially the Illinois delegation) also brought at least five immigration advocates.  Some lawmakers took a decidedly less conventional approach, though.  POLITICO reports that Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) brought Willie Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty.”  This blogger wonders if Rep. McAllister will now get to appear on the show.

As with most things in Washington, the State of the Union comes with a side of rhetoric and political bluster.  Although every word of the State of the Union need not have far-reaching policy implications, it’s clear that for lobbyists, policymakers, and political forecasters, the Address can have a significant impact on the year to come.

How to Become an Ambassador

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

IN RETROSPECT, “you get what you pay for” is an apt slogan for the 2012 presidential election.  A $100 donation to Obama’s campaign was repaid with an automated thank-you email. Fifty times that earned a plate at a fundraiser attended by the president himself.  Ten times that could result in some presidential face time.  Now take the product ($50,000), double it, bundle in an additional half million, and you’ve got yourself an ambassadorship.  This is according to Open Secrets blogger Brandon Conradis, who recently explored the giving history of actress Colleen Bradley Bell, the newly nominated Ambassador to Hungary.

But Bell isn’t the only one with star power reaping rewards for political fidelity.  Conradis names three other Tinseltown denizens remunerated with ambassadorships: James Costos (Spain), Charles Rivkin (France), and Nicole Avant (the Bahamas).  “You get what you pay for,” indeed—such words could be scrawled on the White House gates.  Better yet, there’s a phrase more familiar to our history: “To the victor belong the spoils.”

POLITICO on Why K St. = (R) St.

Friday, March 22nd, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

THIS MORNING, POLITICO’S Anna Palmer and Elizabeth Titus published an article entitled “Why Republicans still run K Street.”  In about 1,400 words, they offer eleven possibilities:

  1. K St. bet red in 2012 – “Some companies bet that Republicans would take back the Senate and the White House in 2012, beginning the process of scooping up talent months ahead of the election.”
  2. K St. is plain bias – “’There seems to be a philosophical and political bias against Democrats,’ McCormick Group’s Ivan Adler said.”
  3. K St. bet red in 2012 AND K St. is plain bias – “The bias toward hiring Republicans was on display over the past two years when corporations and trade groups continued to bet on Romney and Republican chances of taking back the Senate when making hiring decisions and in choosing to retain their top GOP talent.”
  4. There’s a shortage of Dems – “There are also fewer Democrats coming off the Hill or out of the White House who want to pursue corporate lobbying.”
  5. Republicans = business (1 of 2) – “The business world tends to hire more Republicans, anyway, since their beliefs align more closely with those of corporate clients, and potential Republican hires tend to have more corporate experience or a proven record leading an association or in-house team.”
  6. Republicans = business (2 of 2) -”Former Rep. Billy Tauzin told POLITICO that Republicans may dominate downtown ‘because most associations are business groups, which have, generally speaking, a closer association with the Republican Party.’”
  7. Tom DeLay – “[AKA the] K Street Project, in which then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) helped lead an effort to install Republicans in many of the top trade associations.”
  8. K St. hires Dems, just not for No. 1 roles – “Many Democrats are hired instead to be the No. 2 lobbyist in the shop, giving associations and companies plenty of political cover on Capitol Hill.”
  9. K St. is dominated by Republican issues – “There are also many industries — such as oil, financial services and health care — that a significant number of Democrats are unwilling to represent.”
  10. Administration officials are loath to lobby – “Democrats leaving the Obama White House have also been more reluctant than previous administrations of either party to join the influence-peddling ranks.”
  11. Powerful friends happen to be Republican – “Veteran Republican Frank Fahrenkopf said personal relationships and the scope of each group’s work matter more than partisan affiliation.”