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Posts by Kate Ackley
July 29, 2014
In the jet-set world of the country’s biggest political donors, K Street can seem puny.
Individual lobbyists typically do not reach into the highest levels of personal campaign contributions; that’s an echelon billionaires dominate.
But K Street’s elite mini-mega donors have blown beyond the former federal “max out” limitation of $123,200 that the Supreme Court threw out this spring in its McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision.
Now that lobbyists — and anyone else — can give to all congressional candidates, as well as to party coffers and political action committees, K Street’s biggest donors have to search for new ways of saying “no.” And sometimes that translates into a simple “yes.”
“With me, it’s always a matter of the good causes that come along that may make you do one more,” said former Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., a senior adviser with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. With the Senate in play and races likely to tighten up as the midterm elections approach, Fazio said it isn’t easy to say no.
“A time may come, in October, where I will be incommunicado,” Fazio said, half jokingly. “Out of phone range.”
July 16, 2014
Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services panel, was in a rush to recess a lengthy markup so he and the other lawmakers could make it across the street to the Capitol for evening floor votes.
But Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., pleaded for a few seconds to squeeze in his comments before the gavel.
Even though Hensarling reconvened the markup just after those votes, Scott had somewhere else to be. “Thank you, because I have a fundraiser I’ve got to get to right after,” Scott said in a moment of candor that sent the room into surprised laughter.
Scott’s spokesman Michael Andel noted in an email that members are in town about 2.5 days per week. “That’s not a lot of time to do much of anything,” Andel said.
The episode on June 10 offered a rare glimpse into the reality that members of Congress of both parties face, especially in an election year: the constant tension between raising money to keep their jobs and actually doing their jobs.
The dash for cash is nothing new to elective office, but with the increasing costs of campaigns and the ever-bigger potential threats of outside money flooding into races, lawmakers over schedule their short work weeks in D.C. to hit up stakeholders and lobbyists from dawn until dark.
“There are only so many hours in a day, and when you have to spend an increasing amount of those asking people for cash, something has to give,” said Adam Smith, spokesman for Public Campaign, which advocates for public financing of elections. “And what gives, I think, is the job you’re elected to do.”
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform recently released a report that seemed to conclude much the same. Led by ex-lawmakers-turned-K-Steeters such as Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, the commission’s June 24 report found members “spend too much time fundraising, which crowds out the time for legislating.”
“The commission decries the inordinate amount of time that members of Congress spend raising money and worry about the effects of such fundraising on the legislative process,” the report stated. “In particular, we fear that the need to raise ever-increasing amounts of campaign funds is crowding out the time that members have to engage in legislating and government oversight, the job they were sent to Washington to perform.”
The bipartisan group recommended Congress set up a task force styled after the 9/11 commission to make policy suggestions, and urged Congress to pass legislation requiring more disclosure of outside political money. The group also suggested Congress impose new restrictions on leadership political action committees, including limiting the funds to political, not personal, activities.
As much as lawmakers may complain, many of them privately, about the crush of pressure to raise money and the need to fork over donations to colleagues to help them advance in party or committee leadership in a sort of pay-to-play process, Congress seems to have little appetite to revamp the system — at least for now.
But the current way makes for a grueling schedule. House Republicans alone, for example, have 10 fundraisers scheduled on Wednesday, while House Democrats have at least five on the docket, according to party committee lists emailed among lobbyists. Senators also have several events on the docket.
That day, lobbyists and lawmakers can start things off with a breakfast at Bullfeathers benefiting Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y. And they could end the day in a bipartisan way with a reception for Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., at Legal Seafoods in D.C.
To say nothing of the legislative work taking place on the Capitol campus.
Of course, the overbooked lawmakers and unpredictable congressional calendar can make life plenty difficult for lobbyists, too, who are trying to oblige members’ requests to hold fundraisers.
“Many of these events are scheduled weeks or months in advance, and you just don’t know what the voting or committee schedule will be like,” said Michael Herson, who runs American Defense International and hosts fundraisers. If an event is on the Hill, lawmakers usually can pop in, even briefly, between votes or committee meetings. But when the event is across town, the guest of honor may not make it at all.
But even the best of plans could be easily waylaid. “Votes could blow up the entire event,” Herson said.
Kate Ackley is a staff writer at CQ Roll Call who keeps tabs on the influence industry.
June 26, 2014
Reality has set in for aides to outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and it looks something like this: coffee and cocktails with headhunters, lobbyists, chiefs of staff, old friends and business contacts. In short, anyone who can help in the job search.
The Virginia Republican’s leadership aides will be out of work by the end of July, setting off a job-search effort that Cantor and his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, have helped spearhead since Cantor lost on June 10.
