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September 18, 2009

NATURAL GAS LOBBY STEPS INTO CLIMATE CHANGE NEGOTIATIONS
Producers of natural gas are readying a lobbying effort in anticipation of the climate change bill that goes before the Senate this fall, reports the Associated Press.

The America's Natural Gas Alliance, the industry's new lobbying group, will launch an $80 million ad campaign in both national and regional publications in opposition to new oil and gas taxes proposed by the Obama administration.

The gas lobby, which was largely been absent from climate change negotiations in the House, is also seeking a "bridge fuel credit," which would reward utilities that switch from coal to natural gas.

According to the AP:

"It's only when legislation is introduced that changes it from a level playing field to an unlevel playing field that we say, 'Wait a minute, you are rewarding those fuels that are less clean than natural gas,' " said Larry Nichols, chief executive of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy.

Environmental special-interest groups, including the Sierra Club, are backing efforts by the natural gas lobby because the fuel emits 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal.

September 17, 2009

PASSING, RUSHING, AND... FUNDRAISING?

Most industries see a huge payoff from money invested in lobbying. To wit: firms that pushed for a tax holiday in 2004 saw a return-on-investment of 22,000 percent. But as Dave Levinthal hilariously points out in an excellent post at the Capital Eye Blog, this is not the case for the San Diego Chargers.

According to Levinthal, the Chargers top the list of the NFL's biggest political donors, contributing a collective $2.4 million to political candidates and committees since 1990. Yet this sad team has been to only one Super Bowl in 43 years. And they lost that game.

The NFL's lobbying activity has been on the rise in recent years, with lobbying expenses on track to reach $1.4 million this year. That well exceeds the league's previous lobbying record of $1.15 million in 2007.

The league now employs two full-time lobbyists in Washington who work to influence issues such as media policy, illegal gambling, and performing-enhancing drugs.

Runner-up to the Chargers are the Houston Texans for contributing more than $623,000 during the last 20 years. About 20 of the league's 32 clubs have contributed more than $100,000 to political candidates.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

STUDY: LOBBYISTS EXPLOIT LOOPHOLE IN ETHICS LAW ON FUNDRAISING Despite new ethics laws passed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Associated Press reports today that only about two dozen lawmakers have disclosed lobbyist campaign contributions.

Lawmakers have not publicly identified lobbyists who host fundraisers on at least 195 invitations reviewed by the AP and the Sunlight Foundation from March 19 to June.

The law, which is rife with loopholes, amounts to an honor system for lawmakers to disclose fundraising activities, the study found.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid commented on the Open Government Act after the Senate's vote in August 2007:

"In sending the most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in history to the president, we are giving the American people a government as good and honest as the people it represents,"

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

GATHERING STORM Environmental and industry groups alike are stepping up their lobbying efforts before a climate change bill goes before the Senate in the coming weeks.

Oil and gas companies spent $44.5 million on lobbying lawmakers in just the first three months 2009, increasing their spending faster than any other industry, reports the Associated Press. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, famous for its subcontractors' forged letters to members of Congress, said it will run ads online and on TV in the coming weeks to raise awareness.

The AP reports:

The eventual cost to businesses and consumers is at the heart of what has become an intense informational and lobbying campaign on both sides. Environmentalists and some money managers see cap-and-trade as the best way to control carbon emissions while oil refiners warn the House bill could make foreign petroleum products cheaper and lead to even more imports.

-- Jenna Staul

September 16, 2009

"ARMY OF MENTALLY ILL HOMELESS PEOPLE" SWARMS K STREET Bill Myers of the Washington Examiner reports Wednesday that an "army of mentally ill homeless people has set up camp along the K Street blocks that constitute Washington's premier business district."

K Street is so lined with lobby shops that the corridor has become a euphemism for the entire industry. Homeless people have long populated K Street, sleeping in three large downtown parks between 17th and 13th Streets. But homeless advocates tell the Examiner that there might be a surge in the population due to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's homelessness agenda, which has included shuttering a downtown shelter.

More here.

-- Arthur Delaney

STAFFER-TURNED-LOBBYIST TOLD TO WAIT ANOTHER YEAR BEFORE CONTACTING HILL COLLEAGUES Bloomberg reports that the head Washington lobbyist for Goldman Sachs has been forbidden to communicate with Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee while the panel works to reform financial regulations.

