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Sunlight Foundation's Health Summit Coverage Reveals Special Interest Connections

Jason Linkins   |   February 26, 2010    3:35 PM ET

One of the things that I've endeavored to explain over the course of the health care reform debate is that the key driver of policy isn't political philosophy and it isn't public opinion and it isn't pressure from grassroots activists.

Rather, policy is constructed according to the desires of powerful corporate interests that fund the campaigns of legislators. And when the book on health care reform debate is written after it does or does not pass, you can literally tear out every chapter that does not pertain to the influence of the health care sector on the debate and remain in possession of the only important part of the story.

To my mind, the extent to which the health care reform debate has been shaped by these powerful corporate interests is a story that the media is either unwilling or unable to cover. But one organization that does a fine job at elucidating the connections between lawmakers and money is the Sunlight Foundation, and yesterday, anyone following the summit on their website was treated to a rather innovative "Contextual Content and Data Stream" that presented a side-by-side take on the extent to which the various players in the summit have been bought and paid for.

This type of disclosure can be hard to pull off, but Sunlight's proven that it's not impossible.

[hat tip: Anthony De Rosa, who's got insightful and interesting stuff daily, so bookmark away!]

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Evan Bayh Won't Rule Out Becoming A Lobbyist After His Term Ends

Arthur Delaney   |   February 16, 2010    3:35 PM ET

A day after he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh declined to rule out a career as a lobbyist.

"I have no idea what I'm doing next," Bayh said in a statement to HuffPost. He would not elaborate further on his career plans when his term ends in 11 months.

Bayh offered a few clues about his next move in his retirement announcement on Monday: "At this time, I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning, or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor."

While it may be premature to speculate on Bayh's post-retirement plans, it's not too early to speculate about some things: Bayh is willing to rule out a run for president in 2012.

If Bayh wants to head for K Street, he, like other retired members of Congress, would have excellent job prospects. In 2005, the progressive watchdog group Public Citizen reported that 43 percent of the members who retired from 1998 to 2004 registered as lobbyists. That total excludes people like former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who does lobbying work but avoids registering.

There are several plum jobs available right now. The Hill reported on Tuesday that at least four major trade associations -- including Big Pharma and the Motion Picture Association of America -- are hiring for leadership positions with salaries of at least $1 million.

If Bayh does become a lobbyist, he wouldn't be the only member of the current Congress to "go downtown." Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) announced his retirement from Congress last fall and instead of finishing his term, he immediately took a job with law and lobbying firm DLA Piper (though he did not register as a lobbyist).

Many are watching to see if Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) will join the influence industry once his term ends. Dodd's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"He's a good candidate for a job like that, and frankly so's Bayh," said Ivan Adler, a headhunter for the McCormick Group.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) all but advertised his availability in his retirement announcement: "I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector."

Basically, America Spent All That TARP Money On Lobbyists

Jason Linkins   |   February 16, 2010   12:30 PM ET

So if taxpayers, having bailed out the financial sector with billions of TARP dollars, didn't get jobs or oversight or consumer protection or a return to lending or a promise of wholesale changes to business practices or -- at the very least -- a pound of flesh from the inveterate greedheads who nearly destroyed the economy in return for their charitable donation (which we remind you, we didn't get fund accounting for, either), then what did they get? How about a crap-ton of lobbyists, lobbying against taxpayer interests, with taxpayer money? Here's Nathaniel Popper, reporting for the L.A. Times:

Even as the financial industry has sought to keep a low public profile, some of the country's largest banks have ramped up their spending on lobbying to fight off some of the stiffest regulatory proposals pending in Congress.


Lobbying expenditures jumped 12% from 2008 to $29.8 million last year among the eight banks and private equity firms that spent the most to influence legislation, according to data compiled from disclosure forms filed with Congress.

The biggest spender was JPMorgan Chase & Co., whose lobbying budget rose 12% to $6.2 million, enough for the firm to have more than 30 lobbyists working for it. Among other banks, spending on lobbying rose 27% at Wells Fargo & Co. and 16% at Morgan Stanley.

