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Entries in Lobbyists (11)

Friday
Sep072012

Democrats Trash Lobbyists in Speeches, But Party with Their Cash

ABC News(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) -- Inside the Democratic convention hall in Charlotte, N.C., this week, lobbyists and special interests took a rhetorical beating from the party that has tried to carry the mantle of Washington reform.

"If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void: lobbyists and special interests; the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are making it harder for you to vote," President Obama said as he accepted his party's nomination Thursday night.

But outside the hall, lobbyists and their friends in Congress were the toast of Charlotte, just as they had been in Tampa, Fla., during the Republican convention.

At the Mint Museum, a global art museum with a modern flair, top Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta received a steady stream of guests -- senior Democratic senators, ranking members of the House, and the congressional staffers and insiders who play key roles in the legislative process.

"We're happy to entertain our friends and guests," said Podesta, whose clients include BP Oil, Wal-Mart and dozens of other corporations with major issues in Washington.

When Charlotte was named as the convention host city, the Democratic National Committee said they wanted a different kind of political event -- one that would be in keeping with Obama's vision for diminishing the role of special interests and corporate lobbyists.

When he announced his White House bid in 2007, Obama complained that lobbyists "think they own this government.  But we're here today to take it back.  The time for that politics is over.  It's time to turn the page."

In the convention hall, lobbyists were enemy number one.

"American families didn't have an army of lobbyists on our side," said the Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, to lusty applause, as she described the fight to create a new consumer financial protection agency.  "And when the lobbyists were closing in for the kill, Barack Obama squared his shoulders, planted his feet, and stood firm.  And that's how we won."

But by the time the 2012 convention launched this week, the goal of a convention free from lobbyist money had been significantly watered down.  One of the major sponsors donating to an entity formed to help pay for the festivities was McGuireWoods LLP, a firm registered to lobby for Duke Energy, the NBA, and others.

Lobbyists were an even greater presence outside the official convention events -- at restaurants and other party venues around town.  Lobbyists for electric utilities rented out the historic Duke Mansion in Charlotte's oldest residential neighborhood, and entertained Democratic governors with a string quartet and open bar.  Casualty insurance lobbyists held court at a nightclub called Tilt, where drinks flowed and music pounded.

There is a reason the lobbyists have blanketed Charlotte, even in the face of the harsh rhetoric aimed in their direction, said Jack Abramoff, the one-time super-lobbyist who became an advocate for reform after he served a prison term for bribery.

"It gives a lobbyist an opportunity to be displayed in a setting of political importance for the members of Congress, and for the others who will be, perhaps, in the administration," Abramoff told ABC News.  "And I think the more the lobbyists are seen in the context of important events and hobnobbing with people who are important, the more their stock goes up."

While many of the events were closed to the media, Podesta was one of the few members of his trade who didn't feel the need to hide his efforts in Charlotte.  ABC News spotted five U.S. senators at one of his daytime events, among them: Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy.

Podesta said he was happy not to be hit up for money to support the convention host committee.

"It enables us to be able to do wonderful parties like this instead of spending money on fencing and security so we thank the president for his direction of our activities more to events like this," he said.

Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia said he did not feel compelled to defend his decision to attend Podesta's event.

"It's still a free country and people can network with people of their choosing," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug022012

GOP Hits Obama on Lobbyist Meetings at ‘Caribou’

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In an election-year effort to cast President Obama as a “typical politician,” Republicans are highlighting the administration’s alleged hypocrisy on transparency in holding meetings with lobbyists off White House grounds in order to keep them secret.

While the meetings have been extensively reported before by ABC News and the New York Times, a new report published Tuesday by House Republicans exposed a raft of email messages between industry lobbyists and Obama administration officials deliberately making plans to rendezvous off-site to avoid detection.

In several cases, the officials’ messages were sent from non-governmental, personal email accounts, which Republicans allege was intended to keep the correspondence from the public record.

“Jim – coffee at Caribou Coffee – across the corner from the WH – would work at 11:30 a.m. on Friday…plus getting you through the new WH security rules these days almost takes an act of Congress almost (and you know how well that’s going these days),” wrote one official in the White House Office of Science and Technology policy to an executive in the GPS industry.  ”[P]lus you’d appear on an official WH Visitor List which is maybe not want [sic] you want at this stage …”

Other emails show then White House chief of staff Jim Messina using a non-governmental account to discuss language for the health care reform bill with a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist.  In one message from March 2010, Messina assures the lobbyist he would overcome opposition from then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to achieve more favorable legislation.

“I will roll [P]elosi to get the 4 billion,” Messina told Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes.  “As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the house.  But there just isn’t 8-10 billion.”