Committee chairman Barney Frank said in a memo yesterday that he would extend the time lobbyist Michael Paese was prohibited from lobbying the committee, which expired Sept. 11. Paese left the Financial Services Committee last year to lobby for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and he went to Goldman in May.

From Bloomberg:

"Neither I, nor full committee nor subcommittee staff, will meet, or otherwise communicate with, Michael on any issues related to committee business or jurisdiction," wrote Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. "I ask that subcommittee chairs abide by this same rule."

Back in May, the Huffington Post described the process that had the likes of Paese and other staffers shuffling between the public and private sectors:

It's a drunken conga line snaking through the party, starting at the staff level, shuffling to K Street and then shaking it over the White House. All a staffer needs to do is get up and dance.

-- Jenna Staul

REMINDER: BAUCUS TAKES TONS OF HEALTH INDUSTRY MONEY The Associated Press reports that Sen. Max Baucus has received more donations from the health care industry --- $3.9 million since 1989 --- than any other elected federal official besides President Obama and three other senators.

He has his position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has been at the center of this year's health reform debate, to thank for those donations.

The contributions have come from doctors, hospitals and drug makers alike. The Associated Press also reports that all members of the Gang of Six have received above average donations from the health care industry, totaling $10.7 million since 1989.

-- Jenna Staul

SPECTER: EFCA DEAL IS NEAR Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter told members of the AFL-CIO that he and other lawmakers are nearing a deal for the Employee Free Choice Act, reports the Center for Responsive Politics' Capital Eye Blog.

The AFL-CIO has been a major backer of the proposed act and has spent $1.8 million on lobbying so far this year.

The senators reportedly working on the bill with Spector -- Tom Harkin, Charles Schumer, Mark Pryor and Sherrod Brown -- have collectively received $5.7 million from the labor sector since 1989, CRP reports.

Big business adamantly opposes providing workers the option, known as "card check," of forming a union by collecting signatures from a majority of employees saying they want to organize. And that pits labor against the top all-time spender on federal lobbying, the US Chamber of Commerce.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

DEMS TOP MOST CORRUPT LIST Democratic lawmakers topped a list of the "most corrupt members of Congress" released by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Democratic lawmakers on the list include Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama, and Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, for his ties to the now-defunct lobbying firm the PMA Group.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell makes the list for giving taxpayer dollars to a former employee's lobbying firm and for steering a contract to a defense contractor accused of bribing the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

The Raw Story quoted CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan on the release of the list:

"With the economy in a free-fall, unemployment rates at record highs and health care solutions still nowhere in sight, members should be spending their time looking for answers to the nation's problems, not finding new ways to enrich themselves," Sloan remarked. "The members of Congress profiled in CREW's Most Corrupt report have betrayed those who voted them into office. This report holds them accountable for their bad choices."

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

EFFORT TO CUT ACORN FUNDING UNDERWAY Republican leaders in Congress are trying to cut off federal funding for the controversial Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, or ACORN.

Politico reports that ACORN has received $53 million from federal agencies since 1994. The community organizing group also receives money through state and local agencies that receive federal block grants.

Republicans believe ACORN uses public funds to advance a Democratic agenda and sometimes engage in illegal behavior. The organization became the subject of public scrutiny last year after it was accused of filing bogus voter registration forms.

"It is evident that ACORN is incapable of using federal funds in a manner that is consistent with the law," House Minority Leader John Boehner and other Republicans told the president."Simply put, ACORN should not receive another penny of American taxpayers' money."

Under the Bush administration, ACORN benefited from $14.2 million in taxpayer dollars from 2001 to 2008, per archived funding announcements at the Department of Housing and Urban Development's website.

More on the GOP's efforts here.

-- Jenna Staul

ABRAMOFF DEFENDANT ALLEGES PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT A former government official accused of accepting fraudulent gifts from Jack Abramoff is alleging prosecutorial abuse in the case, reports The Hill.

Horace Cooper, a former aide to then-Texas Rep. Dick Armey, is facing felony corruption charges for allegedly accepting more than $15,000 in gifts, tickets to events and expensive dinners from the controversial former lobbyist. Now he's taking an usually aggressive approach in fighting the case.