Over at the Washington Independent, Megan Carpentier -- herself a former lobbyist who knows the lay of the land all too well -- wryly notes:

Those companies would undoubtedly insist -- in compliance with the Byrd Amendment, which prohibits companies from spending money received from the federal government on lobbying -- that there was a strict demarcation between corporate money and federal TARP funds. But when those TARP funds were used to keep the corporation afloat, it's a paper-thin wall at best.

Right. You see, if we hadn't bailed these companies out, they would not exist, which means they'd all be "lobbying" for bus fare and attempting to sell their used office furniture.

The L.A. Times quotes one Ed Mierzwinski, "a lobbyist for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group," as saying, "It seems like everybody is out of work except for bank lobbyists."

That's not entirely true. Many of those lobbying firms also paid homeless people to stand in lines for them. This is what is known as "trickle down economics," and if you didn't get in on the ground floor of this whole "being homeless and standing in line" sector, who's fault is that?

RELATED:
Banks step up spending on lobbying to fight proposed stiffer regulations [Los Angeles Times]
TARP Money Funded Massive Lobbying Expenditures in 2009 [Washington Independent]

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Dan Eggen   |   February 13, 2010    1:42 PM ET

President Obama is escalating his war on K Street, proposing a series of tough restrictions a year after he first issued policies aimed at tamping down the influence of lobbyists.

Murtha Gets Full-Page Send-Off From Corporation He Constantly Aided

Jason Linkins   |   February 12, 2010    5:35 PM ET

Reasonable people worry about the world that has been bequeathed to them by the Supreme Court Justices who upended campaign finance laws in the Citizens United case. But there's really no better demonstration of how creepy the entrenched corporate interests in our governance already are than to point out that Lockheed Martin purchased a full-page ad in the Washington Post to pay their "respects" to the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.).

I put "respects" in the ol' scare quotes specifically because you can be sure that Lockheed Martin is not guided to memorialize Murtha for his long career or the good he's done or the legacy he left behind. This ad exists because Murtha was a "rainmaker" for the defense industry and only last year was one of the more defiant voices fighting the efforts of the White House and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to cut funding for Lockheed's F-22 fighter. It would have looked weird for Lockheed to give the F-22 this sort of send-off -- but that's essentially what's being done here.

Perhaps in the future, corporations can pay for birth announcements when a lawmaker is spawned. With nepotism flowering so fully in politics, corporations may as well mark their territory early.

The good news, of course, is that this ad paid for some print journalism.

RELATED:
Lockheed Martin Thinks It's So Cool, Buying Death Ads All Willy Nilly... [Wonkette]


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It's Official: 2009 Was Record Year For Lobbying, Despite Recession

Arthur Delaney   |   February 12, 2010   12:45 PM ET

The final reports are in and we can now officially say that 2009 was the most profitable year ever for the lobbying industry.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics tallied lobbying income data from tens of thousands of disclosure filings, and the data show that special interests of all stripes spent $3.47 billion lobbying the federal government in 2009, up from $3.3 billion the previous year.

How did the influence industry manage such a banner year despite a battered economy? The simple answer is that the Obama administration's aggressive change agenda has prompted businesses to open their wallets to an unprecedented degree in the hope of preventing reform.

"Lobbying appears recession-proof," said CRP director Sheila Krumholz. "Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests, particularly when Congress is preparing to take action on issues that could seriously affect their bottom lines."

A Republican lobbyist put it more bluntly:

"This agenda has been great for OUR economy," he said. "We get paid to get Republicans pissed off at Democrats, which they rightfully are. It's the easiest thing in the world. It's like getting paid to get you to love your mother. Everyone, Republican and even some Democratic lobbyists are laughing at Obama on their way to the bank."

One Democrat who profited immensely from the change regime is Tony Podesta, whose firm saw the largest gross revenue increase of any lobbyshop -- from $16 million in 2008 to nearly $25.6 million in 2009, according to CRP.

Podesta predicted his success at the beginning of the year: "The president has signaled defense acquisition reforms, defense budget cuts... The Hill will take up those issues, so there's a lot of work in that field," he told Legal Times. "We're doing a lot more work in financial services than we had done previously, and also doing more health care work and more energy work."

Every big sector spent more, first and foremost the pharmaceutical and health products industry, which spent $266.8 million -- "the greatest amount ever spent on lobbying efforts by a single industry for one year," according to CRP. Business associations spent $183 million, oil and gas interests spent $168.4 million and the insurance industry shelled out $164.2 million.

