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August 29, 2009
WALL STREET PLANS DELAY TACTICS TO FIGHT DERIVATIVES OVERHAUL The Obama administration seems to want to try to regulate the derivatives market. Bloomberg reports that "Five U.S. commercial banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp., are on track to earn more than $35 billion this year trading unregulated derivatives contracts." So, this means war.
The Washington fight, conducted mostly behind closed doors, has been overshadowed by the noisy debate over health care. That's fine with investment bankers, who for years quietly wielded their financial and lobbying clout on Capitol Hill to kill efforts to regulate derivatives. This time could be different. The reason: widespread public and Congressional anger over the role derivatives such as credit-default swaps played in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
"Public sentiment isn't very much in their favor," said Richard Lindsey, a former director of market regulation at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission who worked at Bear Stearns Cos. from 1999 to 2006, referring to Wall Street firms. "In some places, they're not going to have anybody who wants to listen to them."
That doesn't mean that Wall Street doesn't have a strategy. As it turns out, it's very much like the strategy against health care reform:
For Wall Street, the longer it takes to get legislation passed the better. As stock market values and the economy improve, anger at banks is likely to subside.
"If we don't pass it by early 2010, we get into the congressional election period where this is just too controversial an issue," Peabody said. "You've got too many different financial interests with opposing views that Congress just isn't going to go out on a limb and pass it and put their re-election in jeopardy. We don't think we're going to see legislation until 2011."
NEW LOBBYIST CONTACT RULES YIELD FEW REPORTS The AP is reporting today that despite the fact that lobbyists say they are all over the $787 billion dollar stimulus package, like flies on feces, federal officials haven't widely reported on having a ton of contacts with lobbyists. That's weird! Especially since the Obama administration ordered federal officials to disclose all contacts with lobbyists who come sniffing around the stimulus. SO WHAT'S GOING ON, PEOPLE?
In August, the entire government reported only eight such lobbying contacts. The Pentagon, which controls about $7.4 billion in stimulus spending, reported just one lobbying contact so far this year. The Homeland Security Department, with at least $3 billion to spend, reported none.
Yet the paucity of reporting masks activities by lobbyists and clients eager to obtain stimulus money for their projects. Lobbyists have separately reported work related to stimulus projects, and in many cases have operated in new ways to skirt restrictions on their efforts to influence stimulus spending.
It's almost as if there was some kind of loophole or something!
New White House rules issued late this summer were aimed at eliminating a loophole: Lobbyists had been sending their clients to do the pitching below the radar of public disclosure.
U.S. officials have to disclose only their contacts with lobbyists, not others interested in the stimulus money like corporate executives or trade groups. But new rules bar conversations with lobbyists and others once an application for money is submitted.
PROMOTING ONLINE DISCLOSURE The Sunlight Foundation has been waging a hard-fought campaign to get the House and Senate to put their public documents online, where the public can readily get at them. Currently, your legislative branch can claim transparency, but they make the public go to an awful lot of trouble if they want to view their documents:
The Senate makes available a handy report listing all of their public documents, but you have to goto their public record's office to obtain a copy. (We've uploaded the 2009 version.) The House doesn't have an equivalent report, although they do make available a bookmark listing some of their resources. Both offices charge a per-page printing/copying fee ($0.10/page for the House and $0.20/page for the Senate). Neither office lets users make copies of their electronic files, whether in whole or in part, even though many files are available in electronic format on dedicated computers in their offices.
According to our count, the House Clerk's office has 12 different kinds of documents: 6 are available online, 4 are available only at their office, and 2 are not available publicly at all. Likewise, the Senate Office of Public Records has 14 different kinds of documents; 3 are available online, 9 are available only in their offices, and 2 are not available publicly at all.
HOW TO WEED YOUR ASTROTURF PR Watch is as sick of these Astroturf groups as Samuel L. Jackson was about those snakes on that plane:
It's making our heads spin! Issues affecting some of the country's biggest industries, like health insurance reform, a proposal to tax sodas and sugary drinks, and the FDA's possible reconsideration of the plastic additive Bisphenol A, have boosted corporate astroturfing up to a dizzying pace. With all these corporate fronts coming out of the woodwork, how can citizens tell true grassroots organizations from corporate fronts operated by highly-paid PR and lobbying firms?