Reports the Hill:

A memo citing a laundry list of alleged mistakes prosecutors made in the indictment is circulating among his supporters. It is unclear who authored the memo, titled "Horace Cooper's Indictment: Quest for Truth or Justice Department Error?" although contact information for Cooper's attorney, Soloman Wisenberg of Barnes and Thornberg, is listed at the top of it.

The memo accuses the Justice Depart of making multiple factual errors, adding that incorrect dates, prices and other information could have been corrected by "a simple Google search."

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

September 15, 2009

INSURANCE, HMO LOBBYING EXPENSES AND CONTRIBUTIONS EXCEED $125M IN 2009 Lobbying and political contributions by the HMO and insurance industries come with a $126,430,438 price tag, reports CampaignMoney.org.

Public Campaign Action Fund found that, in the first half of 2009, the industries were spending nearly $700,000 a day to influence policy and lawmakers.

"The insurance and HMO interests are fighting health care reform with hundreds of millions of dollars," commented David Donnelly, national campaigns director of Public Campaign Action Fund. "Why are so many in Congress willing to listen to an industry that is spending tens of millions every month on politics rather than on lowering their premiums or helping to address the costs of health care? They need the cash to pay for their campaigns. And that's why we need Congress out of the fundraising game -- which can happen if Congress adopts the Fair Elections Now Act."

According to CampaignMoney.org, the insurance industry has 875 registered lobbyists and HMOs have 920 registered lobbyists in Washington.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

TRADE GROUPS COME TOGETHER AGAINST PROPOSED AGENCY
Special-interest groups representing the financial industry are rallying to lobby against the Obama administration's proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

The Washington Times reports that the American Financial Services Association, the main trade group for the consumer credit industry, has met with about 30 other trade groups to create a cohesive lobbying front against the creation of the agency.

This is in addition to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's multi-million-dollar public relations and advertising campaign aimed at drawing attention to the legislation this fall.

Reports the Washington Times:

"We're not opposed to consumer protection ... but we don't think this gets us there," AFSA Executive Vice President Bill Himpler said. "Existing regulations on the books, had they been enforced, would've taken care of a lot of the problems."

If created, the agency would consolidate the regulatory duties of several different federal agencies, including the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

LAWMAKERS RECEIVE DONATIONS FROM INSURERS IN QUESTION OpenSecrets.org reports that insurers have given millions of dollars to congressional committees that oversee the industry.

The site reports that 52 insurance companies, including big names such as AFLAC and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, must disclose their financial records today to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman.

Members of that committee have collected $2.9 million in contributions from employees and political action committees of the insurers -- 53 percent of those donations went to Republicans.

Waxman himself has brought more money from the companies he's questioning than all but four other members of the committee. His total haul since 1989 is $106,500. Ranking member Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has collected $84,350 in that time.

Five insurance companies will testify Thursday before Rep. Dennis Kucinich's House Oversight and Government Reform Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which has fewer financial ties to the industry, receiving only $110,500 in donations since 1989, reports OpenSecrets.

More here

-- Jenna Staul

ANTI-WASHINGTON RICK PERRY TO RAISE MONEY IN WASHINGTON Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is so anti-Washington that earlier this year he suggested his state might consider seceding from the union, will travel to Washington this week to raise money for his re-election campaign.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that all seven hosts of Perry's Friday fundraiser are lobbyists or former lobbyists.

Perry is facing a challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), whom he accuses of having spent too much time in Washington.

"The senator has been in Washington for 16 years. She may not have a grasp of all that is going on in Texas. She may not know or understand the progress we have made in this state," Perry said in August, according to the Dallas Morning News.

More here.

Hat tip: Capital Eye Blog

-- Arthur Delaney

AMA LAUNCHES LOBBYING AND ADVERTISING BLITZ After more than 60 years of opposition to a government overhaul of health care, the American Medical Association has jumped on the pro-reform lobbying bandwagon, reports the Los Angeles Times.

That's because physicians stand to gain should a reform plan pass. An agreement was reached between the AMA and the Obama administration to stop an estimated $228 billion in cuts to Medicare over 10 years as well as a mandate that all individuals obtain medical insurance, which would ensure that doctors are paid.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The AMA, which many still regard as the country's premier lobbying force, is providing money and grass-roots backing for these and other reforms.

