iOS app Android app More

Dodd: 'No Lobbying For Me!'

Arthur Delaney   |   August 30, 2010   12:47 PM ET

Chris Dodd has ruled out becoming a lobbyist after his Senate career ends next year.

"No lobbying, no lobbying," Dodd told Deirdre Shesgreen of the CTMirror.

It's a bold pledge -- surprisingly few retiring members of Congress are willing to promise they won't cash in on their legislative experience and contacts after leaving the Hill.

"That's excellent on Senator Dodd's part," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, which earlier this year circulated "Integrity Pledges" asking retiring members of Congress to forswear lobbying. They failed to get a single signature.

"The revolving door abuse is just out of control here on Capitol Hill and it is a primary source of undue influence peddling," Holman said. (Holman is himself a lobbyist, but he didn't get his start in government.) "Only the very wealthy businesses can afford senators and congressmen."

More than 300 former members of the House and Senate have made the decision to "go downtown," according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Members of Congress earn $174,000 a year on the Hill. Downtown, a member of the House can fetch many times that amount, and a retiring senator -- especially a senator who chaired the Banking Committee, like Dodd did -- is potentially worth millions.

Retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) pretty much requested a lobbying job when he said in his retirement announcement that he would "like to work on energy policy in the private sector." Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) refused to rule out lobbying when pressed by HuffPost.

"I think as we move toward the end of the session there will be a number of very smart members on both sides of the aisle who will make the natural progression to K Street," wrote K Street headhunter Ivan Adler in an email to HuffPost. "They believe that they have value playing sherpa in Washington for regulated industries and they are right."

Members of the House must abide a one-year "cooling off" period before they can lobby their former colleagues. Members of the Senate must wait two years. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.) introduced a long-shot bill to make the cooling off period last for life. But some ex-lawmakers don't become lobbyists but do immediately become "senior advisers" at lobbying firms.

There has been some speculation that Dodd could take a job with the Obama administration.

Jeremy Binckes   |   August 20, 2010   11:32 AM ET

In an interview posted online today, former House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told ABC's Brian Ross that there was no lesson to be learned from the end of a Department of Justice investigation into his ties with lobbyists. He claimed that he did nothing wrong, and blamed "career bureaucrats" that have "political agenda and a personal agenda" for the investigation.

"I didn't break the law," he said. "The Department of Justice spent six years investigating, and they could find nothing because there's nothing there."

"In 1995, Patrick Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi announced that they were going to get me. I've gone through all kinds of frivolous ethics charges," DeLay added. "I've had an indictment on laws that didn't even exist in Texas."

The conservative known as "the Hammer" defended the lobbyist-paid-for trips as saving taxpayer money. "I would take trips paid for by private interests and nonprofit interests because I didn't believe taxpayers should be paying for it," adding that it was "the right thing to do."

DeLay provided a few testy exchanges with Ross, who had closely followed the Texas Rep.'s lobbying scandals. Initially, Ross asked if a line was crossed. DeLay said no. He added that he and disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff are not "too close."

"Many lobbyists are friends of mine," DeLay said. But when Ross later pressed on any lessons learned from the Abramoff case, which partially served as a rallying cry for Democrats during the 2006 elections, DeLay threatened to stop the interview.

DeLay said that despite being "nearly bankrupt," he wants to take up conservative causes. "I have no idea what the Lord has in store for me." Despite saying that politics is "hurting the nation" by "undermining the trust" in government, he pledged to "defeat Obama and Nancy Pelosi in any way" he could.

Republicans, he opined, should be more aggressive in repealing the "Obama agenda." He said that, should the GOP control the House of Representatives, one week per month should be reserved for a "repeal session" where members can repeal anything.

"The only regret that I have is this criminalization of politics," he said. "It's not bad enough now to just beat 'em in policy or let them ruin your reputation. They've got to bankrupt you, ruin your family, put you in jail, put you in the grave and then dance on your grave."

WATCH Part 1 below:

WATCH Part 2 below:

WATCH Part 3 below:

Buyout Firms In 'Grassroots' Lobbying Effort To Preserve Tax Loophole

Arthur Delaney   |   August 18, 2010    1:20 PM ET

The private equity industry is lobbying hard to convince members of Congress to lay off the tax scheme that allows investment fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

The Private Equity Council, a lobbying group for private equity, is mobilizing fund managers to get members of Congress to come visit PE-owned companies in their districts to "showcase some of the industry's success stories," the New York Post reported Monday. (Private equity is arguably better known for buyouts and layoffs than creating jobs.)

At stake is the taxation of "carried interest," the 20 percent of a fund's investment profits that its managers take in on top of a fixed fee. Carried interest is currently taxed as capital gains at a top rate of 15 percent. House Democrats have long sought to tax carried interest like income, which has a top rate of 35 percent, only to see their proposals fail in the upper chamber.

But the Senate nearly closed the carried interest loophole this summer by attaching carried interest clampdowns to a series of bills reauthorizing extended unemployment benefits -- efforts that fell just short of overcoming a Republican filibuster. Senate Democrats have not signaled their plans but the carried interest piece is still out there, having been negotiated and tweaked several times, and theoretically they could pick it up to offset the cost of an upcoming spending bill.