Republicans say Messina’s emails from his personal account potentially violate the Presidential Records Act, which requires that all official executive branch communications be archived for public record.

In a new web video and conference call with reporters, the Republican National Committee blasted Obama, who pledged to make his administration the most transparent in history.

“The Obama White House is actively deceiving the American people and they are doing it over a Caribou latte,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus told reporters, referring to the coffee shop where many of the undisclosed meetings with lobbyists occurred.

“This president does not want the American people to know who they are meeting with on a day-to-day basis,” Priebus said.  “They have had many meetings at coffee houses, so we have no way of knowing what insider deals they are cutting with lobbyists with taxpayers’ money.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney, who called the House Republicans’ report an attempt to distract from more weighty policy issues, insisted administration officials did not attempt to avoid detection by using non-White House email accounts or holding off-site meetings.

“Mr. Messina had a longstanding personal email account in which he got traffic.  In an effort to comply with all the regulations pertaining to emails, he would forward emails to his White House account or copy his White House account so that those emails would be part of presidential record,” Carney said.

Asked whether it is White House policy to hold some meetings off-site to avoid individuals’ names in the visitor logs, Carney demurred.

“I don’t have anything on this specific issue,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr132012

Nazi Party Gets First Lobbyist on Capitol Hill

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A member of the American Nazi Party has joined the ranks of lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

John Bowles, 55, said his official status as a lobbyist was something the 53-year-old party planned to “try out for the first time and see if it flies.”

“I always tell my fellow Americans that they need to practice their constitutional rights or their rights will one day be eroded,” he said. “Lobbying is one way to do that, to try to get your point across to the elected officials in Congress.”

Bowles said some of the key issues he hopes to speak with lawmakers about include ballot access, unemployment, immigration and budgets.

“I’m not going to go in and shove a swastika in their face,” he said. “I use a very careful and objective approach. There might be some congressmen who crumple up the paper and some who say, ‘this is interesting.’”

The newly minted lobbyist said he won’t use derogatory language and was open to working with all members of Congress.

“If they don’t hold my politics against me,” he said, “I won’t hold anything against them.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan102012

Obama Names Former La Raza Lobbyist as Chief Domestic Policy Advisor

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has appointed former lobbyist Cecilia Muñoz to serve as the new director of the Domestic Policy Council, the White House announced Tuesday.

“Over the past three years, Cecilia has been a trusted advisor who has demonstrated sound judgment day in and day out,” Obama said in a statement. “Cecilia has done an extraordinary job working on behalf of middle class families, and I’m confident she’ll bring the same unwavering dedication to her new position.”

Muñoz, the former senior vice president for the controversial group National Council of La Raza, was one of the former lobbyists for whom President Obama signed a waiver permitting an exception from his campaign promise to, “close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely.” While La Raza supports expanding opportunities for the Latino community, critics say it does so at the expense of other enthic groups, and also supports illegal immigration, something the group denies.

Currently the director of Intergovernmental Affairs and lead liaison to the Hispanic community, Muñoz succeeds Melody Barnes as the White House’s chief domestic policy advisor. Barnes left her post at the White House at the end of last year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct282011

Obama Campaign Bundlers Have Ties to Lobbying Industry

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than a dozen of President Obama’s top campaign financiers have close ties to the lobbying industry, despite his pledge to remain free from the influence of lobbyists and their cash, according to an analysis of donor lists by the New York Times.

At least 15 Obama “bundlers,” or volunteer fund raisers who gather contributions from their deep-pocket friends, are actively involved in the federal policymaking process, working in law firms or corporate offices that focus on lobbying, the Times found.

None of the donors are formally registered as federal lobbyists, the threshold the Obama campaign uses to regularly refuse contributions.  But the individuals’ activities, the Times contends, fit the definition.  

Pfizer executive Sally Susman, for example, chairs the company’s political action committee and leads its “public affairs activities, including relations with governments,” according the Pfizer website. She has bundled more than $500,000 in donations for Obama so far.

Comcast executive David Cohen, who oversees the media giant’s government affairs and public affairs, also bundled more than $500,000 and has hobnobbed with Obama on Martha’s Vineyard.

And Michael Kempner, whose PR firm MWW Group touts to its clients its “important relationships with both the Democratic and Republican leadership,” has also bundled half a million dollars for Obama. His firm includes seven registered lobbyists, according to the Times.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt claims the president has not broken his promise on lobbyists, saying in a statement that the Times analysis “misses the forest for the trees.”

“From the first day he announced he was running for president, Barack Obama hasn’t accepted a dime from federal lobbyists or political action committees,” LaBolt said. “He led the way in disclosing major volunteer fund raisers for his campaign, disclosing both the names of the individuals who raise money for the campaign as well as the levels of contributions that they raise.” 