Yet somehow, despite this bonanza in lobbying, CRP notes that 2009 saw a decline in the total number of registered lobbyists, from 14,442 in 2008 to 13,742 in 2009.

The most common explanation for the drop in registered lobbyists is that the Obama administration's restrictions on lobbyists communicating with and working for the administration, coupled with the president's anti-lobbyist rhetoric, have pushed influence peddling underground. Ethics lawyers suggest that a huge surge in potential lobbying violations reported by the Secretary of the Senate can be attributed to lobbyists flaking on paperwork in the deregistration process.

Lobbyists said the administration's position would lead to deregistration from the start. More recently, two lobbyists specifically cited the administration's anti-lobbyist stance when they deregistered and started a new "non-lobbying entity" called K Street Research. The firm's founders said they worked closely with lawyers to make sure their work would not meet the definition of lobbying under the Lobbyist Disclosure Act.

The most prominent non-lobbyist is former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who eschews the title through a process some call "influence laundering."

In his State of the Union address, Obama signaled that he wanted to close a "loophole" that allows a person to avoid registering as a lobbyist if he spends less than 20 percent of his time for a particular client on lobbying activity. Congressional leaders have not acted on the proposal.

Too Busy For Obama, Bank CEOs Make Time To 'Educate' Hill Staffers

Shahien Nasiripour   |   February 4, 2010   12:39 PM ET

Megabank CEOs didn't have time for President Barack Obama when he gave a major speech on Wall Street in September, but they had no trouble making it to Capitol Hill this morning to plead their case to the 20-something staffers who can help them stop reform in its tracks.

Kicking off a two-day event designed to "help" legislative aides who will be writing the rules designed to rein in and reform Wall Street, the CEOs made it clear that they would be there "anytime" a young, confused congressional aide needed help understanding a complex topic.

"Call us, say we met in Washington," said Richard Davis, chairman, president and CEO of U.S. Bancorp. "We'd love to help."

The two-day "Financial Services University" is being organized by the Financial Services Roundtable, one of the industry's most powerful lobbying groups.

"You'll be involved in actually writing the legislation that will affect our futures," James Smith, chairman and CEO of Webster Bank, one of the country's 50 largest banks, said. Robert Kelly, CEO of Bank of New York, nodded his head in agreement.

The banks the CEOs head collectively hold about $500 billion in domestic assets. Many of the staffers in attendance were barely out of college, but will be in a position to draft the rules that will govern how these banks will make their money.

"We're actually good people. We're actually trying to do the right thing. We want to support regulatory reform -- the things that make sense," said U.S. Bancorp's Davis.

"I'm a big believer in fixing stuff at the root causes of the financial crisis," said Kelly. He reminded the staffers that one of the top reasons behind the collapse -- a liquidity crunch -- didn't require legislative action, so they didn't have to worry about that.

He didn't mention the factors that led to the liquidity crunch, including highly leveraged bets made possible by the dearth of smart regulation that then blew up and nearly took down the financial system. Banks, of course, fought for the right to make those bets and pushed back against regulation.

The bankers told the staffer they supported efforts to:

  • Reduce the number of regulators. Kelly said the U.S. has "zillions."
  • Create a systemic risk regulator, which would watch out for the system as a whole (this is currently lacking).
  • Give the government wind-down authority for large, systemically-important nonbanks, like an AIG or pre-collapse Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.
  • Maintain preemption, the principal that federal rules take precedence over tougher state and local rules. "We need uniform national standards," said Smith. Without them, he argued, there would be "costs and inefficiencies. We ask that you keep that in mind... When writing legislation, remember we're the people trying to help people achieve their financial goals."

The bankers spoke of how much recently-passed credit card and overdraft reform measures will hurt their companies. Davis said the measures will cost his firm $800 million a year -- something that will hurt his company's shareholders, who Kelly chimed in were simply "average Americans."

They both neglected to mention the fact that the $800 million in revenue they're losing is money that's taken out of the pockets of "average Americans" through what are largely considered to be unfair and predatory fees.

Many top bankers have gone to the White House when summoned; Davis and Kelly specifically met with Obama there just this past December. But their mass non-attendance at Obama's September Wall Street speech, in which the president outlined what he expected from the financial community, was widely seen as a sign of disrespect.

