Posts Tagged ‘the washington post’

The Return of Enforcement

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by James Cameron

NO ONE ENJOYS filling out paperwork, but if you’re a lobbyist, failure to do so can be costly. The Washington Post reported last week that Alan Mauk and his firm, Alan Mauk Associates, failed to file required quarterly lobbying reports at least 13 times in the past four years—an indiscretion that carries a hefty price of up to $200,000 per violation. The civil complaint filed against Mauk and his firm is the latest of several lawsuits the government has filed in the past year as a result of negligence.

Back in June, the Blog of the Legal Times reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia slapped Biassi Business Services Inc., a consulting firm based in New York, with a  lawsuit that could cost the firm up to $33 million in fines. Biassi reportedly filed several disclosures for 2012 and 2013 after the lawsuit was filed, and it remains to be seen how much of the fine Biassi will ultimately have to pay.

But lobbyists aren’t merely being fined for domestic lobbying violations. In August, this blogger wrote on how federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against two lobbyists for alleged violations of U.S. sanctions and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by lobbying on behalf of Zimbabwe and its president, Robert Mugabe. Likewise, in 2011, a lobbyist was charged with FARA violations for failing to disclose lobbying activities for a foreign entity.

So, why are we just recently seeing the Feds come down hard on disclosure violators? As noted before on this blog, between 1995 and 2010 the U.S. Attorney’s Office settled with just three lobbyists, yet since 2010 there have been at least five lawsuits filed related to HLOGA and FARA violations.

One explanation is that we’re entering the enforcement stage of a cycle that begins with complacency (itself a symptom of lax enforcement) and ends in scandal. With the lobbying industry moving underground, it’s only a matter of time before a lobbyist or firm stretches the current rules too far, at which point we may see a successor to HLOGA.  Until then, we’ve yet to experience the kind of enforcement that these laws originally intended.  But it looks as if we’re getting closer.

New Regulations to Shake Up Nonprofit Advocacy

Monday, December 9th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

IT HAS BEEN over half a century since restrictions on tax-exempt 501(c)4 organizations – defined broadly as civic leagues and groups whose primary function is to “promote social welfare” – were spelled out in detail. It was then, in 1959, that the IRS modified “social welfare” to exclude “direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns.”  Since modern (c)4′s must play by the rules lest they relinquish their tax free privileges, it seems on the face of it that they would avoid meddling in politics.

But everyone knows this isn’t the case. Crossroads GPS, the (c)4 arm of Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, is a case in point. The conservative advocacy group spent over $213,000 on federal elections last year. How, one might ask, is that permissible? Check the fine print: According to the IRS, “an organization that primarily engages in activities that promote social welfare will be considered under the current regulations to be operating exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” It’s easy to engage “exclusively” in something when the meaning of the word is watered down beyond recognition. According to the Washington Post, tax lawyers have taken all of this to mean that (c)4′s can keep their tax status as long as they spend at least 51 percent of their resources on social welfare.

Now, nearly 55 years since the issue was last dealt with in depth, the IRS is proposing clearer boundaries for political activities that should not be considered social welfare. An outline released just two weeks ago proposing the rules changes is considered by most experts to be a significant first step, signalling what’s likely to result in drastic revisions to current practice. Still, some are skeptical about the potential outcome, claiming that so-called “dark money” will simply filter out of (c)4′s and into other 501(c)s, such as (c)6′s. Others, mostly on the right, call the proposal a political move, the latest in an “unfortunate pattern” that began with the IRS’s targeting of conservative grassroots advocacy groups.  Whichever one’s take on the matter, (c)4′s are inevitably in for the makeover of a lifetime.

AFL-CIO is Born Anew

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

EXCITEMENT IS NOT wanting in Los Angeles right now, where thousands have converged on the LA Convention Center to cheer on the AFL-CIO during its quadrennial convention.

Richard Trumka, who has been at the union federation since 1955, was re-elected for a second term as President.  Liz Shuler, who hold’s Trumka’s old position as Secretary-Treasurer, or #2 in the federation, was also re-elected.  And since no opposition was faced by either Trumka, Shuler, or the new #3, Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, the mandate was clear, and the crowd ecstatic.

“It’s time, brothers and sisters, to get off our asses and get on our feet and get out the door and hit the street,” chanted Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and longtime friend of Trumka.

Yet Harold Meyerson of The Washington Post sees little to inspire.

With just 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce enrolled in unions in 2012, traditional collective bargaining has all but vanished from the economic landscape — taking raises, benefits, job security and much of the American middle class with it as it goes.