That sets up the essential soup-to-nuts guide on telling your grassroots from your plastic. Read and enjoy!
August 28, 2009
KENNEDY'S COMMITTEE HEIRS TIED TO BANKS The Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal raises some important, early concerns about who might wind up chairing the Banking Committee as a result of Senator Ted Kennedy's departure. Because Senator Chris Dodd is next in line to take Kennedy's health committee chairmanship, he'll need to give up the banking chair. That puts South Dakota's bank-friendly Democrat Tim Johnson next in line:
According to Open Secrets, from 2003-2008, Sen. Johnson has pulled in $1,407,958 from the finance, insurance and real estate sector. While this pales in comparison to Sen. Dodd's $9,097,107 over the same period of time, it accounts for 20% of the South Dakota senator's campaign haul.
Blumenthal goes on to cite a report from Open Congress that demonstrated the influence that the monies taken in have affected Johnson's voting record:
Donny Shaw at Open Congress (Friend of Sunlight) looked at Sen. Johnson's recent votes and showed that he stands out among Democrats in his support for the credit card industry. The senator was the only Democrat to oppose a recent law, sponsored by Sen. Dodd, to "restrict unfair credit card rate increases, penalties and fees, and bans deceptive and predatory practices." He was also one of a handful of Democrats to oppose a series of amendments meant to impose tougher regulations on credit card companies.
THE PAPAL TRAIL For nearly 30 years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have pressed for "universal health insurance, especially for the poor." But there's been a shift in the winds. At issue is an old, contentious issue and new dose of disinformation. David Kirkpatrick, writing for the New York Times, has the story:
As recently as July, the bishops' conference had largely embraced the president's goals, although with the caveat that any health care overhaul avoid new federal financing of abortions. But in the last two weeks some leaders of the conference, like Cardinal Justin Rigali, have concluded that Democrats' efforts to carve out abortion coverage are so inadequate that lawmakers should block the entire effort.
Others, echoing the popular alarms about "rationing," contend that the proposals could put a premium on efficacy that could penalize the chronically ill.
OBAMA, DNC ABANDON (SOME) TAINTED CASH Politico's Ken Vogel reports that President Barack Obama and the DNC have "joined the growing group of politicians and committees pledging to return or donate to charity campaign contributions" raised by Hassan Nemazee, who's been charged with attempting to defraud Citibank to the tune of $74 million.
BUT, there is a but:
But a DNC official stopped short of promising that Obama would give back or give away contributions from other donors that came through Nemazee through a process known as bundling that brought in more than $500,000 for Obama's campaign.
Instead, Obama, his inaugural committee and the DNC will donate to an as-yet unspecified charity a total of $61,700, according to the DNC official.
ONE WORD: PLASTICS The plastics industry is going to spend a cool $10 million trying to convince the FDA from reconsidering their current position on the safety of a chemical additive known as Bisphemol A, or BPA. According to PR Watch, they'll be putting some time-tested tactics to use:
The Society for the Plastics Industry, a trade and lobbying group for companies that manufacture products containing BPA, is using many of the same PR strategies, and even the same PR companies, that the tobacco industry used in its decades-long fight against regulation. To discourage reconsideration of the health hazards of BPA, the plastics industry is downplaying the risks of the additive, discrediting anyone who portrays the chemical as a health threat, and utilizing Web 2.0 technology, like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and YouTube, to plant "Trojan Horse" messages. The plastics industry is also using the lobbying and PR firms Apco Worldwide and the Weinberg Group, both of which worked closely with the tobacco industry to help confuse the public about the health hazards of secondhand smoke.
THE FCC AND LOBBYISTS Karl Bode at Broadband Reports has a terrific piece up today on the despairingly frictionless "revolving door" that spins, endlessly, between FCC regulators and the industry lobbyists, all but ensuring that consumers will get jacked, forever.