"I think it will come back," said Nicole Tichon, a lobbyist for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "I found it interesting the [Private Equity Council] is allegedly having these grassroots meetings. It's one thing to make your case to the congressman, I think the harder sell is going to be to convince the rest of the taxpayers that fund managers deserve a tax break."

The Private Equity Council refuses to comment on its lobbying, but says "what has become clear is that more and more independent voices like KPMG and Ernst & Young are pointing out the unintended consequences of proposed carried interest and enterprise value taxation, which in turn are triggering broader opposition and concerns from small businesses, family partnerships, and corporations."

Experts say the attempt to point to small businesses is misdirected.

"Raising the tax rate on the fund managers won't impact the amount of activity in the sector in a meaningful way," said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of Colorado who has written about the loophole. "The people who put up money -- the investors, the endowments, pension funds -- their tax rate will remain unchanged."

The group also launched a website earlier this year detailing the number of private equity-owned companies in every state and the number of workers employed.

"For every success story, there's a failure story which isn't being told," said Fleischer. "Private equity has done a reasonably good job with the companies they manage, but it's not like they're magical managers who do no wrong. Sometimes it's part of the strategy of the PE firm when they take over companies and want to improve efficiency, which is code for firing people."

Democrats have argued among themselves and extensively reworked their carried interest legislation. In Obama's first budget, raising taxes on carried interest was estimated to generate $23.89 billion in revenue over 10 years. When it landed in the Senate back in May, Democrats closed the loophole by only 75 percent, which would have raised $18.685 billion. In the next draft of the domestic aid bill, Democrats watered it down further by decreasing the amount of carried interest that would be taxed as income from 75 percent to 65 percent, and the bill raised $14.157 billion. Subsequent tweaks took it from there to $13.905 billion, and at last glance it raised $13.594 billion.

Steve Wamhoff, a lobbyist with Citizens for Tax Justice, is less optimistic that the carried interest change will happen. "The problem is these fund managers have such unbelievable power over senators, including Democratic senators," he said. The private equity, hedge fund, and venture capital industries solidly favor Democrats over Republicans with campaign contributions.

Instead of using the carried interest measure to offset the cost of a recent state aid bill, Democrats cut future funding for food stamps.

"I would also say there's not a lot of time left for this Congress to do anything," Wamhoff added.

Doing nothing would please the private equity crowd. Newsweek reported this week that Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, said the proposal to tax investment fund managers like regular rich people is "like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939."

Chris Coons, Dem Senate Candidate, Wants Lifetime Ban On Senators Becoming Lobbyists

Arthur Delaney   |   August 18, 2010   12:38 PM ET

Chris Coons, a Democrat running for Joe Biden's vacated Senate seat in Delaware, wants to cut Senate pay 10 percent and to ban former senators from ever becoming lobbyists.

"People are mad, and people really question whether Washington is working for them. Americans are willing to sacrifice, but that's just not what they're seeing out of D.C.," Coons told HuffPost. "There's a broad concern lobbyists and special interests have too much control over the outcomes."

When asked how Coons could possibly retire comfortably after a long Senate career if he couldn't become a lobbyist, the candidate replied, "I'm not planning on being a paid federal lobbyist as a way to fund my retirement."

Coons' proposal does not go as far as legislation introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.) -- who is also facing a tough election this year -- which would prohibit not just senators but also members of the House from ever becoming lobbyists. It's a popular proposal for Senate candidates: Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois, Brad Ellsworth in Indiana, and Robin Carnahan in Missouri also support banning members of Congress from K Street.

The congressional revolving door spins frequently: More than 300 former members of Congress have decided to "go downtown" after leaving the Hill.

The idea of a ban isn't terribly popular in the Senate: Bennet's bill has exactly one cosponsor. But Coons, a county executive, says he didn't get the idea from Bennet: He said the coincidence "suggests that this is a good idea that's coming up in response to grassroots anger."

Lobbyists don't exactly love the idea, either. "If you ban legislators from becoming lobbyists, that would increase my value," said Dave Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists, which promotes best practices for the influence industry. "But by doing that you're eliminating somebody's ability to have post-employment work after doing public service. What's next? You're going to ban them from being dentists?"

Earlier in August, Coons' Republican opponent, Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), introduced ethics legislation that, among other things, would extend the "cooling off" period during which former members of Congress must wait before lobbying from one to two years. (The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 extended the Senate's cooling off period to two years but kept the House's to one.)

Coons also supports reforming Senate procedure, saying he'd like to eliminate secret earmarks and secret holds on legislation -- but he doesn't have a proposal for ending the filibuster. "I haven't made a concrete proposal for how to end the cloture rule requirement," Coons said. He added that he'll unveil more reform ideas in the future.

Senate veterans don't love it when youngsters want to reform the institution. "Those ideas are normally being promoted by people who haven't been here in the minority and don't understand how the rules, if intelligently used, can help protect against the tyranny of the majority and cause things to slow down," said retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) a few weeks ago.

Coons said he didn't care if the proposal seems naive to longtime Washington insiders. "There are real concerns that people who serve in the Congress too long become more captive of special interests and the logic of how the Congress works or doesn't work and lose touch with the common-sense concerns of the people of their districts."