Critics charge that, although doctors will be among those with the most to gain financially, the AMA -- unlike the pharmaceutical and insurance industries -- made relatively few concessions in return. The drug industry, for example, pledged $80 billion in cost reductions. Health insurers agreed to give up restrictions on preexisting conditions.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

September 14, 2009

OBAMA LOBBYING POLICIES MAY DECREASE TRANSPARENCY
President Obama's policies on special interest groups and lobbying may be backfiring, reports Reuters.

Some lobbyists are giving up their formal registration status and finding other indirect ways to influence policy. The rules may also have hindered Obama's ability to fill key government jobs, eliminating some highly qualified candidates with recent lobbying positions on their resume.

According to Reuters:

"The president's executive order isn't working the way they planned," said one top Washington industry lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, given the sensitivity of the subject.

He said he personally knew of several companies and non-profit groups who had filed papers with Congress terminating the lobbyist status of people on their payrolls after realizing that they were being shut out.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

AGRICULTURE LOBBYISTS APPLAUD SENATE COMMITTEE APPOINTMENT
The Hill reports that agricultural lobbyists are glad to see Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln take the helm of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The National Cotton Council and the U.S.A. Rice Federation sent out press releases praising the appointment. Lincoln, who grew up in a farming family, is expected to give more attention to southern crops such as rice and cotton.

The Hill adds:

"We are very happy. She is a real believer in agriculture and is going to fight for it," said Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation. "We couldn't have handpicked a chairman better than this."

More here

-- Jenna Staul

FORMER GANG OF SIX HEALTH ADVISER NOW LOBBIES FOR WELLPOINT The Lil Sis Blog reports that a former chief health adviser to Sen. Mike Enzi now heads up lobbying efforts for insurance industry giant WellPoint.

Stephen Northrup worked as the "Gang of Six" senator's adviser from 2003 to 2006 before becoming vice president of federal affairs for WellPoint in Washington, where he is responsible for leading advocacy efforts before Congress and governmental agencies.

Lil Sis weighs in:

So this bill really did get written by insurance industry VPs -- past and present. Liz Fowler, the current Baucus staffer who wrote the plan, was a Wellpoint executive last year. And Northrup, the former Enzi staffer who wrote the original iteration of this bill, is now on the Wellpoint payroll.

More here

-- Jenna Staul

MEDICAL SUPPLY MAKERS TO LOBBY AGAINST HEALTH REFORM FEES
The medical-device industry is rallying a lobbying effort to fight a proposed $4 billion in fees on device manufacturers, reports Politico.

Under the proposed $900 billion health reform plan proposed by Sen. Max Baucus, makers of everything from Q-tips to CT scans may be subject to annual fees that would cost them billions of dollars. But Politico reports that health care lobbyists are seeking to have those fees stripped from the proposal.

The industry's efforts to eliminate the fees could subtract several hundred billion dollars from the bill and affect how much it covers, according to Politico:

So everything in an emergency room, from the defibrillator to the bandages, and many of the things you'd find in a drugstore -- home pregnancy tests to toothbrushes -- are medical products that could come under the fee, said AdvaMed chief lobbyist Brett Loper.

That wide range of products represents a powerful opportunity to organize a coalition of consumers, manufacturers and purchasers to protest the new fee, Loper said.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

PhRMA TO SPEND $150M ON PRO-BAUCUS PLAN ADVERTISING The drug industry's trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has set aside $150 million for advertising in support of the health care reform plan proposed by Sen. Max Baucus, reports the New York Times.

This follows a deal struck in June with Sen. Baucus and the White House where the industry agreed to reduce the nation's pharmaceutical spending by $80 billion over a 10-year time period.

So far, the group has spent $12 million in advertising for a campaign coordinated by the Americans for Stable Quality Care coalition.

According to the New York Times:

President Obama has cited the deal with the group as signifying a new era of cooperation. But some critics say the advertising fund could be wielded against alternative approaches to health care legislation. Some House Democrats, including Henry A. Waxman of California, are seeking drug industry givebacks not covered in the deal with Mr. Baucus and the White House.

More here

-- Jenna Staul

REUTERS: 90,000 LOBBYISTS WORKING TO INFLUENCE LEGISLATION The number of registered lobbyists in Washington --- 12,553 as of the end of June --- is down from 14,800 at the end of 2008, reports Reuters.