Steve Buyer To Retire Amid Allegations Of Impropriety

Arthur Delaney   |   January 29, 2010   12:54 PM ET

Nine-term Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), dogged by accusations that he ran a phony charity that took campaign donors on golf outings instead of giving out scholarships, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection. He will, however, serve out the remainder of his term.

Buyer, the senior Republican on the Committee on Veterans Affairs, said his decision was prompted by the illness of his wife, who he said is suffering from an "incurable autoimmune disease."

Melanie Sloan, director of watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that filed an ethics complaint against Buyer on Monday, said she is skeptical of his public explanation. "If your wife is really that sick, wouldn't you be leaving now and not in a year?" asked Sloan -- adding that she wished the best for Buyer's spouse.

CREW filed a complaint with the IRS and the Office of Congressional Ethics. Relying on news reports, the complaint alleges that Buyer's Frontier Foundation is run by friends and family members, shares office space with Buyer's campaign, get money from businesses with interests before the congressional committees that Buyer sits on, and hasn't handed out a single scholarship.

"Reprehensibly, Rep. Buyer appears to have been using Frontier fundraisers to play golf at exclusive domestic and foreign resorts to avoid paying for his own travel, meals, lodging, and greens fees, all on the backs of Indiana's underprivileged students," said CREW's complaint. "Surely, at least one underprivileged student could have attended college on the amount of money Frontier spends for Rep. Buyer's travel and golf."

"For all we know, it's the tip of the iceberg," said Sloan. "It's always a positive thing when a member who's ethically challenged chooses not to stay."

Greenpeace Demands Sen. Dorgan Not Arrange A Lobbyist Gig Before Term Ends

Arthur Delaney   |   January 27, 2010   12:54 PM ET

Greenpeace demanded on Wednesday that Sen. Byron Dorgan not arrange a lobbyist gig before he finishes his Senate term.

When the North Dakota Democrat announced his retirement on Jan. 5, Dorgan said in a statement that he would "like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector."

"Energy policy in the private sector" does sound a lot like a lobbying gig. It's well-known that members of Congress and their staffers enjoy excellent K Street job prospects when they leave the Hill.

"This is all part of what makes people not trust our government," said Greenpeace research director Kert Davies during a conference call with reporters. "And as Americans are feeling that way about the government, having the image of a sitting U.S senator entertaining job offers, potentially from coal or oil companies while he is considering energy legislation that will absolutely shape our nation's future, is distasteful to say the least."

Davies sent Dorgan a letter asking him to disclose any potential job contacts and to pledge not to line up his next gig while still in office.

Dorgan's office is not amused by the suggestion that he would do such a thing.

"This is outrageous," wrote a spokesman in an email to HuffPost. "Senator Dorgan has had no contact with prospective employers and no plans to do so."

HuffPost asked Davies if he had any evidence, aside from Dorgan's retirement statement, that Dorgan is actively looking for a job.

"There's no evidence besides that statement, but that was a pretty clear statement of something he's entertaining," said Davies. "He stated his ambition in his retirement announcement, which gives him a long time to set up a job. He's taken a significant amount of money from polluting industry companies over the years."

Davies also pointed out that Dorgan was the only senator involved in a panel co-hosted by Newsweek and the American Petroleum Institute in December. Greenpeace asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the propriety of the panel.

Here's the text of the letter to Dorgan:

Office of Senator Byron Dorgan 322 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510-3405


Senator Dorgan,

It is no secret that Americans are increasingly cynical about their government. With influence peddling as a $4.5 billion a year "growth" industry, there are now 1,300 Washington lobbyists for every Senator. The revolving door between K Street and Capitol Hill does nothing to improve people's faith in the independence of their elected leaders.

Throughout your public service career, you have been a strong leader on a wide range of issues including several key energy initiatives that are essential to America's future. Given how much the nation's clean energy future is at stake this year, I was disappointed when, earlier this month, you announced your decision to retire - and that you are considering several career options, including working "on energy policy in the private sector."

As a longtime member of Congress I am sure you are aware that, regardless of your actual intentions, this language is often code for legislators who have begun trolling for an influence peddling job after they leave Congress. And, the path from public servant to influence peddler is a sadly well-worn one: Rep. Bob Livingston, Senator John Breaux, Rep. Billy Tauzin, and Senator Trent Lott.