"I wonder how his tune is going to change after 12 years in the seat," said Wenhold. "We make very easy scapegoats for people running for election and reelection... But we understand. It's the biannual beatdown."

Sunlight Foundation Launches Poligraft, Bringing New Transparency To Political Reporting

Jason Linkins   |   August 5, 2010    4:42 PM ET

Back in May, we made note of how the Sunlight Foundation, wholeheartedly dedicated to jailbreaking the hidden connections between money and power, had developed a unique way to watch important Congressional hearings -- using a dynamic contextual data stream that ran live alongside the televised coverage enabling viewers to see at a glance what major industries contributed how much money to what legislators, so you were always in touch with the level of whoring involved.

Now, Sunlight's back with Poligraft, "a new website and utility that allows anyone to uncover levels of influence in federal and state-level politics and the news coverage of it."

To put it simply, it's cherry. I'll let Sunlight explain:

Using data from Sunlight's TransparencyData.com and its upcoming Influence Explorer site, Poligraft allows you to connect the dots between money and politics in Congress and in state offices.


Poligraft is a tool for journalists, researchers and concerned voters. Simply paste the URL or text of a news article, blog post or press release and Poligraft will create an enhanced view of the interconnections between people, organizations and relationships described within it. Users can then click on the name of a member of Congress to view his or her campaign coffer and donors. Select a mentioned company and see how much its employees and PAC donated to which candidates. View the profile of a lobbyist and see his or her political contributions. You can also add a Poligraft bookmarklet to your Internet browser toolbar and run any webpage through the utility.

"Poligraft was designed to help detect the multiple layers of influence that are present in our political process in one fell swoop. By using publicly available data, Sunlight has developed an online tool that creates a snapshot of the influence web in Congress," said Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation.

The backbone of Poligraft is TransparencyData.com, a central repository for federal lobbyist registrations, federal grant, and federal and state campaign contributions. Sunlight launched TransparencyData.com in June.

Sunlight provides some examples of how it works. Pop the URL of, say, this Politico article, "Senate Democrats punt on spill bill," into Poligraft, and the site spits back all sorts of useful information. First, it digs through the names in the piece, and draws back available data pertaining to campaign contributions:

Next, it reveals the "Points of Influence," or "Graphs for politicians represent received campaign contributions, while graphs for organizations represent aggregate campaign contributions made":

[Note: the above image is just a selection of the available data provided by Poligraft, for complete results, click here.]

Click on a "learn more" link, and that takes you further into the web of connections -- you learn whom a lobbyist worked for and to whom he funneled money, and what major industries own your Congressperson's soul.

So, if you are a fan of transparency, or quality journalism, or not being lied to all the time by a network of politicians on the take and the deep-pocketed grifters who enable them, this is definitely a tool you'll want to use constantly.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

House Passes Bill To Crack Down On K Street 'Scofflaws'

Arthur Delaney   |   July 30, 2010   10:22 AM ET

The House unanimously passed a bill this week to create a task force within the Justice Department to crack down on lobbyists who flake on disclosure laws.

"We wanted to put some teeth behind current law because there seem to be quite a few scofflaws out there on K Street," freshman congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), the bill's author, told HuffPost.

The Secretary of the Senate has referred 8,729 possible violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act to the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office since 1995; more than half of those occurred during the second half of 2009. And yet the feds have pursued only three enforcement actions in all that time and none since 2005.

Lobbyists are required to register with the Secretary of the Senate and to file quarterly reports detailing their clients, their fees, which branches of government they contacted, and which legislation they attempted to influence. If they fail to do so, the government politely asks them to fall in line. If they don't fall in line, apparently, not much happens.

Kilroy's legislation requires the Attorney General to create a task force to take over lobbyist investigations, and to collect and disseminate information about Lobbying Disclosure Act enforcement.

It's not clear if the bill would rein in the influence launderers who are widely considered lobbyists but who avoid the registration and disclosure process altogether, such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. At the very least, however, Kilroy's measure is a step toward doing so.

"I think frankly he should register," said Kilroy of Daschle. "He should err on the side of disclosure."

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced a very tough anti-lobbyist bill that would ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists in the first place. Bennet, like Kilroy, is in his first term and faces a tough re-election.

Republican Steve Stivers, Kilroy's opponent, is a former bank lobbyist -- something Kilroy loves to contrast with her support for Wall Street reform. "The day the president was signing that bill [Stevers] was here in Washington having a fundraiser with the banking lobby," she said. "I thought that was really kind of ironic, there. Here I am fighting for Wall Street reform... And he shows up to collect big checks from the banking lobby."

Though Kilroy is a K Street killjoy, lobbyists will probably be OK. Take it from Tony Podesta, superlobbyist: "Whatever they're gonna do, they'll do...They can ban lobbyists from having drivers licenses. We'll all get cars and drivers."

Correction: This story originally reported that the bill would impose fines on lobbyists who fail to file timely reports. The original version would; this one won't.

Obama's Anti-Lobbyist Policies Not Pushing Lobbying Underground After All: Report

Arthur Delaney   |   June 30, 2010    3:59 PM ET

Last November the Center for Responsive Politics and OMBWatch reported that 1,418 lobbyists "deregistered" during the second quarter of 2009, a huge spike in numbers and an unintended consequence of President Obama's anti-lobbyist policies and rhetoric -- lobbying going underground.