Meyerseon went on to argue that the “chief business” of the convention (which lasts through today), is to redefine labor.  Since labor is ineffectual on its own, the argument goes, it will need to begin cementing the sort of coalitions that have helped win its battles: civil rights, gender equality, etc.–essentially everything under the sun that’s left of center.  Eventually this would require the commitment of “resources to building omnibus organizations where union and environmental (and other) leaders work for a common program.”

So, according to Meyerseon, if the largest federation of unions in the nation wants to accomplish anything in the future, it can no longer do so simply as labor.  That which defines the AFL-CIO would either need to melt into some new left or perish.  This reasoning requires no proof other than that offered by the AFL-CIO itself.  On Monday, the convention unanimously adopted a resolution that would allow non-union members to join the federation.

What is to be made of this “big tent” labor movement?  Surely it’s either a redeeming expansion or a fatal contradiction in terms.  Or, perhaps, it’s nothing more than a shrewd political maneuver.  Whatever the consequences for the AFL-CIO, they’re sure not lose any excitement over it.

Record Registration Complicates Lobbying Picture

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

K STREET’S SPRING AWAKENING” is how The Washington Post described the recent blossom of new lobbyist registrations. A formidable batch of 686 registrations were filed in April, just enough to win the three-year record, and more than enough to augur well for those who predict a sprightly Q2.  The Post sketches the chronology of lobbying activity as follows: a client hires a firm…a few weeks ensue…said firm registers after their first contact on the Hill…a few weeks ensue…said firm reports fees.  Given that typical Q4 hiring seeped into the first months of 2013 (because of the fiscal cliff, as some have claimed), then a full rebound may come later than previous years, reaching its apogee this summer.  There’s just one problem: August recess.

All together, too many factors are clouding the usually clear-eyed and credible metric of reported lobbying spending.  A decrease in year-to-year spending from 2012-2013 may well result, continuing a trend that began in 2010 and prompting a slew of reporters to herald the demise of traditional lobbying.  These tidings, should they come, are best taken with a skeptical eye.

Lobbying at a Glance

Thursday, February 21st, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

FIRST IT WAS mid-sized banks (see previous post), now it’s credit unions. The latter have been lobbying against Dodd Frank reforms, arguing that they’re too harsh. “Credit unions are well-managed, well-run institutions that did not engage in the practices that led to the financial crisis,” said Fred Becker, [The National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU)] president and CEO. “Yet, the regulatory burden on our nation’s credit unions has reached epic proportions and that must be addressed immediately.” – The Hill

Associations are increasingly using Relationships, Advocability, and Political capital (RAP) indices to gain leverage on the Hill: “Here’s how it works: a trade association or advocacy group sends the RAP Index survey to their members by email. The software confirms their address, and finds a list of their local, state or federal elected officials. The survey asks members in-depth questions about any relationships with those officials and whether they’d be willing to be media surrogates.” – POLITICO

Nike is lobbying on behalf of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (TPP), which was designed in part to remove tariffs between the U.S. and other countries along the Pacific Rim. The $67 billion shoe company would benefit from the elimination of duties on shoes made abroad: “But others are fighting to keep the tariffs in place. New Balance, the Boston-based athletic shoe maker, wants to maintain tariffs on shoes from Vietnam in order to protect the jobs of 1,350 New Balance workers who make footwear in the United States. A quarter of the shoes the company sells in North America are made in its U.S. manufacturing facilities.” – The Washington Post

The Keystone pipeline is still very much an issue, with thousands upon thousands gathering on the Mall Sunday to rally against its construction: “The rally, which was organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org and the Hip Hop Caucus, was billed as the largest climate rally in American history. Organizers estimated that about 35,000 people participated in the rally. The U.S. Park Police does not give crowd estimates.” – POLITICO

Some lobbyists continue to deploy opposition (“oppo”) researchers to disarm and discredit their foes: “Oppo researchers — who often have backgrounds in politics, government and law enforcement that may include the FBI or even the intelligence community — will also scan court documents, public records, campaign finance and lobbying disclosures and reach out to their contacts on Capitol Hill, K Street and in local communities.” – Roll Call

 

Filibuster Reform

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

THE FILIBUSTER, long an emblem of the Senate and symbol of American political culture, is not dead. Though some in the majority wish it were. Last Thursday night, the Democratic leadership put forth with bipartisan support (i.e., with drastically reduced impact) their best efforts to vitiate the obstructive tactic, which over the course of two centuries has frustrated the prospects of countless bills.  Sadly, objections to the filibuster stemming from sheer annoyance at its efficacy rather miss the point. (Jefferson said, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”) And the supreme irony of last Thursday is that, despite all the noise and the final passage of new rules, the filibuster remains virtually unscathed.

