April 17, 2012

Journalists Begin To Take Notice Of Unregistered Lobbying Phenomenon

Journalists Begin To Take Notice Of Unregistered Lobbying Phenomenon
Infographic from the New York Times on fundraiser access to the White House

As we’ve noted, one of the biggest problems in Washington is the level of secrecy in lobbying. Communications consultants, lawyers, fundraisers, and other political professionals produce public pressure campaigns and make back room deals without ever registering as lobbyists, so the public is constantly left in the dark about who is really shaping our government. President Obama’s call to ban registered lobbyists from his administration, while steeped in good intentions, made the problem worse because many lobbyists simply deregistered, further enshrouding the corporate influence industry in secrecy.

Major media outlets are beginning to probe the problem:

— Over the weekend, the New York Times published a story about how major bundlers and other fundraisers for the Obama reelection campaign have gained high level access at the White House. Many of these fundraisers appear to be peddling the interests of their clients, despite the fact that none of the visitors profiled in the story are federally registered lobbyists.

Politico has a story yesterday about how a new business trade association called Business Forward has not registered as a lobbying group, yet has secured up to 3 meetings a week between businessmen and senior White House officials. Business Forward is made up of companies like Intuit, Microsoft, Comcast, Ford, and Citigroup. The group helped lobby on the new JOBs Act law, which rollback Sarbanes-Oxley regulations to combat accounting fraud.

Current law makes it incredibly easy for influence peddlers to avoid lobbyist registration. The law states that a lobbyist is only an individual (1) who is either employed or retained by a client for financial or other compensation (2) whose services include more than one lobbying contact; and (3) whose lobbying activities constitute 20 percent or more of his or her services’ time on behalf of that client during any three-month period. Many lobbyists will claim that they only work on a lobbying client for less than 20 percent of their time, meaning they need not register.  So the public doesn’t know the whole story of how special interests influence policy decisions in Washington — how much is spent, who is doing the influencing, who is being influenced.

Although Newt Gingrich and Tom Daschle may be the most famous “stealth lobbyists,” Republic Report has covered others, including Anita Dunn and Ed Gillespie.