The finding fit with anecdotes from lobbyists who said Obama's rules against K Streeters serving in his administration caused them to rethink whether they really need to be registered, since the threshold at which point "lobbying activity" requires disclosure offers wiggle room and many people overly disclosed out of caution. And others -- folks like former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle -- seemed willing to simply flout the law rather than wear a "Scarlet L."

On Wednesday, CRP and OMBWatch retracted their finding: The wave of deregistrations probably has more to do with 2007's Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (known affectionately by wonks as 'Helloga') than Obama's policies, since, it turns out, most of the deregistrations happened in 2008 before Obama took office. The Jack Abramoff-inspired reform bill added several additional disclosure requirements, such as quarterly filing instead of semi-annual filing.

"In 2008, 3,627 lobbyists deregistered, compared to only 548 in 2007 and 1,467 in 2009," the groups say in a new report. "That means the number of lobbyists that deregistered in 2008 was nearly seven times greater than those that deregistered in 2007."

The report says the previous finding was a mistake owing to the vagaries of lobbying disclosure forms and a mismatch between those forms and the Center for Responsive Politics' own database, which is based on the forms. There is no box to check if one ceases lobbying -- just Line 23, where a company or lobbying firm puts the name of any lobbyist no longer working from a particular client.

Still, the groups found that lobbyists who deregistered in 2009 had been active more recently than lobbyists who ditched K Street in 2008. "The elevated rate of lobbyist deregistrations in 2009 may indeed be evidence that events in 2009 spurred many lobbyists to deregister," the report says. "Nonetheless, this data is far from conclusive and does not resolve the question of whether Obama's policies pushed lobbyists to deregister, a theory the Center erroneously suggested in November."

Nevertheless, many observers and lobbyists themselves see it that way. As Mike Fulton, a lobbyist with Golin Harris and a board member with the American League of Lobbyists, told HuffPost Monday, "There's no doubt that many lobbyists have revisited their status in order to achieve a number of goals, including jobs in the administration, and to avoid the 'Scarlet L.'"

Last week the New York Times reported that White House staffers have been making use of private email accounts and nearby coffeeshops to avoid having to disclose contact with lobbyists, to the dismay of good-government groups.

White House's Lobbyist Liaisons Blasted By Watchdogs (VIDEO)

Arthur Delaney   |   June 28, 2010   11:10 AM ET

Watchdog groups are blasting the Obama administration for dodging records rules and cutting corners on its self-imposed disclosure requirements for White House visitors.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called for an investigation by a congressional oversight committee of potential violations of the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act. And the Sunlight Foundation on Friday set up shop outside a nearby coffeehouse to catch any administration staffers secretly meeting with K Streeters.

"It shouldn't matter whether or not a meeting between White House officials and lobbyists happens at the White House or at Caribou Coffee," wrote Sunlight's Nicole Aro in a blog post.

Despite its pledge to be transparent about special interest access, and its anti-lobbyist rules and rhetoric, the Obama administration is apparently more in touch with lobbyists than it would like people to know. The New York Times reported on Thursday that White House staffers use personal email accounts and nearby coffeeshops to avoid a paper trail and to keep lobbyists' names from appearing in the much-ballyhooed visitors log too frequently.

Also, two lobbyists told the Times that "the White House had suggested that a job candidate be 'deregistered' as a lobbyist in Senate records to avoid violating the administration's hiring restrictions."

Though 2009 was the most profitable year ever for the influence industry, more than a thousand lobbyists deregistered, a trend many attribute to Obama's harsh rhetoric and rules barring lobbyists from serving in the administration or on federal advisory boards.

"There's no doubt that many lobbyists have revisited their status in order to achieve a number of goals, including jobs in the administration, and to avoid the 'Scarlet L,'" said Mike Fulton, a lobbyist with Golin Harris and a board member with the American League of Lobbyists, a group that promotes best practices on K Street.

Indeed, two lobbyists heard Obama's rhetoric and decided it would be better to ditch the Scarlet L and start a new "non-lobbying entity" called K Street Research.

"This is what all the administration's anti-lobbyist rhetoric gets you -- less transparency," said CREW director Melanie Sloan in a statement. "Rather than being open and clear about who is influencing White House policy, the White House is trying to hide who it's really talking to. Even worse, the public is being suckered with lofty rhetoric about the evils of the same lobbyists White House officials are meeting with."

Republicans seized on the Times story as well: "Just because the latte-drinking liberals in the Obama White House prefer coffee houses to the traditional smoke-filled backrooms of Washington in order to cut their special interest deals, doesn't make it any less insulting to the American public," said Ken Spain, a spokesman for National Republican Congressional Committee.

The Sunlight Foundation had some trouble tracking down any lobbyists when it staked out Caribou Coffee on Friday, noting in a video that "lobbyists look like everyone else." A similar problem occurred when the White House first released its visitor logs. "A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings," wrote White House ethics lawyer Norm Eisen. "Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few 'false positives' -- names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else."

Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, and R. Kelly did not actually visit the White House, Eisen wrote -- just their non-famous namesakes. But maybe they stopped by Caribou.

WATCH Sunlight's video:

NYT's Risen Hits Back At Critics On Afghan Minerals Story, Raises More Questions

Jason Linkins   |   June 16, 2010   11:13 AM ET

Over the weekend, the New York Times's James Risen had an attention-grabbing story that touted the discovery of "nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan" said to be "far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself."

The story was met with substantial criticism since the news of the mineral riches was not exactly new, which led many to question the convenient timing of the piece. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, for example, said it "suggest[ed] a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war."

In an interview with John Cook over at Yahoo's Newsroom blog, Risen strikes back at these critics, saying, "Bloggers should do their own reporting instead of sitting around in their pajamas." In a slightly more exclusive tweet from Cook, we learn that Risen actually said that the aforementioned bloggers were "jerking off in their pajamas." Leaving aside the hacky tropes from the late 1990s still being deployed by embattled journalists, Risen continued, thusly:

"The thing that amazes me is that the blogosphere thinks they can deconstruct other people's stories," Risen told Yahoo! News during an increasingly hostile interview, which he called back to apologize for almost immediately after it ended. "Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don't know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think." (Risen and fellow Times reporter Eric Lichtblau shared a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the Bush administration's secret wiretapping program; this reporter was 33 years old at the time.)


Risen defended the article against claims that Afghanistan's mineral wealth was largely a matter of public knowledge prior to his story. "If it wasn't news, then why didn't anybody write about it?" he asked.

As Cook points out, the story had been previously reported by McClatchy Newspapers and Agence France Presse and the central claim -- that Afghanistan had a vast vein of valuable mineral deposits -- was discussed publicly by Hamid Karzai just a month ago. Risen's response to that was to insist that "no one picked up on it."

Beyond the currency of the story, there's also another matter that concerns Ambinder and others: the curious timing of this news, coming alongside setbacks in our relationship with Hamid Karzai, waning public support for the war and the forthcoming appearance by CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Was Risen's piece part of a "broad and deliberate information operation?" Well, it should be noted that Risen's story doesn't exactly present Afghanistan's mineral riches as something that's going to make everything perfect from now on.

So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.


Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan's minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.

Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.

So Risen provides the reader with plenty of reasons to be cynical about the discovery. And maybe it's just me, but it seems like the cynical take on this story has achieved as much traction as the upside.

Still, there's one aspect of Risen's defense that raises questions:

So was the story a Pentagon plant, designed to show the American public a shiny metallic light at the end of the long tunnel that is the Afghan war, as skeptics allege? Risen said he heard about the Pentagon's efforts from Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer who was active in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The men co-authored a book, "The Main Enemy," in 2003, and Bearden is now a consultant working with [deputy undersecretary of defense Paul] Brinkley's survey team.


"Several months ago, Milt started telling me about what they were finding," Risen said. "At the beginning of the year, I said I wanted to do a story on it." At first both Bearden and Brinkley resisted, Risen said, but he eventually wore them down. "Milt convinced Brinkley to talk to me," he said, "and Brinkley convinced other Pentagon officials to go on the record. I think Milt realized that things were going so badly in Afghanistan that people would be willing to talk about this." In other words, according to Risen, he wasn't handed the story in a calculated leak.

Or was he? The mention of Milt Bearden's name set off alarms with Steve Hynd, who went reaching for a bit of his own reporting, from October 2009. In that report, entitled "The Defense Minister's Son, The CIA Guy, And Their U.S. Lobby Group", Hynd discusses a "pressure group" known as the Campaign for a U.S.-Afghanistan Partnership (CUSAP), that had been "active in D.C., employing lobbyists Patton Boggs LLP to make its case that "Afghanistan, through a long-term partnership with the United States, can become a strong, prospering nation." CUSAP employed the services of "well-connected DC insider" Nicholas Allard, and had connections to Hamid Wardak, son of Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak.

And who else had their fingerprints all over the operation? Milt Bearden, that's who! Per Hynd:

Wardak and Bearden knew each other already, though. Hamid Wardak is also CEO and President of a company called NCL Holdings. On the company website, NHL Holdings describe their business:
"NCL has been tasked to provide all resources including logistics support and management necessary to provide transportation support for the secure long haul distribution of reconstruction, security, and life support assets from Forward Operating Bases (FOB) and distribution sites located throughout the Afghanistan Theater of Operations."

Bearden is listed as being on the advisory board of NCL Holdings. As is Elliot F Gearsen, Finance Director for the Joe Lieberman for President Campaign 2004. Those are the only two advisers.

The business connection between the Afghan defense minister's son and an ex-CIA man who armed the mujahadeen is interesting, given the NYT's report about Karzai's brother, especially since a scholarly report seems to have identified Hamid Wardak as allegedly one of the warlords running unregistered security forces that are challenging the U.S. mission. But it might be purely coincidental, signifying nothing untoward.

However, that the defense minister's son and the ex-CIA guy are involved in a business that makes lots of money from the U.S. military's continued presence in Afghanistan while simultaneously running a campaign to boost a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan -- and spending pots of money on lobbyists under that campaign's banner -- might well be construed as a major conflict of interest.