I recall seeing you as a speaker at the oil industry's controversial, pay-to-play forum on December 1st, just five weeks before you announced your retirement. As you will recall, this highly questionable exercise was one in which Newsweek was caught renting out its name, credibility and top pundit to big oil's influence peddler, Jack Gerard. We were able to document Mr. Gerard's unwillingness to answer basic questions about the purchase price of Newsweek's credibility, and you can see the results at youtube.com/polluterwatch.

We are all confident that you will have no shortage of job options open to you at the end of this year. Why let dirty energy lobbyists, who are working overtime to imperil America's clean energy interests, threaten your legacy as an independent advocate for what's best for North Dakota and the people of this country?

To prevent that from happening, I call on you to:

· List the dirty energy lobbyists and their respective clients with whom you have had contact about your next job.

· Release all details of phone calls, emails or meetings you have had with prospective employers from energy interests who have lobbied you or your office. Of particular interest are Washington-area lobbying and public relations firms.

· Pledge that you will wait until after an energy bill is passed this year to engage in any further discussions about future employment with interests that lobby you.

This year the Senate is likely to debate and act on several key pieces of legislation that will shape the future of the American energy industry, our economy and our efforts to fight pollution. Regardless of your final positions on these bills, I am sure you agree that Americans deserve to be absolutely certain that your votes reflect your genuine view of what is best for them.

I am sure that you would not allow future career prospects to influence your legislative judgment. However, by releasing your records and pledging to refrain from any employment discussions, you can avoid creating any perception to the contrary.

Sincerely,

Kert Davies

PolluterWatch Director
Greenpeace

Health Care Industry Is Now Reform's Only Hope, Which Is Sure To End Well

Jason Linkins   |   January 21, 2010    3:24 PM ET

Now that Scott Brown is on his way to the U.S. Senate, the press is wondering if health care reform is alive, dead, or shambling ever-forward like some mindless zombie. Republicans want to press the reset button. Democrats are quaking, unsure if they should pursue the passage of the bill they voted for or cut and run. Who's going to push health care reform forward? The multimillion dollar health care industry conglomerates that shaped the bill in the first place, that's who. So make way, for zombie health care reform!

From this morning's Wall Street Journal:

The Senate victory by Republican Scott Brown caught many health-care companies off guard, with a number of firms reiterating support Wednesday for a sector overhaul thrown into doubt by his win.


PhRMA, the drug industry association, as well as companies including Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson, WellPoint Inc. and Humana Inc., voiced support for an overhaul of some kind, despite objections among insurers about the efforts to date. Trade associations representing the insurance, hospital and medical-device industries declined to comment.

Yes, let's not forget that many moons ago, the pharmaceutical industry cut a sweetheart deal for themselves. Want to see it?

Of course, both sides strenuously denied that any such arrangement had been made, but, as Ryan Grim reported, "Stories in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times...indicated that the administration was confirming that such a deal had been made."

Meanwhile, the Journal reports that the health insurance lobby feels like they've still got some skin in the game, too:

Even health insurers, though, continued to expect some sort of change. "The issues we are dealing with are not going away," said Ron Williams, chief executive of insurer Aetna Inc. "There are legitimate concerns we need to address and we need to find good bipartisan ways to address them. We think there is a huge opportunity to get rid of the demonization and get back to civil discourse."


Many have spent over a year strategizing about how to position their companies for growth after reform, researching new acquisitions and markets.

"It's demoralizing," said Diana Birkett, executive director of public policy for Group Health Cooperative, a coordinated care system in Washington state that insures 600,000 people. "We were getting so close to something. Parts of the bill were great, and parts concerned us, but I really hope all this work doesn't go to naught."

Indeed! The health care debate shone a bright light on the common practice of denying people coverage based on pre-existing conditions, which forced the insurance industry to promise to do away with the practice in return for federal mandates that would require healthy people to buy insurance from private insurers. Only now, the insurance industry may not even get their delicious, delicious mandates. This puts them in a bind, seeing as how now, continuing to deny people coverage based on pre-existing conditions makes them look like a passel of yawning, amoral scumbags! Man, you'd be demoralized, too!