“Obviously there has been a lot more coffee drunk and lunches eaten than before that primary,” K Street recruiter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group told CQ Roll Call. “No doubt that people are now reaching out to their librarians and bartenders and rabbis to seek advice.”
Finding a new job can be grueling, even with a plum résumé, the help of a high-profile boss and a vast network of Washington insiders. Full story
June 13, 2014
Walk through the Capitol South Metro station and you’ll pass SoftBank ads that festoon the walls — but you won’t see a campaign for the 3 million people hoping Congress will pass an unemployment insurance extension.
Business groups and most big-money lobbies that typically place such advertising to influence the people working in the Capitol either oppose extending jobless benefits, or they won’t take a position.
That leaves the unemployment extension lobbying mostly to people who are out of work themselves, along with an unusual collection of Washington allies: unions, religious organizations, anti-poverty and mental health groups. Full story
June 11, 2014
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss Tuesday shocked K Street and has left the business community without a crucial, well-placed ally in the ongoing battle between conservative and pro-business factions within the GOP.
The Virginia Republican’s defeat by a tea-party-backed political novice could deal a setback to the already toned-down summer agenda of the business community. In particular, business lobbyists working in support of the Export-Import Bank’s re-authorization by the Sept. 30 expiration say Cantor’s loss will only embolden the conservative Republicans who wish to block the bank.
“It is shocking,” said one business lobbyist speaking on the condition of anonymity. “As for policy, this completely kills any chance of immigration reform this year and surely imperils Ex-Im.” Full story
May 27, 2014
Big business’ summer agenda on Capitol Hill reads like one big do-over.
The biggest pre-election priorities that stand a chance of passage include the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, extensions of popular tax credits and a terrorism insurance program.
While all three have achieved bipartisan support previously, don’t expect anything to happen without controversy now.
Take the Ex-Im Bank, for example. Though Democrats and many Republicans say they support its reauthorization, conservative Republicans have made killing it a major focus this year.
“It’s a huge priority for the chamber,” Christopher Wenk, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior director of international policy, said about the Ex-Im Bank.
Wenk spent the weekend in Mobile, Ala., discussing the issue with the local chamber there and he is helping organize a fly-in of out-of-town advocates to Senate offices next month, following a recent lobby day focused on House members.
The Ex-Im Bank, the official export credit agency of the U.S. which helps businesses secure financing for exports, has become a flash point for conservative Republicans who argue it amounts to a corporate welfare program. Its charter expires on Sept. 30.
House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, recently blasted Ex-Im and called on his fellow Republicans to reject the bank’s reauthorization.
“There is probably no better poster child of the Washington insider economy and corporate welfare than the Export-Import Bank,” Hensarling said in a speech at The Heritage Foundation. “Its demise would clearly be one of the few achievable victories for the Main Street competitive economy left in this Congress. I believe it is a defining issue for our party and our movement.”
But other conservative leaders feel differently. Speaker John A. Boehner, by contrast, has called the bank’s reauthorization a top priority. So it is an example of divisions within the Republican Party separating pro-business from more populist conservatives.
Wenk noted the rough environment and party split. “Yes, there are some Republicans that don’t support Ex-Im, but there are a lot of Republicans that do,” he said. “The chamber, for our members, Ex-Im is a critical tool in helping our exporters.”
Wenk added that June and July will be “crunch time” in lobbying for the bank.
“We are doing lots of things to build some momentum, to build some pressure,” he said. It’s a big priority, too, for the National Association of Manufacturers, said the group’s top trade lobbyist Linda Dempsey. “We certainly view it as a must do this year and can do,” she said.
The NAM also is lobbying hard for an extension of popular tax breaks such as one for companies doing research and development and another credit known as “bonus depreciation,” which allows businesses to immediately deduct 50 percent of the cost of new machinery.
“Our immediate goal is to revive those tax breaks and get them extended until we can get to broader tax reform,” said NAM’s Dorothy Coleman.
The insurance industry and a broad coalition of the companies that carry insurance are pressing lawmakers to renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act well before it expires at year’s end.
Tom Santos, vice president of federal affairs at the American Insurance Association, said the past three weeks have been pivotal in terms of building support for the legislation.
“I think we’ll start to see momentum rolling,” he said.
Banking Chairman Tim Johnson of South Dakota and the panel’s ranking Republican Michael D. Crapo of Idaho have called it a priority. The panel recently concluded work on a massive bill to overhaul the nation’s housing finance system, so lobbyists believe the TRIA will take center stage at the committee soon.
“This is an economic issue, more than a campaign issue,” Santos said. Policy holders can’t get new insurance policies, he said, because of the uncertainty surrounding the TRIA. “With each passing month, the economic disruptions become more significant.”