Hynd asks the pertinent question: "So the question now is, did Risen get played by Bearden for Bearden's own purposes, or was the ex-CIA man simply a conduit for parties within the Pentagon and administration who wanted this story hyped at this particular time?"

RELATED:
NYT reporter defends Afghan minerals piece, lashes out at critics [Yahoo's The Newsroom]
The Mineral Miracle? Or a Massive Information Operation? [Marc Ambinder]
Did NYT's Risen Get Played On Afghan Mineral Wealth Story? [Steve Hynd @ Newshoggers]

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Revolving Door: 1,447 Former Government Workers Lobbying For Wall Street

Arthur Delaney   |   June 3, 2010   11:56 AM ET

The financial services sector has hired 1,447 former government employees to do its bidding as lobbyists since the beginning of 2009, according to the latest report from the Center for Responsive Politics and Public Citizen.

Seventy-three of those lobbyists are former members of Congress -- four former Senate and House Majority Leaders and 17 former members of Senate and House banking committees. Sixty-six financial sector lobbyists formerly worked as banking staffers and 82 worked for members still serving on those committees.

What's to be done? Stop talking to colleagues who cash out, says Public Citizen's David Arkush.

"These people are influential because they have personal relationships with current members and staff," said Arkush in a statement. "It's hard to say no to your friends, but that's what Congress needs to do. Listening to them would result in a bill that would fail to get the job done and would disappoint the American people."

HuffPost has reported on the other side of this phenomenon: Lobbyists becoming staffers. In December, 16 of the 86 House Financial Services Committee staffers -- most of them senior lawyers -- previously worked as lobbyists.

"The door doesn't just revolve once," said Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.). "They tend to go out and come back and go out again. It really does create a set of financial incentives, whether conscious or not."

The Senate and House lobbying databases make these reports possible -- and not too difficult. Campaign for America's Future reported in May that the six biggest banks have 243 former staffers lobbying for them. Public Citizen reported that financial sector lobbyists specifically targeting derivatives legislation outnumber pro-reform lobbyists 11 to one. (Over the years, corporate lobbyists have always massively outnumbered their union and public interest counterparts. In 2006, the ratio stood at 25 to one.)

Some members are losing patience with the pattern. In April, House Financial Services Chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) permanently banned a staffer-turned-lobbyist from lobbying his committee.

"The more effective and higher-paid lobbyists all worked for guys named Schumer and Frank and Dodd," said a Republican lobbyist whose name appears in the report. He said he didn't have much luck tweaking the Democrat-driven Wall Street reform bill. "They ain't hiring me to fix anything."

In the upper chamber, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.) has a no-hope bill that would ban former members of Congress from K Street for life and force staffers to wait six years before they can lobby their former colleagues. The bill has one cosponsor.

It's impossible even to get a retiring member of Congress to sign a pledge not to become a lobbyist, much less to support making it illegal.

Click HERE for a PDF of the report, titled "Banking on Connections."

Shadow Congress: TPM Offers Guide To More Than 170 Congressmen Turned Lobbyists

Jason Linkins   |   June 1, 2010    1:11 PM ET

I'd really encourage readers to check out this great piece from Justin Elliot and Zachary Roth over at TPM Muckraker, which documents what the authors term "the Shadow Congress." See, in their ongoing efforts to destroy America, lobbying firms have hired "more than 170 former lawmakers" to skulk around the corridors of power, using their contacts and their intimate awareness of the legislative process to make sure that moneyed interests retain their iron grip on your lawmakers.

Members of this Shadow Congress -- not all of whom are registered lobbyists -- hail from 41 of 50 states (Texas has the most, with 17) and they're almost as likely to be Democrats as Republicans. Some, like Tom Daschle and Bob Dole, were powerful congressional leaders, whose presence on K Street has drawn scrutiny in the past.


But far more are low-profile back-benchers we'd never heard of and we doubt you had either: say, George Hochbrueckner, who served five terms as a New York Democrat, stepping down in 1995, and now works at Nossaman LLP; or Bill Zeliff, a three-term New Hampshire Republican who left Congress in 1997 and is now at the Livingston Group. For these run-of-the-mill lawmakers, it's not hard to see how a second career based on leveraging their direct knowledge of the legislative process and their cozy relationships with current lawmakers -- credentials they never fail to tout on their websites -- could seem more appealing than the other options likely on offer: a visiting professorship at the local college, say, or a seat on the board of a smallish company.

Of particular interest is the aside above, which notes that these days, not every lobbyist has to call themselves a lobbyist. This tactic is called "influence laundering," and the aforementioned Mr. Daschle is in the vanguard of a new innovation in lobbying that will help ensure that the practice is never adequately policed or reformed.

"I've not made a call nor made a visit since I left the Senate on behalf of a client. And I don't have any expectation that I'll do that in the future," Daschle told the New York Times recently.


By claiming that he never picks up the phone on his clients' behalf, Daschle is not legally obliged to declare himself a lobbyist, even if all his work for those clients falls under the general definition of "lobbying activity." That means he can keep his clients' identities and how much they pay him entirely secret.

[...]