Perhaps more embarrassing is that nobody in the sector really seems to see a problem, or ever really understands how broken things have become. FCC senior legal aide to Democratic Commissioner Copps Rick Chessen this week left the FCC to go become a lobbyist for the cable industry's main lobbying group, the NCTA. In a departing love letter, Commissioner Copps praises Mr. Chessen's abilities, with a small guffaw:"I congratulate Rick Chessen on his appointment to an important private sector position. Its gain is our loss. Rick has a most distinguished record of public service, capped by a stellar performance as Acting Chief of Staff of the FCC from January-June of this year. (I think perhaps he did too good a job and thereby attracted covetous looks from many outside government!)
August 27, 2009
CAN'T SPELL "PARTY" WITHOUT TARP Public Citizen has plumbed the depths of Sunlight's extensive PartyTime database and determined that when it comes to lobbying parties, the lobbyists that represent TARP recipients know how to get down. From Election Day through the end of June 2009, such lobbyists have held over seventy parties and chipped in six million dollars worth of campaign scrilla. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has led the way, hosting 35 fundraisers. The big recipients include the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and forty-eight members of Congress.
Another big winner? Tony Podesta:
Collectively, lobbyists for the Podesta Group were scheduled to host at least 14 fundraisers, more than those for any other lobbying firm, and made $82,150 in federal contributions in the time period covered in this study. Lobbyist Anthony Podesta scheduled at least 10 fundraisers at his house, according to three invitations...that referenced events slated to take place between March 25, 2009, and June 17, 2009. Podesta has lobbied Congress on financial services provisions on behalf of a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE Lobbying was a sickness on the body politic back in 1998, when lobbyists spent $1.44 billion dollars influencing your legislators. Ten years later, that seems quaint. Despite the fact that the number of lobbyists only increased from 10,661 to 14,838, the haul more than doubled: total lobbying spending in 2008 hit $3.3 billion. The recession hasn't slowed much. Through two quarters of 2009, lobbyists have spent $1.63 billion.
INTERNATIONAL MEN OF MYSTERY The ProPublica/Sunlight Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker continues to yield great information and stories. Today, Sunlight's Luke Rosiak brings us the incredibly true story of Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli spy-turned-lobbyist provocateur.
Lobbyists often involve themselves in political campaigns, but Ben-Menashe's role in Zimbabwe's disputed 2002 presidential election went far beyond bundling contributions or serving as a strategic adviser.
Mugabe defeated Tsvangirai by the narrowest of margins in what was widely decried as a rigged election. At the time, Tsvangirai spoke with Ben-Menashe about a plan to "eliminate" Mugabe. Ben-Menashe turned over a videotape of the conversation to Mugabe's administration, and Tsvangirai was charged with treason.
Tsvangiria claimed he was approached by Ben-Menashe, but in an interview, the Montreal-based lobbyist said it was the other way around. "The head of the opposition of the government you're representing says, 'Can you help us do a coup and kill the guy?'"
LOBBYIST APPAREL Dave Levinthal at OpenSecrets points us in the direction of this page of t-shirts at Zazzle, which celebrate, among other things, lobbyists. Hopefully, these will take off so that the rest of Washington will know, at a glance, precisely who to scorn.
August 26, 2009
In a nod to the House Republicans who devised a chart supposedly showing the bureaucratic nightmare that would result from Democratic health care reforms, the Campaign for America's Future has devised a chart of its own, titled "Who's Paying to Kill Health Reform?"
It's a tangled web, with big lobbying firms, industry groups, and Astroturf organizers all linked to townhall meetings. Reflecting a widely-held view among progressives, the big kahuna behind it all is the health insurance industry, via trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.
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"They're playing a sophisticated game at the front of the pack," said Campaign for America's Future's Roger Hickey in an interview with the Huffington Post. "They're trying to pretend that they're in favor of reform and they're spending some money on advertising that looks like
it's pro-reform. And at the same time they're working pretty hard to make sure the public plan is not in the final version. They're primarily using their political contributions and their lobbying
efforts to do that."