The Obama campaign has released information on 351 bundlers, the vast majority of whom do not have ties to the lobbying arena, who have together raised $55.5 million this year for the Obama Victory Fund. The account funnels cash to both Obama and the Democratic National Committee.  

None of the Republican presidential candidates has banned contributions from registered lobbyists or voluntarily disclosed the names of  his or her bundlers, breaking with a precedent of transparency set by George W. Bush and continued by John McCain.     

GOP front-runner Mitt Romney has received close to $200,000 in campaign contributions from more than 100 registered lobbyists, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission data. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has collected at least $72,000 from 42 lobbyists through September. Neither will disclose his full list of campaign bundlers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct072011

PACs Contribute $83,000 to Super Committee Members

iStockphoto(WASHINGTON) -- Members of the Congressional “super committee” received over $83,000 from lobbying groups in the three weeks after being appointed to make $1.5 trillion in budget cuts.

The 501(c)(3) non-profit Sunlight Foundation reported that 19 political action committees, or PACs, of organizations such as Lockheed Martin, the National Association of Realtors, Pfizer and Chevron gave to 10 committee members.

The super committee, officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, is made up of six Democrats and six Republicans. It is tasked with approving at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts as part of the deficit reduction deal passed by Congress in August.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., were the only members who did not receive contributions, according to filings from the Federal Election Commission.

The PAC of pharmaceutical company Pfizer reportedly gave the highest amount, $10,000, to super committee members.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin contributed to the most super committee members: Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. ($2,500); the leadership PAC of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; Campaign for our Country ($2,500); Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. ($1,000); and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio ($2,000).

The majority of the committee’s gatherings have been private. The committee had its last public meeting Sept. 22 and they are scheduled to agree upon a plan by Nov. 23. Their plan will not have amendments in either chamber of Congress and will require only 51 votes in the Senate for approval, as opposed to the traditional 60 for cloture.

The committee members who had received contributions, or their PACs received donations, were:

1. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich.: $26,500

2. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.: $15,000

3. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.:$10,000

4. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.: $9,000

5. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.: $8,930

6. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.: $5,000

7. Sen. Rob Portma, R-Ohio: $4,500

8. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex.:$3,000

9. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.: $1,000

10. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.: $1,000

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct032011

Activists Protest Relationship Between Lobbyist, Obama Administration

American actress Daryl Hannah sits in front of the White House in Washington, DC, Aug. 30, 2011, during a protest against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Hannah was among dozens of protestors arrested in a demonstration against the oil pipeline which, if constructed, would run from Canada to Texas. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Opponents of a proposed $7 billion Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline say emails between an oil company lobbyist and the Obama administration reveal a pattern of “deeply disturbing” bias and corruption that undermines an impartial government assessment of the deal.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, has been publishing the documents online in an effort to ratchet up pressure on the State Department, which is considering approval of the so-called Keystone XL project by the end of the year.

The emails show frequent, friendly and collaborative interactions between Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for TransCanada, the pipeline’s owner, and State Department staffers in Washington and Ottawa. Elliott is a former campaign aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Activists say the “most disturbing document” is an exchange between Elliott and Maria Verloop, a State Department energy and environmental issues counselor, in which Verloop cheers Elliott’s success in winning support from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for the pipeline.

“Go Paul! Baucus support holds clout,” she wrote in a Sept. 10, 2010, email.

Elliott responded to Verloop later that day, saying lobbying “is a grind but when the grind pays off with support it makes it worthwhile.”

In a December 2010 email, Verloop told Elliott that “it’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired.”

Critics say the exchanges and dozens more like them depict inappropriately “cozy” relations between Elliott and the department, even if there is no sign of illegality.

“If President Obama remains true to his campaign promise that his election would mean an end to the days of lobbyists setting the agenda in Washington, he has no choice but to rescind the executive order delegating to the State Department the authority to sign a presidential permit for this pipeline,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement on its website.

“If the pipeline decision is made in the White House, rather than at the biased State Department, and if President Obama undertakes a fair and impartial analysis of the evidence, we believe he will reject this pipeline,” the group said.

Neither Clinton nor Obama have signaled their views on the pipeline, and administration officials insist the independent vetting process remains underway. Clinton is the final arbiter of the deal, which she is expected to rule on by the end of the year.

Nuland said the documents depict only one side of multi-lateral consultations surrounding the pipeline. She also said no contact has occurred between Elliott and any administration staffers with direct influence on the final approval process.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Feb042011

Lawmakers Urged Lobbyists to Push for Continued Funding

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As Congress prepares to make deep spending cuts, an army of lobbyists is gearing up to fight back.