In December, Daschle starts his new job as a "senior policy advisor" at DLA Piper, a massive law and lobbying firm that represents a range of corporate and foreign government clients. He has said he plans to focus less on health care, his main issue since losing his 2004 re-election bid, and more on international issues.

Even if Daschle refrains from directly contacting former colleagues on his clients' behalf, however, that doesn't mean DLA's lobbying clients won't receive the full benefit of his contacts and expertise, and that those assets can't be used to influence legislation.

For instance: clients of Alston & Bird, the firm Daschle joined in 2005, said this summer that Daschle sometimes advised them "indirectly" through the firm's registered lobbyists. So whatever news Daschle picked up on his many visits to the Hill or to the White House he could pass on to a client by telling one of his colleagues at Alston.

You may have heard of some efforts from lawmakers that would impose a lifetime ban on former members of Congress becoming lobbyists? Well: ha, ha, this is how you surmount that!

Elliot and Roth have much more, including an interactive guide to the shadow congresspersons active in your state, so click on over with all deliberate speed!

RELATED:
SHADOW CONGRESS: More Than 170 Former Lawmakers Ply The Corridors Of Power As Lobbyists [TPM Muckaraker]

PREVIOUSLY, on the HUFFINGTON POST:
How Tom Daschle Lobbies In Secret: Influence Laundering

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]

Lobbyists Opposed To Derivatives Reform Outnumber Reform Lobbyists 11 To 1: Report

Arthur Delaney   |   May 18, 2010    1:31 PM ET

Lobbyists for the financial services industry opposed to an overhaul of the derivatives market outnumber pro-reform lobbyists 11 to one since the beginning of 2009, according to a new report by nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen.

That's 903 lobbyists opposed to reform versus just 79 in favor.

Public Citizen counted up the number of lobbyists who listed any of nine specific pieces of derivatives legislation on their Lobbying Disclosure Act forms, then did research to suss out the positions of the lobbyists' employers on derivatives if it wasn't obvious to begin with.

The derivatives market, as President Obama put it in April, "is where a lot of the big, risky financial bets by companies like AIG took place. There are literally trillions of dollars sloshing around this market that basically changes hands under the cover of darkness."

Obama said the "usual army of lobbyists" had been dispatched to Capitol Hill to weaken provisions of the Wall Street reform legislation currently before the Senate. The bill is supposed to bring more transparency and accountability to all that money sloshing around by requiring derivatives to be traded publicly on exchanges.

Surely many of the companies listed would quibble with the notion they are in wholesale opposition to derivatives regulation. Lobbying isn't about wholesale opposition -- it's a game of subtleties and "unintended consequences."

"It's possible that some of the people on the con side have a more nuanced view," said Public Citizen's Taylor Lincoln, one of the report's co-authors. "Everybody's for apple pie."

The five largest banks are among the 223 lobbying clients that pop up in Public Citizen's report. The American Bankers Association boasts the most lobbyists, with 30 reporting lobbying on the derivatives measures, followed by the Chamber of Commerce with 29. The Air Transport Association of America, with 27 lobbyists, is the only one of the top 10 groups (by number of lobbyists) that supports reform.

Public Citizen's pro-reform side includes any member of three coalitions: Americans for Financial Reform, the Derivatives Reform Alliance or the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition.

Due to the vagaries of lobbying disclosure, with some registrants reporting their activity more precisely than others -- some might list a specific bill, for instance, while others simply put "financial reform" -- Lincoln said it's possible the report understates the number of lobbyists on both sides of derivatives reform.

"Lawmakers should mind the advocacy disparity on derivatives and work to give fair consideration to the pro-reform side," said David Arkush, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which does not list a specific piece of derivatives legislation in its lobbying disclosure forms. "A small number of organizations are completely outgunned, but unlike big bank lobbyists, they represent tens of millions of real people."

Click HERE to download a PDF of the report, titled "Eleven to One: Pro-Reform Derivatives Lobbyists Vastly Outnumbered by Opposition."

K Street Research: 'Non-Lobbying Entity' Expands, Plots K Street Takeover

Arthur Delaney   |   May 12, 2010    2:40 PM ET

Since Brien Bonneville and Larry Mitchell founded the very first "non-lobbying entity" at the beginning of the year, they've found plenty of demand for their "non-lobbying" services.

Their firm, which they call K Street Research, has attracted several new clients for a total of nine. To meet the additional demand they've hired an additional staffer, Tim Farnsworth, as director of research and communications.

"It's been exciting," said Mitchell. "We've had a lot of compliments, we've picked up quite a few clients... Right now we don't really have any competition."

Who are those clients, and what do they pay? That's for KSR to know and nobody to find out.

KSR markets itself as a firm that does everything a lobbyshop does but without making "lobbying contacts," so the company's name stays out of the Lobbying Disclosure Act database and corporate clients can avoid the "Scarlet L." KSR's clients, its founders say, include law firms and small lobbyshops -- they decline to be more specific. They say the firm is almost like a small newspaper that provides clients info about what's happening in Washington.

Bonneville and Mitchell say they draw inspiration for their innovative business model from Robert Kaiser's "So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government," a book about pioneering superlobbyist Gerald Cassidy, who made his name winning earmarks for high-paying clients.