The numbers, however, could be deceiving since the total number of people working in indirect lobbying activities may be seven times greater, according to Reuters.

James Thurber, head of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said the actual number of people engaged in lobbying may be around 90,000, not including support staff.

Thurber says the Lobbying Disclosure Act does not capture massive marketing efforts undertaken by special interest groups and corporations, grassroots initiatives, survey research or even the publication of magazines by groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

More here

-- Jenna Staul

September 11, 2009

LOBBYBLOG EXCLUSIVE: TEXAS COUPLE GAVE $16,000 TO GOP WHILE DEFRAUDING AFGHANISTAN RECONSTRUCTION
Delmar and Barbara Spier, owners of Texas-based security firm United States Protection and Investigations, LLC, pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to defrauding the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. According to the Department of Justice, the Spiers admitted that, from June 2003 to July 2007, they defrauded the United States with inflated expense reports for vehicles and security personnel and with fabricated subcontractor invoices. They'll have to fork over $3 million in proceeds that can be traced to the fraud and they could face prison time.

While they were soaking the federal government, the Spiers were shoveling cash to the GOP. According to filings from the Federal Election Commission, Barbara Spier donated $16,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee from May 2003 to July 2007.

An NRCC spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Huffington Post.

Mother Jones profiled the Spiers in July; they represented "one of the most vivid pictures yet to emerge from Afghanistan's Wild West contracting bonanza."

-- Arthur Delaney

CRIST CASTS HIS SHADOW OVER AVAILABLE SENATE SEAT Florida Gov. Charlie Crist wants Mel Martinez's Senate seat. Martinez conveniently resigned before his term was up, giving Crist a chance to appoint someone to keep the seat nice and warm for him. And that's exactly what Crist did, picking close adviser and former chief of staff George LeMieux, who was sworn in on Thursday. LeMieux has already said that he has no plans to stay in Washington after he finishes up Martinez's term.

A close, personal friendship between LeMieux and Crist is no reason to suspect that LeMieux is essentially part of the governor's Senate campaign, as critics allege. But combine that relationship with $2,400 in contributions to Crist's Senate campaign and maybe you're getting closer!

The Center for Responsive Politics has a great blog post detailing some of the personal and financial connections between Crist, LeMieux, and Martinez, who also sent gobs of money to the Crist campaign.

LeMieux, who has been described in the press as Crist's "closest friend" and his "political shadow," had been the chairman of the Florida law firm Gunster Yoakley & Stewart since March of 2008, a post from which he resigned to accept the Senate position. (LeMieux began his legal career at the firm, after obtaining a law degree from Georgetown University.)

Four other attorneys at Gunster Yoakley, along with one of their wives, contributed $15,250 to Crist's Senate campaign during the first six months of 2009, ranking the firm among his top contributors to date.

More here.

-- Arthur Delaney

LOBBYING THE SEPTEMBER 11 DAY OF SERVICE Dave Levinthal at the Center for Responsive Politics reminds us this morning that nothing in Congress goes unlobbied. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, signed by President Obama this year, strengthened service and volunteerism policy but also recognized September 11 as a "National Day of Service and Remembrance."

Levinthal writes:

Although it ultimately passed with wide bipartisan
support, the bill itself was not without opponents -- or interest
groups attempting to influence its language. According to our
analysis, at least 62 organizations filed lobbying reports that
mentioned the bill by its official number -- from Habitat for Humanity
to the American Bankers Association to Exxon Mobil to Planned
Parenthood.

-- Arthur Delaney

HOMELAND SECURITY NOMINEE FAILED TO REPORT LOBBYING BACKGROUND
A nominee for a high-level position in the Department of Homeland Security has come under fire for her failure to disclose past work as a lobbyist.

The Washington Times reports that Dr. Tara O'Toole, who is being vetted for a position overseeing bioterrorism defense, failed to report her work with the Alliance for Biosecurity, a lobbying group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that urged the government to spend more money on anthrax vaccines.

Officials at DHS said that because Alliance for Biosecurity is not incorporated, a disclosure was not necessary.