So, if health care reform is to survive, it will do so because the major players in the health care industry are already way too heavily invested in the bill they wrote to not close the deal. Which means the fate of health care reform is in the hands of lobbyists.

Which is kind of where it was in the first place! But, hey, maybe now representatives of PhRMA and AHIP will just battle each other to the death, with pitchforks, for our amusement.

[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.]

No Less Lobbying, But Less Disclosure In Obama's First Year

Arthur Delaney   |   January 19, 2010    4:00 PM ET

Hordes of lobbyists have deregistered in the last two years after Congress enacted more onerous disclosure requirements and the Obama administration put in place a series of anti-lobbyist policies. But that doesn't mean there's been less lobbying. In fact, we'll likely find out this week (when fourth-quarter reports are filed) that the influence industry beat its all-time record for lobbying revenue in 2009.

We just might not know as much about who lobbied for whom -- call it O-pacity in government.

"This is the consequence of the Obama administration demonizing lobbyists and so the result is more and more deregistration," said Melanie Sloan, director of watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It's an unsurprising reaction to the administration's efforts to make lobbying less and less palatable."

So pervasive is the trend that among the deregistrants is Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that advocates for stricter disclosure requirements and transparency in government. The New York Times prominently featured Miller in a Sunday story about lobbyists going "underground" en masse, apparently to avoid the new rules.

Miller told HuffPost on Tuesday that she does not fit the profile of an underground lobbyist (or "influence launderer," as some call them).

"I didn't deregister to avoid strenuous lobbying reporting rules. That wouldn't be logical given the fact that we call for more information in a more timely fashion," said Miller, who deregistered shortly after Obama's election in 2008. "My deregistration had more to do with the fact that I wasn't lobbying and I didn't want to shut down opportunities to talk with anyone."

Miller pointed out that the Sunlight Foundation, which has a staff of 37 and dozens of websites, does not seek to influence policy as its sole mission, and that the organization is perfectly transparent about its agenda.

On his first day in office, President Obama announced tough rules against lobbyists entering the administration. The White House followed up with further restrictions in March, and in September the administration banned lobbyists from federal advisory boards. Good-government groups have given the administration high marks for its crackdown on influence peddlers.

In the second quarter, after the restrictions ramped up, more than a thousand lobbyists deregistered, according to a joint study by OMBWatch and the Center for Responsive Politics. Three thousand lobbyists have deregistered since the beginning of 2008.

"[T]he thousands of lobbyists who appear to have left their line of work may not have actually done so," said a CRP release. "At the federal level, many people working in the lobbying industry are not registered lobbyists, instead adopting titles such as 'senior advisor' or other executive monikers, thereby avoiding federal disclosure requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act."

After Congress enacted stricter lobbying disclosure requirements in 2007 (and introduced criminal penalties), ethics lawyers encouraged anyone potentially doing lobbying work to register out of an abundance of caution. So much for that.

If lobbyists are flouting the law, there's not much incentive for them to stop. Since the Lobbying Disclosure Act became law in 1996, the Secretary of the Senate has referred more than 8,000 potential violations to the Justice Department, roughly 4,400 of which were referred in 2009 -- but there have been only three enforcement actions in all that time. Ethics lawyers said a lot of the 2009 violations seemed to be lobbyists failing to file proper paperwork in the deregistration process.

Ellen Miller isn't the only former lobbyist who says she wasn't really lobbying to begin with. That's exactly the line taken by Brien Bonneville and Larry Mitchell, founders of a "non-lobbying entity" called K Street Research. Bonneville and Mitchell were both registered lobbyists at KSCW, but said they started their new venture after taking a close look at what they did and how it fit with the law and Obama's new policies. Bonneville told HuffPost in an email that K Street Research agrees with Miller that if you're not lobbying, you shouldn't register.

"We feel that she has similar interpretations of the law to the ones we have supporting our decision and business model," Bonneville wrote. While K Street Research will provide policy information to corporate clients, Bonneville and Mitchell said they won't make any lobbying contacts to influence policy (though their clients might).

John Wonderlich, still registered to lobby for the Sunlight Foundation, called the K Street Research business model "outrageous."