As the chart shows, AHIP is encouraging the employees of its members to attend town hall meetings. The chart also has AHIP pumping money into big PR firms, something unproved that AHIP denies -- though reform advocates suspect it's true.
"'Launder' is a strong word, but that's essentially what happens," said Wendell Potter, a former CIGNA executive turned reform advocate. "They pay money to big PR firms and set up front groups and use connections with members of Congress. These are their shills."
"It's what I saw as someone who was in the industry for 20 years and who worked on a lot of industry committees -- committees of America's Health Insurance Plans in particular," Potter said.
-- Arthur Delaney
August 25, 2009
TAX HAVENS SPREAD INFLUENCE ProPublica and the Sunlight Foundation have been sifting through the available data from their just-launched Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, and they've discovered "extensive lobbying efforts by countries labeled as tax havens." Back in May, President Obama announced that he was going to face the issue of tax havens head on:
For years, we've talked about shutting down overseas tax havens that let companies set up operations to avoid paying taxes in America. That's what our budget will finally do. On the campaign, I used to talk about the outrage of a building in the Cayman Islands that had over 12,000 business -- businesses claim this building as their headquarters. And I've said before, either this is the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world.
Sunlight's Bill Allison says that the host nations of tax havens are countering the efforts with lobbying:
"Disclosures filed in 2008 show that six governments - Aruba, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein and the States of Jersey - and the Bank of the Netherlands Antilles employed U.S. lobbyists, paying a total of $2.3 million in fees. Those lobbyists had at least 222 contacts with members of Congress, their staff and executive branch officials in which they discussed tax laws, legislation aimed at tax havens like the Stop Tax Haven Abuse  bill, or efforts to negotiate tax exchange information agreements with the United States and other countries."
CROUCHING SECRETARY, HIDDEN LOBBYIST Tom Daschle, as you may have heard, is a RESOURCE, not a lobbyist! A RESOURCE. Get it straight! Of course, he's been a RESOURCE for many, many, many moneyed interests in the health care industry. Sunlight's Paul Blumenthal has had Daschle on lock for a long time now:
Many of Alston & Bird's major clients are from the health care sector including the American Hospital Association, HealthSouth Corp, and pharmaceutical companies Abbott Laboratories, Bayer, Celgene, and Mylan Laboratories. In total, Alston & Bird is currently representing 31 clients from the health care sector. Of the $2,730,000 reported income received from clients, nearly 50% of that, $1,070,000, comes from these 31 health care clients.
This looks like another benefit of the revolving door. You can release a legislative proposal from outside of Congress and the first thing anyone thinks of is your previous job and not your current one.
For the purposes of review, Blumenthal helpfully reprints his chart of Daschle's clientele.
CIRCLE OF LIFE Back in 1990, Pfizer gave most of their campaign cash to Democrats. But by the year 2000, that had changed: by 85% to 15% margin, the pharma giant favored the GOP. Now we're heading into the 2010 campaign cycle. You'll never guess where their contribution levels are projected to be! By which I mean, SURELY YOU WILL GUESS THIS.
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY AT NATIONALS PARK FOR THE PHILLIES Representative Patrick Murphy is a good man -- served his country in Iraq, opposes Don't Ask Don't Tell at home -- but this truly will not stand. It's understandable that Murphy, who represents the Philadelphia-adjacent 8th District, would want to fundraise at a Phillies game. But the fact that he's having his fundraiser at Nationals Park, in Washington, D.C., just doesn't sit well with me. It only underscores that the Nationals, who are TERRIBLE, have basically seen their home become the de facto vacation home of the Phillies. On the other hand, the only reason we have a baseball team at all is to give out-of-town Congresscritters a new place to schmooze, so, I guess the system works. Anyway, September 8, this ballpark will be crawling with both lobbyists AND Phillies fans, so stay away.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT I missed Brian Ross' excellent and thorough accounting of where $80 million of lobbyist money landed on Capitol Hill. Be sure that you don't!