According to the Washington Times:

Ethics rules require nominees to report any paid or unpaid positions held outside of government, including but not limited to those of "officer, trustee, general partner, representative, employee or any consultant of any corporation, firm, partnership or other business enterprise ...." Dr. O'Toole signed a letter on behalf of the group sent to the White House as recently as March.

-- Jenna Staul

September 10, 2009

FORGED LETTER SENT BY CLEAN COAL LOBBYISTS FOUND Another forged letter criticizing the House's climate change bill can be traced to the lobbying firm working for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

A 14th faked letter, sent to the office of Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), was discovered by Congressional investigators Thursday. The letter appears to come from an American Legion post in Rocky Mount, Va., reports the Washington Post's Capitol Briefing.

"We have confirmed [that the letter is fake] directly with the person whose name was forged," said Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which is investigating the forgeries. The committee is chaired by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who along with Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), sponsored the bill. It passed the House in June, with Perriello voting yes.The lobbying firm Bonner and Associates has reportedly fired the employee who sent the letters, according to Capitol Briefing.

-- Jenna Staul

LOBBYISTS URGE LAWMAKERS TO RAISE COUNTRY'S DEBT LEVEL Some of the nation's most influential lobbies are urging the Senate to lift the nation's debt limit above $12.1 trillion, reports the Hill.

An association of six special-interest groups including The Business Roundtable, The Financial Services Roundtable and the National Association of Homeowners, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, claiming it is necessary for the country to take on more debt.

The associations said in a letter on Thursday that it is "critical to ensuring global investors' confidence in the creditworthiness of the United States, that Congress approve the administration's request for a higher debt limit."

The House took action earlier this year to raise the country's debt limit to $13 trillion.

-- Jenna Staul

THE BAUCUS PLAN: BY LOBBYISTS, FOR LOBBYISTS White House spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed some annoyance yesterday that lobbyists were clued in to the health care plan proposed by Sen. Max Baucus' Finance Committee before the White House and other lawmakers.

Gibbs said he was told that "K Street had a copy of the Baucus plan, meaning, not surprisingly, the special interests have gotten a copy of the plan that I understand was given to committee members today," The Hill reported.

This is old hat for the Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal. Many of Baucus' former staffers now work as health care industry lobbyists and two former lobbyists work on his committee staff. Blumenthal pointed out that Baucus' chief health aide, Elizabeth Fowler, a former executive at insurance giant Wellpoint, is likely the author of her boss' health reform plan.

So, let me get this straight. A former lobbyist for a health insurance company writes a health reform plan, which is then leaked to lobbyists, some of whom were likely former Baucus staffers, and public disclosure is delayed by a couple of days -- the plan was released to the media and lobbyists over the past few days but only posted to the Finance Committee web site today. To paraphrase the late, great Bill Hicks, it just doesn't sound good when you walk it out.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

September 9, 2009

DUVALL RESIGNS OVER SEX BLAB FLAP Michael Duvall has resigned from the California State Assembly after a local TV news station reported his remarks about sexual escapades with two lobbyists. Duvall was unaware that a live mic was picking up his hanky-spanky talk.

The Orange County Republican announced the resignation on his campaign website:

I am deeply saddened that my inappropriate comments have become a major distraction for my colleagues in the Assembly, who are working hard on the very serious problems facing our state. I have come to the conclusion that it would not be fair to my family, my constituents or to my friends on both sides of the aisle to remain in office. Therefore, I have decided to resign my office, effective immediately, so that the Assembly can get back to work.

EARLIER:

"SO I AM GETTING INTO SPANKING HER" A California assemblyman is in some hot water after having a hot conversation picked up by a hot mic before a recent hearing. But he's not talking about sex with just anybody -- this is hot, steamy sex with LOBBYISTS!

"So, I am getting into spanking her," says the Orange County Republican. "I like spanking her. She goes, 'I know you like spanking me.' I said, 'Yeah! Because you're such a bad girl!'"

The lobbyists reportedly represent utility companies. Duvall is vice chairman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee. Bad assemblyman!

Local CBS affiliate KCAL9 had the scoop.

KCAL9 identifies Duvall as a "family values" assemblyman. In a commendable effort to get a comment, the reporter literally runs after the assemblyman, yelling, "Audio tapes, sir! Very sexual audio tapes!"

