Posts Tagged ‘thomas edsall’

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 Lobbyists.info 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.

6 Reasons Why Lobbying is Going Underground

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

A DECLINE IN reported lobbying is not always synonymous with a decline in lobbying. Many would argue, as some have in recent weeks, that like a crooked weather vane, disclosure reports are a poor gauge of what they were designed to reveal. The most convincing reason for this is that people are avoiding the whole disclosure apparatus altogether by refraining from registration, and thereby joining the ranks of the underground lobbyists, or “unlobbyists.” This phenomenon distorts the size of the advocacy pool (making it appear smaller than it actually is) and, by extension, the extent of its activity. It’s conceivable that if this trend continues, the “unlobbyist” will no longer prove the exception to the rule.

But this isn’t the only reason why an apparent slump in lobbying spending may be illusory. Here are six more offered by Thomas Edsall of The New York Times:

1) The Obama campaign – Tech innovations from the Obama campaign have improved the efficacy of grassroots advocacy and are rendering the middle man obsolete:

[T]he success of the Obama campaign in advancing computer-driven techniques to reach key segments of the electorate has produced a blossoming industry of digital and specialized communications firms using data analysis, microtechnology and computerized list-building to create public support for or opposition to legislative and policy initiatives – virtually all of which goes effectively undisclosed.

2) The Obama Administration – The administration’s anti-lobbying executive orders have ironically discouraged registration:

Taken together, these regulations have encouraged those interested in public service to find jobs that do not require them to register as lobbyists. Or, put another way, those who are eager for government work are not going to formally register themselves as lobbyists and thus make themselves ineligible.

3) Public Relations – PR is replacing GR as another form of advocacy:

To address diminishing revenues, lobbying firms have created their own public relations operations, subsidiaries with the same goals as the lobbying arm, that charge similarly high fees, but which do not have to be publicly reported to either the House or the Senate.

4) Digital advertising – It’s becoming more political. Edsall quotes Jen Nedeau of Bully Pulpit Interactive:

By using data-driven ads to craft a narrative, we believe that social media does not only have the ability to sell soap, but as we’ve already proven, it can help to get out the vote.

5) SOPA – It’s crushing defeat changed the rules of the game:

The scope of the ongoing upheaval in lobbying was brought home with a vengeance in 2011 and 2012 by the failure of traditional lobbying strategies to win approval of the Stop Online Piracy Act. In early 2011, by all normal standards, the odds were with passage of SOPA….The emergence of a powerful public force outside traditional avenues of influence put fear of elective defeat into the hearts of members of Congress and forced the lobbying community to beef up its own non-traditional tactics….Now, in the lexicon of Washington insiders, the acronym SOPA has become a verb, as in the warning to overconfident legislators: “Don’t get SOPAed.”

6) Social media – A cliche but nonetheless true:

[S]ocial media means almost anyone “can shine a light on” Congressional negotiations, so that company or association pushing an issue can no longer depend on the effectiveness of an old-guard lobbyist with good connections on Capitol Hill.