Tuesday, August 7, 2007

This Year's Lobby Reform Might Actually Include Real Reforms

Last week the Congress passed the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, and sent it to the White House for signature. You would think that lobbyists wouldn't be concerned. After all they have had months to shape the bill to give the appearance of reforming their industry without really making any serious changes in the way they do business.

According to the New York Times, however, the new rules have spooked big time lobbyists, especially the principals of the larger firms. It seems one of the rules they now have to live with involves a quarterly certification by the principal that none of the lobbyists working for the firm has violated the new rules. Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick explains

H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, founder of one of the biggest lobbying firms in Washington, spent an anxious morning with his lawyer last week assessing the far-reaching ethics and lobbying rules Congress had passed the day before.

The first worry was what lobbyists are calling the new “temptation rules.” Not only do they bar lawmakers and aides from accepting any gifts, meals or trips from lobbyists, they also impose penalties up to $200,000 and five years in prison on any lobbyist who provides such freebies.

And worse still for Mr. Van Scoyoc, under the new law he is required to certify each quarter that none of the 50 lobbyists in his firm bought so much as a burger or cigar for someone on a lawmaker’s staff.

“You are basically asking people to certify, with big penalties, that nobody has lied on their expense accounts,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, marveling at the complexity of policing such casual contact between lobbyists and Congressional aides. “These are people who are sharing apartments together, playing on the same softball teams, dating each other—young people with active social lives.”
On the other hand, according to Donny Shaw of the Congress Gossip Blog some lobbyists believe one of the reforms will actually help lobbyists. Under the new rules lobbyists have to disclose their contribution bundling efforts.
Like the earmark disclosure rules that the House approved in January, the new rule requiring lawmakers to disclose the identity of any lobbyist who "bundles" together $15,000 or more in campaign contributions, could lead to a more competitive bundling market.
Lobbyists are likely to advertise their fund raising prowess the same way legislators are showing Pork Barrel Pride when they successfully secure an earmark.

Kirkpatrick responds that
Other lobbyists, though, worry that prosecutors’ new tactics could make fund-raising more perilous. In plea agreements involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Representative Randall Cunningham, prosecutors have treated certain campaign contributions as bribes for official favors, something almost never done before.

For lobbyists — who live at the nexus of contributions and favors — it is an alarming trend. “They might as well just pull up the paddy wagon outside the Capital Grille,” one lobbyist said, referring to a clubby steakhouse near the Capitol that is a well-known K Street hangout.

Between the ban on buying dinners and the scrutiny of fund-raising, “It is a lose-lose situation,” said James Dyer, a lobbyist at Clark & Weinstock.

A self-described “earmarks guy” who specializes in spending items, Mr. Dyer said the new rules were an invitation to scandal hunters. For the first time, the law will require disclosure of both the lawmakers who sponsor such items and the campaign contributions of the lobbyists who seek them.

“It is a road map that says, ‘Hey, come look at me; I have got my name against an earmark,’ ” he said.
Who knows, Congress might have accidentally reformed K-Street.