If money talks, it is positively screaming in the health care debate. $80,831,142.00 in political contributions from individuals, industries, and political action committees from the insurance, big pharma, hospitals and health professionals on one side to retirees on the other, have contributed heavily in this election cycle to make sure that politicians are hearing them loud and clear.
Using data acquired on the individual and PAC activities of the senators and representatives in Congress from OpenSecrets.org, pooling together the data from all of the directly interested parties in the health care debate, it is clear that many elected officials home for the recess are putting their mouths where their money is.
There are very few in Congress who take no money from any of the people and groups with interests in health care policy. There are many who don't take much. All have been listed so you can see what money may be motivating your elected officials as the push towards health care reform continues.
August 24, 2009
DASCHLE HAMMERED This weekend, The New York Times offered a lengthy profile of Tom Daschle and his various roles as a go-between, serving the interests of clients of Alston & Bird -- a lobbying firm with many health care industry clients and the White House. Throughout it all, he claims to not be any sort of lobbyist. In fact, he's got an awesome new euphemism at his disposal:
Mr. Daschle is not registered as a lobbyist and recently told U.S. News and World Report that he preferred to describe himself as a "resource" to those in government and industry.
"I'd like to be a resource to my former colleagues, to the extent that I can, to the administration, to the stakeholders and to people interested in just kind of knowing how this is all going to play out," he said. "I am most comfortable with the word resource."
White House officials say they appreciate his help. "He is one of a number of people that provides outside advice to the White House, and the president greatly appreciates that advice and Tom's friendship," said Dan Pfeiffer, a spokesman for the White House who previously worked for Mr. Daschle. Mr. Pfeiffer added that the former senator was "a recognized expert on health reform who knows more about the legislative process than just about anyone."
Critics, though, say his ex officio role gives Alston & Bird's health care clients privileged insights into the policy process. They say Mr. Daschle's multiple advisory roles illustrate the kind of coziness with the lobbying world that Mr. Obama vowed to end. If he had been confirmed as health secretary, Mr. Daschle would have been subject to strict transparency and ethics rules.
Writing on these pages, Allison Kilkenny makes the case for connecting the dots:
But it was Daschle who first introduced the idea of nonprofit insurance cooperatives as an alternative to the public option. Daschle and his good buddy, Blue Dog Kent Conrad, came up with the idea of insurance co-ops which included the concept of "triggers" that landed Rahm Emanuel in hot water with progressive groups like Firedoglake when he first floated the idea past the public. Basically, the trigger idea meant that the public option would only become a reality if state co-ops or other programs failed to meet certain cost and coverage goals within five years. The idea sank almost immediately thanks in large part to progressive watchdog groups. Now, Henry Waxman told Roll Call, "[Emanuel] doesn't stand by the trigger...He said the president and his administration and he are for a public plan as one of the options."
Privately, Daschle tells his health care industry buddies that the public option is far from finalized. In order to calm the nerves of drug company executives, Daschle told them that "there is no consensus on whether there ought to be a public option." As recent as last week, he told the hospital executives, "There is virtually no support among Republican members for a public option, and that remains an unresolved element of this debate." Of course, Daschle is only concerned with support in Congress. Meanwhile, the newest polls indicated that Americans overwhelming support the idea of including a public option in health care reform.
MUST ATTEND PARTY We're mulling whether to scrape the $250 together to send Arthur Delaney dove hunting with Virginia Republican Representative Rob Wittman. Just a gaggle of folks together at a gas station in Maryland, trooping around in the woods, killing doves and purchasing legislation, whilst carrying guns!
A SHOT FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE The New Hampshire Union Leader takes a shot at President Barack Obama, who, in their eyes, comes up lacking on a critical campaign pledge:
Just a few hours after being sworn in last January, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner promised to draft rules preventing outside lobbyists from seeking the hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money for their client banks. As of this week, those rules have not been adopted.
Thus, all this time, when we thought lobbyist influence was limited, there were no limits on lobbyists coming in and out of federal buildings, asking for their large banks and institutions to get billions in bailout money.
So much for the idea that bailout funds would be handed out based on merit and need as opposed to lobbyist influence. Another promise broken by Obama.