In an e-mail obtained by ABC News, a top staffer for the key Senate Appropriations subcommittee called for a meeting of lobbyists and interest groups that would be affected by expected cuts to the Labor and Heath and Human Services budget.  The Jan. 24 meeting was attended by approximately 400 people, sources told ABC, and served as a "call to arms" for those determined to fight Republican budget cuts.

"One thing everyone should be able to agree on now is that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that a higher [Labor, Health & Human Services] allocation improves the chances for every stakeholder group to receive more funding," the committee staffer for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wrote in an e-mail inviting people to the meeting.

The meeting is in contrast to the rampant calls all over Capitol Hill to cut federal spending.  For instance, a recent proposal from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., called for an 83 percent cut in funding for the Department of Education.

If education is subjected to far greater cuts than defense, for example, then groups in that sector have cause for concern.  Cue the lobbying effort.

"Everyone who was there was desperately concerned and very appreciative of being in a room seeing so many people like them who are also concerned," said a source who attended the meeting.  "We obviously have to cut the budget deficit and address the debt problem, but are we going to do that on the backs of the poor, the unemployed, those without child care, et cetera?  That's the kind of thing that could halt the economic recovery in its tracks."

Another source familiar with the meeting said Democrats used the meeting as "an attack on House Republicans."

"They said these evil House Republicans are here and they're going to kill all these programs that support little kids, senior citizens, and health care," the source said.  "They're trying to instill the fear of God that Republicans are basically going to blow up all these programs, kill these programs, defund them."

"It seemed to me like they are trying to build momentum to push the Republicans back on their promises on funding levels and I think -- to their credit -- they were reaching out to a vast number of organizations to build a coalition of people who are willing to take action against whatever may come out of the House."

The funding fight looks set to take center stage in the coming weeks.  President Obama is planning to submit his budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 on Feb. 14. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb022011

Lobbyists For Egypt Forced to Adjust to Sudden Change

Photo Courtesy - Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The dramatic events in Egypt this past week have left a coterie of top Washington lobbyists quietly scurrying to respond to the unexpected developments in the nation they represent, caught off guard by the apparent end to President Hosni Mubarak's long reign.

By some estimates, Egypt spends close to $2 million a year on well-connected emissaries in Washington. The political insiders they hire are formally registered with the U.S. Justice Department as "foreign agents" and they represent a little-known but lucrative niche in the world of Washington lobbying.

Those who have held big-dollar contracts with the Egyptian government include Democratic power broker Tony Podesta and former House Majority Leader Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican.

Toby Moffett, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut who was hired in 2007 by the Egyptian foreign and defense ministries, described to ABC News Tuesday how his firm's routine work on behalf of Mubarak's foreign and defense ministers took a sudden and unexpected turn.

 "Tunisia got on the radar screen. There had been discussion about possible spill over. But no real sense of urgency," Moffett said. "A week ago, he said, "we were still focusing on getting ready to approach the new Congress with the [Egyptian] ambassador."

Over the course of the week, Moffett and the other Egyptian advisers have found themselves trying to insure some semblance of continuity as the longstanding Egyptian government faces an unrelenting challenge from protesters.

The busiest group on behalf of Egypt, has been PLM, a hybrid of the Livingston Group and the Democratic firms run by Podesta and Moffett. Livingston led an Egyptian military delegation to 147 meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress or their staff, according to data compiled by The SunLight Foundation. According to Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, 1,783 contacts were made between various lobbying firms representing the Arab Republic of Egypt and U.S. government officials since 2007.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan052011

Alabama Ethics Reform '75 Percent' Improved

Photo Courtesy - Governor.Alabama.Gov(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) – After the indictment of four Alabama state legislators and three gaming lobbyists last fall, a new package of reforms represent a significant improvement on the state’s old lobbying laws, say observers.

When Alabama Governor Bob Riley called a special session of the state legislature after the October indictments, it was to enact what he hoped would be the toughest ethics laws in the nation.

The resulting package of reforms were passed in December and became law this week. There were enough exceptions added to the package by lawmakers, however, and enough loopholes in the language that the state legislature will have to revisit the issue when it reconvenes in March.

Ellen Miller of the Washington, D.C.-based good government group The Sunlight Foundation said, "You have to start someplace.” "[Alabama] is not leading the way or blazing new paths," Miller added, "but it is a first step."

Hugh Evans, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, a state regulatory agency with newly expanded powers, said that Alabama is now "at 75 percent of where we want to be."

"When you have so many different entities and influences on a particular bill, I don't think you ever get to 100 percent of where you want to," said Evans. "Everyone offered an amendment and so it was an amalgamation."

Under Alabama's old rules, lobbyists could spend up to $250 a day on an individual legislator without disclosure, or more than $90,000 a year. The lax restrictions led to cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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