ASSEMBLYMAN APOLOGIZES FOR COMMENTS ABOUT SPANKING LOBBYISTS
California state assemblyman Michael Duvall has issued an apology for having a lewd and lascivious conversation that was picked up by a hot mic during a break in a committee hearing.

"I made a mistake and I sincerely apologize," said a banner message on the Orange County Republican's campaign website. "I deeply regret the comments I made in what I believed to be a private conversation. This is a private matter and I ask that everyone respect the privacy of all involved."

The privacy of the matter is debatable. Duvall detailed sexual exploits with two women who were reported to be lobbyists from utility companies. Duvall is vice chairman of the assembly's Utilities and Commerce Committee -- was vice chairman, that is. The Associate Press reports that the assembly speaker has removed Duvall from two of his committee assignments, and that the Ethics Committee is investigating.

-- Arthur Delaney

CORPORATION LEAVES CLEAN COAL COALITION The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity lost another member on Wednesday.

The Washington Independent reports that Alstrom Power, a French company that makes components for power plants, announced it will immediately leave the ACCCE:

"We have resigned from ACCCE because of questions that have been raised about ACCCE's support for climate legislation," Tim Brown, an Alstom spokesman. He added that they wanted to "remove any doubt about our full support" for a climate bill.

The coalition came under fire after one of its subcontractors sent at least 13 forged letters to Congress urging lawmakers to vote against the House climate bill.

The resignation comes less than a week after Duke Energy Corp announced that it was leaving the ACCCE.

-- Jenna Staul

SUPREME COURT MAY ALTER ELECTION AD SPENDING The Supreme Court may lift restrictions placed on union and corporate spending during elections, reports the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court heard Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Wednesday, challenging decades of election spending limitations.

The hearing has its roots in the 2008 presidential primary, when the group Citizens United wanted to air an anti-Hillary Clinton film and distribute it through video-on-demand services during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign.

Federal Courts said the film appeared to be a long campaign ad and should be regulated like one. Later, the film aired online, on DVD and in some theaters.

According to AP:

"Robust debate ... is the most fundamental value" protected by the First Amendment, argued Theodore Olson, the attorney representing Citizens United, the conservative group that made the movie. Olson said the government in this case "has prohibited speech."

-- Jenna Staul

FORMER INSURANCE LOBBYIST WORKS FOR BAUCUS COMMITTEE
The Little Sis Blog reports that a former lobbyist for the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries now heads the Senate Finance Committee's tax department.

Cathy Koch --- who's now in charge of the finance committee's tax department --- was the director of global government affairs at pharmaceutical company Amegen until her departure in 2007. Prior to that, she worked as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical and insurance companies, representing Aetna, Blue Cross, Eli Lilli and Pfizer.

The Senate Finance Committee's tax department plays a central role in the move to reform health care, according to Little Sis.

Tax incentives and calculations are central to health care reform plan that Baucus sent to members of the Gang of Six this weekend, including a penalty on health insurance companies offering expensive plans. The "Cadillac" plan tax has received significant media attention as a particularly important and controversial feature that targets insurance companies.

Koch also worked for the Health Benefits Coalition, an insurance industry special interest group, from 2001 to 2004. The group successfully fought the late Sen. Ed Kennedy's push for a Patients' Bill of Rights.

-- Jenna Staul

September 8, 2009

SUPREME COURT COULD USHER IN UNPRECEDENTED SPECIAL INTEREST ERA The Supreme Court could loosen restrictions on the influence of money in politics after it hears Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Wednesday.

In an editorial on Sunday, the New York Times said that if the Supreme Court strikes down the longstanding rule that corporations can't spend directly on federal elections, it will usher in an era of labor unions and big business essentially deciding who gets elected and what they do in office:

If corporations are allowed to spend from their own treasuries on elections -- rather than through political action committees, which take contributions from company employees -- it would usher in an unprecedented age of special-interest politics.

Who might benefit from that? Republicans, reports Politico.

The case challenges decades of restrictions on corporations and unions spending unlimited cash on advocacy and advertising. Campaign finance experts predict that the court's conservative majority might expand the types of ads corporations and unions can purchase.

From Politico:

Depending on the contours of the decision, sources familiar with the political and legal strategies of unions, major Washington advocacy groups and trade associations expect a deluge of new spending in the 2010 and 2012 elections that likely would most benefit Republicans, since for-profit corporations and their non-profit advocacy groups tend to lean right and have more money at their disposals than unions, which typically support Democrats.