TANGLED WEB Hello. This is just your periodic reminder that Mr. Apple Of The Health Care Lobby's Eye Dick Armey (a.k.a. "The Dick Armey") is tied to Jack Abramoff who's tied to corruption which is tied to people still getting indicted. Do all of these connections have any effect on the ways laws get made and affect your lives? I'm sure only glancingly, right?
August 21, 2009
ARE BLUE DOG SALAD DAYS OVER? Aaron Mehta and Josh Israel make the case over at Paper Trail:
In our report last month, the Center detailed how donations to the Coalition's PAC had soared as members of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats become a crucial swing vote between Democrats and Republicans. Given all publicity about the Blue Dogs' new-found power, we thought it would be interesting to look at the recently-released July fundraising numbers for the Blue Dog PAC and see if anything had changed. We were surprised by what we found.
The Blue Dog PAC took in only $27,000 in July, a significant decrease from the record $176,000-a-month-plus average it took in during the first six months of 2009. For comparison, the PAC took in $106,500 in June from other political action committees. As the Blue Dogs exploded to the forefront of the health care debate in July, not a single health care sector political committee donated to the Blue Dog PAC. And despite hefty contributions in previous months from energy companies concerned about the climate change bill, the energy donations also completely dried up in July. Through the first six months of the year, these sectors were the two largest contributors.
PARTY TIME WITH THE PODESTAS Everything's been coming up roses for the Podesta Group, lately, so the National Journal's profile of the nouveau lobbying kingpin is well-timed. Here's my favorite part:
Whether it's the Podestas' humor, the dinner parties that the couple host at their home in Northwest Washington, D.C., or the $3 million they have helped to raise for Democrats and party committees during this election cycle, Heather and Tony are among the more popular figures in Denver this week.
Yes, the Obama campaign has been pounding away relentlessly with anti-lobbyist rhetoric. And new congressional ethics rules have turned every lobbyist into a persona non grata at this convention. Still, hundreds of well-known Democratic movers and shakers would not miss the chance to see and be seen at a Podesta soiree.
The events in Denver have included a Sunday evening reception that they co-hosted, and at which a fundraiser for Barack Obama was invited; brunches on Monday and Tuesday at Bistro Vendome; a Wednesday book party for Tony's brother, John, a former Clinton White House chief of staff; and a series of small dinners with Democratic governors.
"I don't think of Tony as a lobbyist," Rep. Anna Eshoo of California says at the Monday brunch. "I think of him as a friend."
HA HA HA HA YES. I just bet you do, Anna Eshoo!
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS ARTHUR DELANEY? Can you believe this? The Huffington Post finally hears about a fundraiser with an entry fee that's a little more our speed, and STILL no one wants us at the party? Arthur Delaney went to the "Dog Days of Summer Cookout" held by the chiefs of staff by many GOP Senators yesterday. He had the $100 entry fee covered. He even brought HuffPost intern Laura Dean -- who is a DELIGHT, by the way, and way fun to have at any party. Plus, Arthur is a natural at the grill. Basically, we met these guys way more than halfway, and still couldn't get in.
TREASURY MINDERS NOT UP TO SPEED ON LOBBYIST RULES Neil Barofsky is the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Or SIGTARP, if you're nasty! Anyhoo, Barofsky recently released an audit of the Treasury Department geared toward ensuring that outside parties could not exert "undue influence" over the TARP process. Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation reports today that Barofsky's audit may have been predicated, in part, on lobbyist regulations that are out of date:
When explaining how to fix this disclosure gap, the Inspector General pointed to rules governing lobbying on the $787 billion economic stimulus funds as a good model for the financial bailout. The IG also noted that the Treasury Department announced on January 27, 2009 that it "would develop new rules to increase transparency and curtail potential lobbyist influence" over the financial industry bailout. And yet, the Treasury Department is still "finalizing" its draft policy 7 months after the press release.