Still, even if most members of Congress want to move these items, the limited number of legislative days and the focus on the coming elections has some K Street sources worried about the timing.
One GOP lobbyist, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said he believes it will be difficult for Republicans in the House to take a vote on the Ex-Im Bank because of the divisions within the party.
“I think this is something the base is paying attention to,” said this lobbyist, who supports Ex-Im. Perhaps lawmakers, freed of the burdens of their re-election campaigns, would vote to reauthorize Ex-Im’s charter in a lame-duck session.
But because that’s a gamble K Street doesn’t want to take, expect a major push over the next few weeks.
Kate Ackley is a staff writer at CQ Roll Call who keeps tabs on the influence industry.
April 28, 2014
In the past week, reporters — like me — have pored over the most recent lobbying disclosures. We’re looking for stories about the revenue patterns at K Street’s notable shops.
But the best story may be what’s not in there.
If you’re curious about how business is for the ex-Obama administration officials who decamped for a shadow version of K Street, you won’t find a clue in the Lobbying Disclosure Act records.
Because these staffers do the kind of advocacy work that isn’t covered by the federal lobbying laws, such as grass-roots or public messaging, or because they spend less than 20 percent of their time on lobbying activities, they are free of the burdens of disclosure that compel their traditional K Street kin to reveal clients and fees.
“There is no doubt that there is this underground lobbying railroad where people aren’t registered, but they are involved in advocating on behalf of clients,” said Ivan Adler, a K Street headhunter with the McCormick Group.
Obama’s 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina runs the Messina Group, which bills itself on its website as “a full-service consulting firm” that uses its experience “winning campaigns and passing historic pieces of legislation to assist clients.”
Full-service does not include registered lobbying, apparently.
Others taking this path include former Health and Human Services official Dora Hughes, a senior policy adviser with Sidley Austin’s government strategies practice; Anita Dunn, a former Obama White House communications director, who is a managing director at SKDKnickerbocker; Nicole Isaac, a former special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, a principal with the D.C. firm theGroup.
The Obama administration did not invent the unlobbyist. Former lawmakers such as one-time Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., resisted registering.
But the Obama message-makers made attacks on K Street a signature of the president’s campaigns, and the administration’s policies banning lobbyists from serving without a waiver or barring them from ever lobbying the Obama executive branch may have had the unintended consequence of pushing more advocacy work into the shadows.
“They literally ran the best message campaign in modern politics, and one of the central themes was cleaning up Washington,” said a registered lobbyist who requested to speak on condition of anonymity. “After six years, they didn’t go back to Chicago or wherever they came from, they stayed here in Washington. They employ lobbyists, and they work with lobbyists. I see no difference between what I do and what they do.”
Those who wish to overhaul the lobbying disclosure system to include more of the “unlobbyists” don’t necessarily agree on how to do it. Pretty much everyone does agree that the current laws lack enforcement.
Basically, unless you register as a lobbyist with the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate, no one knows you exist and no one comes after your time sheets to see if you are under that 20 percent threshold that triggers the LDA registration. (A lobbyist can also stay outside the system by making only one lobbying contact with a covered official.)
If the congressional officials in charge of administering the LDA hear of someone not reporting, they can refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “With a few exceptions, that becomes a black hole,” said Tom Susman, director of the American Bar Association’s governmental affairs office.
Susman has been pushing Congress to lower the 20 percent threshold, but even he isn’t sure what precisely is the magic number. Maybe 10 percent. “It’s arbitrary,” he conceded. An alternative, he suggested, could be to do away with the time percentage and make it based on fees as a way to rope into the system grass-roots, media affairs and strategic advisers.
Craig Holman, a registered lobbyist with Public Citizen, said he’d like a professional investigative agency that could audit unregistered Washington policy advisers such as Daschle, who works at DLA Piper.
“The solution to the problem is not to get rid of all these ethics requirements,” Holman said. “The solution is to create an enforcement agency to enforce the law.”
Registered lobbyists already must report to Congress their campaign donations including high-dollar bundling activities because of lobbying law changes after the Jack Abramoff scandal. But Susman sees the Obama effect as a major factor.
“I don’t think people would have such hesitation to register if not for the Obama administration’s having handicapped lobbyists for employment, meetings, advisory panels,” Susman said.
And who wouldn’t just rather skip all the paperwork of disclosure and the branding as a lobbyist?
It just happens to leave the public — voters — unaware of the pressures on officials.
The opacity isn’t likely to ebb as more Obama administration officials head through the revolving door for the private sector during the president’s remaining years in office.
Just this month, Bart Chilton, who left his gig as a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, joined Daschle’s firm, DLA Piper.
Will Chilton represent some of the companies he regulated at the CFTC?