More here.

-- Jenna Staul

APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS LOBBYIST DISCLOSURE LAW A federal appeals court upheld a law Tuesday requiring trade associations to disclose the names of members who participate in lobbying activities.

The Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that the 2007 law, which requires organizations to release the names of members who contribute more than $5,000 quarterly for lobbying activities, is not unconstitutional, reports the Associated Press.

The National Association of Manufacturers said the law violated members' rights to privacy. The organization does not release the names of its members and argued that naming companies could lead to boycotts, lawsuits or harassment if a company takes an unpopular position on a given issue.

According to the AP:

Hank Cox, a NAM spokesman, said the association was considering whether to appeal the case further.

"We still don't understand why organizations like ours that are merely exercising First Amendment rights to provide vital viewpoints to Congress should be subjected to complicated, vague disclosure requirements that tend to discourage the sharing of information," Cox said.

- Jenna Staul

TREASURY DEPARTMENT TO PUBLISH BAILOUT LOBBYING RESTRICTIONS
The Treasury Department will soon unveil lobbying restrictions for companies vying for a piece of the government's $700 billion bailout, according to Reuters.

The new lobbying rules, modeled after restrictions applied to the Obama administration's $787 billion economic stimulus, could be released next week and have been in the works since January.

Reuters reports:

The rules to curb outside influence in allocation of bailout funds are expected to severely restrict contacts with lobbyists in applications for investments in banks and other firms under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)

The Treasury Department has invested $204.5 billion --- of which $70 billion has been repaid --- into more than 600 banks since the bailout program was launched in October 2008.

-- Jenna Staul

HEALTH CARE LOBBYING, ADVERTISING ON TRACK TO EXCEED $300 MILLION
The fight for health care reform is poised to be the most expensive Congress has ever seen, reports CNNMoney.com's Jennifer Liberto.

So far, the $375 million price tag in both lobbying and advertising costs would be enough to foot the insurance bill for roughly 30,000 families a year.

Most of the money spent this year --- nearly $280 million --- has been spent on direct lobbying of lawmakers. Another estimated $75 million has been spent on television advertising. The biggest spenders are drug companies, hospitals and advocacy organizations.

CNNMoney.com reports:

The health sector is on track in 2009 to spend more on lobbying than it has on any other year in U.S. history -- and by a lot," said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes and collects lobbying and campaign spending figures.

...

The lobbying figures alone are on track to exceed half-a-billion-dollar mark by the end of the year, which would be a record

.

-- Jenna Staul

ABRAMOFF LOBBYIST GOES ON TRIAL The Associated Press reports that a member of the Jack Abramoff lobbying team will go before a grand jury Tuesday to face federal corruption charges.

Prosecutors accuse Kevin Ring, 38, of taking part in an illegal pay-to-play scheme, giving away trips, dinners and tickets to concerts and professional sports in exchange for favorable treatment from federal officials.

The case is seen as putting the lobbying profession --- and its trappings --- on trial.

Ring, who is charged with ten felonies, said he was using traditional lobbying tactics to build influence, according to the Associated Press.

More here.

--Jenna Staul

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE TO LAUNCH AD BLITZ The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will counter the Obama administration's financial-regulation reform plans with a $2 million advertising campaign, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The ads, which will first run in Washington-area newspapers, target the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The agency would have the authority to regulate mortgages and credit cards, ban certain practices and require financial firms to offer loans in more simplistic terms.

The Chamber's goal is twofold: move the spotlight off the unpopular commercial banks and mortgage lenders that are the target of the legislation and muster a roster of more sympathetic opponents.

...

"We want to go beyond the usual suspects to show how overreaching this is," said Amanda Engstrom, a senior vice president at the Chamber who created the lobbying and advertising campaign.

More here

-- Jenna Staul

HELL OF A LOT OF PARTIES THIS WEEK Now that Congress is back, it's time to party. With lobbyists, that is.

The nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation has invitations to no fewer than 11 fundraising events on Tuesday and Wednesday, including a "Dove Hunt" in honor of Rep. Rob Wittmann (R-Va.).

-- Arthur Delaney

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