Unfortunately, Mike Stern, who used to be the senior counsel for the House of Representatives, noticed some discrepancies:
Stern explains that Obama's revised stimulus lobbying rules treat lobbyists and other interested parties similarly with respect to prohibiting certain communications. Yet, the Treasury official's statement on the draft financial bailout lobbying rules does not mention other parties as being included in the ban. Second, the revised stimulus lobbying ban likely does not apply to Members of Congress, and yet the Treasury official's statement states that Treasury employees cannot speak with members of Congress regarding specific projects. (This is probably unconstitutional.)
Even with these problems, the Inspector General embraces the stimulus lobbying guidelines as a model for the financial bailout guidelines. And yet, nowhere does the report mention that the administration has updated and significantly revised its stimulus lobbying guidelines. I wrote about the major revisions earlier.
Based upon Stern's analysis, there are two instances where the IG report failed to note that the Treasury official's statement concerning stimulus lobbying guidelines was no longer operative. Moreover, although the IG report summarized the Treasury Department's interim stimulus lobbying guidelines (which mirror the April 7th stimulus lobbying guidelines promulgated by the OMB), nowhere does the report mention that the stimulus lobbying rules were updated by OMB on July 24th.
That's not all: Barofsky's audit seems to be unaware that disclosure rules concerning government written communications have changed as well. Find out more, here.
BIG COAL BAILS ON BONNER Amid the controversy over that "temp employee" of Bonner and Associates who supposedly put his job at risk during a recession to send forged letters to various legislators because he had decided on his own it would be a good idea (ha ha) comes the news that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is cutting ties with the lobbyists. Amy Harder at National Journal's Under The Influence blog has the deets:
"We will not be working with Mr. Bonner again," Joe Lucas, senior vice president for communications at ACCCE, told NationalJournal.com. "ACCCE did nothing wrong. Looking back, there would be many things we would do differently."
Will more clients bail on Bonner? Developing!
BIG OIL UPS ANTE Lawrence Delevingne at Business Insider reports that Big Oil's lobbying efforts increased by 82% in the second quarter.
August 20, 2009
FDIC KNUCKLING UNDER Via AmericaBlog comes a Reuters report that breaks the news that the FDIC is poised to perform its best imitation of a cheap suit thanks to the exertions of lobbyists for private equity firms.
The U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp will meet next week to vote on a proposed policy that would force private equity groups to maintain high capital levels and put a large amount of their own money at stake when investing in failed banks.
The FDIC provoked a backlash when it proposed the guidelines in July and is expected to soften the policy when it meets Aug. 26. The meeting's agenda was posted to the FDIC website Wednesday, but provided few details on the specific proposals.
Some investors and regulators said earlier that the proposed rules were too harsh and would quash the interest of private equity groups at a time when the FDIC is trying to court investors for an increasing number of failed banks.
DOES THIS MEAN LOBBYISTS CAN REINCARNATE? Yesterday, ProPublica and the Sunlight Foundation released into the world the fruits of their considerable efforts to track foreign lobbying dollars. Here's a interesting finding:
We never imagined Tibet's exiled spiritual leader [the Dalai Lama] would show up as a client in our new Foreign Lobbyist Influence Tracker. But there he is amid details about the Office of Tibet, which handles his affairs in the U.S.
Compared with the 300 or so other foreign agents in the Tracker, the office's activities are tame. It isn't hitting on Capitol Hill, handing out campaign cash, or spending millions on K Street p.r. types.
According to the data, the nonprofit Office of Tibet listed 89 lobbying contacts in 2008. The group filed nearly $325,000 in staff, travel and office expenses. It also reported receiving $800,000 in donations, mostly from Tibetan groups around the country.
Those numbers hardly make the office a lobbying heavyweight -- but there are some interesting tidbits. Among the listed media interviews and visits with local Tibetan groups is a meeting with long-time Tibet supporter Richard Gere, the actor. One memorial event honored Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to summit Mount Everest on the Tibet-Nepal border.
Also on the activities list: the Dalai Lama's 73rd birthday party. (He's since turned 74.)
This is understandable lobbying activity. At the same time, if the Dalai Lama has got skin in this game, what hope do we have?