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Deficit Commission: Gregg, Conrad Explain How It Will Pointlessly Spend Money

Jason Linkins   |   January 12, 2010    5:41 PM ET

On this morning's edition of... well, Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep had Senators Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on, pimping their insane idea to solve the nation's budget deficit by outsourcing the responsibility for doing so to a certain-to-be-dysfunctional special commission, that would require super-majorities at every turn to enact its own recommendations.

Listening in, I had all my standard objections to their process, which seems to imagine that the problems of looming deficits are so great and so serious that fierce urgency demands we make it harder to solve them. Inskeep did a better job than most at heaping skepticism on this whole idea.

Naturally, Conrad and Gregg offered up something new about their proposal that is flat-out idiotic:

INSKEEP: So, just so I understand your proposal, a special group of Senators, Representatives, and some representatives of the administration, they go away, and they come back with a package of presumably politically dangerous or painful budget cuts or tax increases or whatever they come up with, a handful of proposals and Congress is going to have to vote that up or down. [Ed. Note: Again, NOT UP OR DOWN. Sixty percent supermajorities are required in both the House and the Senate.] If your plan is approved, that's what would have to happen.


GREGG: There's one other element here. This group would do a lot of public outreach and would also have an advisory group that would have all the different folks with alleged vested interests in these questions, especially in the entitlement side and on the tax policy side. Public outreach is a very important part of this effort.

So, let me get this straight. A "very important part" of this super-important commission, tasked with reducing the spending of taxpayer dollars, will be to spend taxpayer dollars mounting a P.R. campaign, supporting their efforts? And this is supposed to make sense to anybody?

Oh, and by the way, "an advisory group that would have all the different folks with alleged vested interests in these questions" is a fancy way of saying that the members of this commission will be heavily exposed to all sorts of lobbyists.

I tell you, this idea just keeps getting better and better!

LISTEN:


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Published by Dave Levinthal on January 9, 2010 3:49 PM   |   January 9, 2010   11:22 PM ET

Audacious, perhaps, is the development that the president of the United States would schedule his state of the union address around a television show.

The Amazing Job Prospects For Chris Dodd, Byron Dorgan, And Their Staffers

Arthur Delaney   |   January 6, 2010    5:48 PM ET

The lobbying world is atwitter over two new hot job prospects: retiring Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

"If you think of the Senate as the Roman Colosseum, those gladiators who know the arena are the most valuable," said Ivan Adler, a headhunter with the McCormick Group. "And today those are Senate Democrats."

The ultimate gladiators are the senators themselves; their staffers also are mighty.

Facing a tough reelection, Dodd said that "there are moments for each elected public servant to step aside and let someone else step up." Dodd hasn't offered clues as to where he might step next, although there's been speculation that he may join the administration. But K Street will inevitably beckon as well.

Dorgan addressed his future plans in a statement: "I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector."

Working on energy policy in the private sector sounds a lot like working for a lobbying firm, but the senator's office declined to elaborate when queried by HuffPost.

Senators are required to wait two years after leaving office before they can lobby Congress, but the "cooling off" period isn't really much of an obstacle. Among other things, it doesn't prevent lobbyists at the firm from using a former senator's expertise to the fullest extent possible.

Unlike some senators ready to retire, Dodd and Dorgan both intend to finish their terms. But their staffers don't have to wait, and it's likely that some will bolt before the 111th Congress ends and the next Congress convenes. Most staffers have a one-year "cooling off" period (some with smaller salaries are exempt), but their hiring prospects are strongest in the near term.

"Once your rabbi leaves, your value always goes down," said Adler, who has helped staffers and elected officials from both parties and both chambers of Congress find their way to K Street. "Although they are prohibited ethically from doing certain things for a certain period of time, their value is always higher while [their former bosses] are still there."

Several current Dodd, Dorgan, and banking committee staffers are former lobbyists to begin with, which is typical on the Hill.

Adler said the hiring climate has been especially good for former staffers and members of Congress because President Obama's anti-lobbyist stance has made it more difficult to lobby the executive branch. "The people who are only effective to lobby on the Hill have become more valuable."

Dodd's electoral troubles were related to his closeness to the financial industry and accusations of impropriety. But none of that will matter after his term ends, career-wise.

"This is a town where failure doesn't matter," said Adler. "It doesn't matter if you fail in Washington. You have to be indicted and go to jail almost for failure."