We may never know. A spokeswoman for the firm said he has no plans to register as a lobbyist.
April 16, 2014
Five lobbyists at Williams & Jensen are leaving to set up their own bipartisan shop, Alignment Government Strategies.
Bert Carp, Michael Beer, Rebecca Anderson, Jenny DiJames and Pat Pettey, all formerly with Williams & Jensen, are joining with Leo Jardot, who previously ran the Washington office for the pharmaceutical firm Wyeth.
“We saw an opportunity to do something entrepreneurial,” said Carp, who served as a domestic policy aide in the Carter administration and lobbies on telecom, tax, energy and other issues.
April 9, 2014
Abbott Laboratories has a new chief federal lobbyist.
The pharmaceutical and health care company promoted Rosemary Haas to vice president of federal government affairs. It also created a new trade policy team headed by Jason Grove, who will manage global issues.
An outside spokeswoman for the company said neither was available for comment because Abbott does not allow its government affairs employees to speak with the press.
Haas has been with Abbott since 1984 and spent the past nine years as a senior director in federal government affairs. She has focused on tax, nutrition and health care policy and spearheaded the company’s effort to repeal the medical device tax included in the Affordable Care Act, according to a company press release. Full story
March 5, 2014
Just what will a “Comcastic” lobbying budget buy you? A growing coalition of consumer groups hopes “not a new merger” is the answer.
It’s been three weeks since Comcast Corp. announced its intention to merge with Time Warner Cable. The two companies are worth more than $25 million on K Street alone, based on last year’s lobby tabs. But what remains a mystery is whether that will tip the scales in the companies’ favor. Full story
February 5, 2014
For three years in a row, the total amount of on-the-record federal lobbying cash has slumped. For three years in a row, Thorn Run Partners’ piece of that total has jumped.
Ditto for Clark, Geduldig, Cranford & Nielsen; Shockey Scofield Solutions and Thorsen French Advocacy. Elmendorf Ryan hit its all-time high last year with more than $10 million in lobbying revenue.
What gives? Full story
January 7, 2014
The job market on K Street looks a lot like the rest of the country’s employment situation. It’s tough.
That is, unless you were chief of staff to the incoming Senate Finance chairman — in which case, who wouldn’t want to hire you?
Josh Kardon, who logged 17 years with Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat poised to take the Finance gavel, has a new gig as general counsel of Capitol Counsel, a bipartisan firm with deep ties to the current chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Baucus, of course, plans to head to China soon, as President Barack Obama tapped him last month to be his top envoy there. That has opened up the chairmanship of one of the most plum committees in Congress. Full story
No one expects a boom in the lobbying business this year. But out of the dysfunction and stalemate of 2013, K Streeters see signs of potential work in select areas, including a revival for an old standby: appropriations.
The bipartisan budget deal (tiny as it may have been) from late last year has given lobbyists cause for hope that a return to regular order on appropriations bills will offer them a legislative vehicle to work on behalf of clients.
Still, for any Hill staffers or soon-to-be-ex-members of Congress eyeing a gig downtown, the hiring scene on K Street will continue to be tight and the competition fierce.
Lobbyists are also trying to woo lawmakers to extend 55 lapsed tax credits. A patent bill, immigration matters, a farm bill, regulatory work and trade policy may also drive business. And K Streeters are looking to set the stage for longer-term overhauls of the nation’s tax code and housing finance system. Full story
December 11, 2013
Gary Lytle is the kind of lobbyist whose informal “references” include a bipartisan duo of former members of Congress.
Reps. David Bonior, D-Mich., and Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, to be precise.
So it is a big deal that Lytle, a fixture on the K Street scene for decades, is taking his name off his firm’s door and beginning a transition out of the business.
Lytle — of Clark Lytle Geduldig Cranford — is not retiring and plans to stay engaged as a mentor to the new generation of lobbyists at the firm and a counselor to his clients.
But the firm’s rebranding as Clark Geduldig Cranford & Nielsen on Thursday will reflect the fact that Lytle is stepping back, working part time, traveling more.
“In time, all things change,” Lytle said. “It’s time to step aside and give the other guys a little more credit.” Full story
December 4, 2013
Hide the silverware. Stow the dinner plates. And definitely keep that 100-year-old cognac corked.
This is how K Street gets ready for a holiday shindig in the age of the Capitol Hill party police.
Fancy finery and displays of luxury have been replaced by toothpicks and finger foods. Six years ago, changes to the rules tightened the restrictions on gifts that members and staff may accept from lobbying groups, including food and drinks at lavish soirees.
Some good news for those seeking holiday cheer: Many K Street-Capitol Hill holiday parties slip in through the reception exemption, which allows for menu items of nominal value. And while the scene may not be what it once was, the parties go on.