"It's kind of a cult classic around here," said Mitchell of the book. "It's kind of odd -- a book about lobbying gave us the idea on how to do a firm that doesn't lobby."

Is it also odd, or maybe just ironic, that a book implicating K Street innovation in the corrosion of American government is the inspiration for K Street innovation? "You really have to be innovative in Washington to make a name for yourself," said Bonneville.

Mitchell pointed out that Cassidy's "industrialization" of earmark process may be troubling, but he didn't invent the earmark. "Earmarks have existed for a long time."

Bonneville told HuffPost in January that another source of inspiration is President Obama's anti-lobbyist campaign talk. "The new rhetoric [against K Street] has caused us to rethink where we want to be in our careers... We're embracing the need for change," said Bonneville, who is 24. "We're not lobbying. We're doing policy research."

They're not the only ones who'd rather not wear the Scarlet L. Even though 2009 was a record year for lobbying revenue, Bonneville and Mitchell are among hundreds of lobbyists who deregistered over the course of the year. Some good-government folks suspect there are no fewer lobbyists, just fewer lobbyists abiding the rules.

KSR itself has not escaped that that suspicion. "KSR is very likely crossing the line into reportable lobbying activity in its effort to make lobbying more opaque for corporations and other special interests," wrote Public Citizen's Craig Holman in an email to HuffPost. "Though KSR correctly observes that many lobbying organizations unnecessarily report non-lobbying activity -- such as pure research -- on their LDA disclosures, the services that KSR offers to its clients to help reduce reportable lobbying activity is, in many instances, reportable lobbying activity itself."

Holman looked over the promotional language on KSR's site and tried to square it with the strictures of the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which includes "preparation and planning activities" in support of lobbying contacts in the definition of "lobbying activity."

"Any research or activity performed by KSR that is intended to facilitate lobbying contacts by their clients is reportable lobbying activity," Holman wrote. "The only work done by KSR on behalf of their clients that would not be reportable is simple administrative tasks, like that done by a temp agency, and pure academic research that is not intended to facilitate the client's lobbying work."

KSR is not worried at all that anything it does will violate the letter of the law. "We're very conscious we're just not going to cross that line," said Mitchell.

Big Bank Takeover: Report Blames Revolving Door For 'Too Big To Fail'

Arthur Delaney   |   May 11, 2010    9:07 AM ET

How have big banks preserved their "Too Big To Fail" status? With giant bags of money and an army of lobbyists who used to work in government, says a report to be released Tuesday by the SEIU, Campaign for America's Future and the Public Accountability Initiative.

The six biggest banks -- Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo -- employ 243 former staffers and members of Congress as in-house lobbyists and via trade associations and boutique K Street firms. That total includes 33 chiefs of staff, 54 staffers from the House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees, and 28 legislative directors.

"Many of the revolving door lobbyists were key architects of financial deregulatory legislation during their time as congressional staffers," the report notes, "including Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act."

The flipside of this phenomenon, which the report doesn't mention, is lobbyists taking jobs on the Hill. It's rampant: A HuffPost analysis of House Financial Services staffers found in December that 18 percent of current committee staff previously worked on K Street, mostly for banks -- and mostly Democrats. (After all, if people just went from the Hill to K Street, wouldn't it be more of a turnstile than a revolving door?)

Citi has hired 55 former staffers as lobbyists -- the most of the big six banks. Who are these people? The report, written by Kevin Connor of the Public Accountability Initiative, wants you to know: Click HERE to see their names and faces. The Public Accountability Initiative runs LittleSis.org, best known as an involuntary Facebook for lobbyists.

Some key members of Congress are losing patience with the revolving door thing. In April, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the financial services committee, permanently banned a committee staffer from lobbying his committee after the staffer cashed out for a K Street job.

About those moneybags: The six big banks have spent just under $600 million since the bailout of Bear Stearns in March 2008 -- the dawn of the current TBTF era -- on lobbying, trade association activity, and political contributions. A huge proportion of that total is spending by trade groups like the American Bankers Association and the Financial Services Roundtable.

The report notes that to a certain extent, as Barney Frank will tell you, big bailout banks have toxic reputations on the Hill. That's why the number of finance lobbying filings by generic groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable -- the "Shadow Bank Lobby" -- has nearly tripled since 2007.

What's the upshot of all this? The defeat of the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which would have broken up the big banks and which went down in flames last week despite bipartisan support. From the report: "The four Democrats with the most staffers lobbying on behalf of big banks -- Chris Dodd, Charles Schumer, Tom Carper, and Tim Johnson -- all voted against the amendment."

There is a distinct lack of consensus that the remaining provisions of the bill before the Senate will end TBTF.

Click HERE to download a PDF of the report.

UPDATE 11:45 AM: Citi says it currently employs fewer than 55 lobbyists.

"Citigroup employed fewer internal and external consultants than reported, and that number has consistently trended downward since the beginning of 2009," said a Citi spokeswoman in a statement. "As of the lobbying disclosure report filed in the first quarter of 2010, Citi has a total of 37 in-house and outside consultants on staff. We have an obligation to our employees, shareholders and customers to advocate our positions to policy makers."

Kevin Connor, the report's author, says the number is based on lobbying data from the first quarter of 2010 and all of 2009.