So what was actually accomplished?  The Atlantic puts it in plain English. Formally, the new rules:

  1. Shorten debate following a cloture vote on the motion to proceed from 30 hours to four.
  2. Leave the ability to filibuster that cloture vote essentially intact.
  3. Allow the minority to offer two amendments on every bill.
  4. Shorten confirmation time for judicial nominees once cloture is invoked.

Informally (meaning no changes to the Senate rules):

  1. Senators will have to actually be on the floor to threaten a filibuster.
  2. Time allocated for debate will have to actually be spent on debate.

The question bears repeating: what was actually accomplished? Very little, says Martin Gold, Senate expert par excellence and Senior Counsel at Covington & Burling LLP:

The changes are not as extensive as some internal Senate and private sector reform advocates wanted. And they are more intrusive on minority rights than dissenters could tolerate. The new procedures respond to core complaints on both sides of the aisle. Democrats were irritated about the frequent use of filibusters on motions to proceed. Republicans protested against the preclusion of amendments.

Peter Weber of The Week puts it simply: These changes do not “end the current de facto 60-vote requirement for any bill to pass. That means it doesn’t, in fact, change the filibuster.”

And according to Jon Bernstein of the Washington Post, even if the new rules were more extensive, and did change the filibuster, Senators would still wield enormous power to slow a bill’s passage:

[T]here’s also another kind of obstruction, too. Even when there are 60 votes — sometimes, even when there are 70 or 80 or even more — individual senators and small groups of senators have had many tools to stall and delay. And because Senate floor time is scarce, those delays have raised the cost of bringing even overwhelmingly popular items to the floor.

So the Senate remains little changed from what it was a week ago, which counts as a victory for those who think it works rather well, thank you.  But one is guilty of political myopia if he believes these institutional battles are over, as Ezra Klein’s timeline suggests:

History of filibuster reform

1917: A 23-day filibuster against a proposal to arm merchant ships pushes President Woodrow Wilson over the edge. He calls a special session of the Senate and persuades the members to adopt a cloture rule that allows filibusters to be ended with the agreement of two-thirds of the Senate. Previously, there was no way to close debate. Now there is.

1949: The Senate decides that the cloture rule also applies to procedural motions, such as a motion to proceed. The point, again, was to ensure that there’s a way to end debate.

1959: The two-thirds threshold for invoking cloture is lowered from two-thirds of senators “duly chosen and sworn” to two-thirds of senators “present and voting.”

1974: The Congressional Budget Act fathered the budget reconciliation process, a vehicle through which a bill dealing exclusively with budgetary matters can be protected from a filibuster. Welfare reform, the George W. Bush tax cuts and the health-care law all were passed through this process.

1975: The post-Watergate Senate, disgusted by the way the filibuster was used to preserve segregation in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, again changes the threshold for cloture, taking it from two-thirds of senators present and voting to three-fifths of senators duly chosen and sworn.

Lobbying at a Glance

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

FRANK FAHRENKOPF, former chairman of the RNC from ’83-’89, is stepping down as head of the American Gaming Association (AGA). The AGA spent $4.2 million on lobbying in 2011-2012 (Center for Reponsive Politics). “Competition for the prestigious AGA job is likely to be intense. Fahrenkopf earned more than $1.9 million in compensation in 2010, according to the AGA’s tax form for that year, making it one of the highest-paying lobby jobs in Washington.” – The Hill

Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), who served in Congress from ’95-’03, announced that he will become a lobbyist: “LaTourette and his wife will open a Washington, D.C.-based government affairs subsidiary of McDonald Hopkins LLC, a large Cleveland, Ohio law firm. Jennifer LaTourette, a lobbyist with Van Scoyoc and Associates who has represented the Airports Council International, will join him in the new office overlooking Capitol Hill, according to a press release.” – Roll Call

Sandy Hook has apparently elicited a tectonic shift in the advocacy community: “The classic lobbying nemeses over gun laws have been the National Rifle Association and the Washington gun control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. But the Newtown tragedy is prompting some locally based advocacy groups that have previously been silent on gun control to consider stepping in.” – The Washington Post

In the same vein, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly, launched an online anti-gun violence campaign called Americans for Responsible Solutions: “The website launch is accompanied by an op-ed in USA Today, coming on the two-year anniversary of the shooting attack that killed six and wounded another 12 people on Jan. 8, 2011″ – Politico

According to new research, lobbyists should think twice about boosting their ego: “A growing body of research, including new studies by Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen, suggest that self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, may be the key to unlocking your true potential for greatness.” – Harvard Business Review