THE DIFFERENCE IS IN THE DOLLARS Progressives are mounting a spirited campaign for the retention of the public option, and they seem to understand that what makes a difference in lawmaking is how many dollar bills you can stack on the table. Our own Ryan Grim sums up the efforts:
Donations in support of Democrats who back a public insurance option as part of health care reform have topped $100,000 from more than 1,500 donors in 24 hours and counting.
The most successful effort to date had been organized around the online community's opposition to retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that collaborated with the Bush administration to spy on Americans. The issue galvanized liberals, but community only raised about $350,000 over the course of a month, said Howie Klein, Blue America PAC's founder and treasurer.
"I've never seen anything like this before," said Klein. "This is the biggest one."
Now, the only problem is that they are still tens of millions of dollars short of the sums that the health care industry has given people like Max Baucus.
REFORM NEEDS AHIP REPLACEMENT In my post today on the tepid, ineffective by design, "pro-reform" ads, one of the organizations I held out for ridicule was America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). Over at National Journal's Under The Influence blog, Beth Sussman extrapolates on this, describing AHIP's essential uselessness:
The private insurance companies don't want interference from the government in their market, and AHIP will not support a government-sponsored insurance option.
AHIP may not have to worry about the public option's inclusion in final legislation, however. After much pushback from Republicans and some moderate Democrats on a government-sponsored plan, the Obama administration signaled this week that it would accept a bill that did not include the public option. (The White House later denied that its position had changed.)
Of course, deals to take the public option off the table are understandable when the White House is getting millions of dollars of ads from AHIP that nominally support health care reform so long as they don't have to be reformed themselves.
DEFENSE DOLLARS USA Today reports on the money that defense lobbyists have poured into Washington. A key finding: Lobbyists have spent more money honoring General David Petraeus than any other honoree, with $467,864 worth of celebration. In second place, President Obama, whose been feted to the tune of $439,970. I'm not sure how successful these measures have been: Obama and SECDEF Gates have drawn lines in the sand on funding priorities, all of which trend in the direction of supporting the counterinsurgency strategy thrust of the Afghanistan mission, which Petraeus authored.
There is this, though:
Lockheed spent nearly $190,000 -- including a $50,000 payment to the National Defense University that lists Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, as the honoree and another $50,000 to the Coast Guard Foundation for a dinner attended by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Lockheed is the top recipient of Defense Department contracts. Last month, the company was awarded an $821 million contract to service Homeland Security surveillance planes.
Lockheed spokesman Jeff Adams said the payments reflect the company's long support for worthy causes. "We secure our contracts through the federal acquisition processes," he added, "not through the intervention of government officials."
HAHAHA. That is pretty hilarious, guy from Lockheed! More here.
August 19, 2009
BONNER FRAUD Apparently, Bonner and Associates, the lobbying firm that came under fire after a "temp" employee sent forged letters to Virginia Representative Tom Perriello, has basically been sending out so many fraudulent letters that it's tough to know where the real letters end and the fake ones begin! Yesterday, Kevin Grandia wrote on this website about how five new forged letters have now emerged, making a grand total of thirteen!
In addition to Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) who received previously confirmed forgeries claiming to represent the NAACP as well as Hispanic and women's advocacy groups, the new letters were also sent to Pennsylvania Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) and Christopher Carney (D-Penn.). Roll Call reports that "all three Members represent conservative, Republican-leaning districts and could be vulnerable in the 2010 elections."
These three members have received a total of 58 letters - possibly all forgeries - a matter being investigated by the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Chairman Markey has called on ACCCE and Bonner & Associates to verify whether the remaining several dozen letters were also sent fraudulently.
By the way! We've always been of the mind that the suggestion that a temporary employee could just walk into Bonner and Associates and just start cold knockin' off forged letters on fake letterhead under the noses of everyone else has the strong odor of manure! We'd still love to hear from any temp employee at Bonner who might be able to shed light on this! Email me!
LOBBYING GOES GLOBAL ProPublica and the Sunlight Foundation have unleashed an array of reports and tools that will help you get up to speed on the extent to which our policies are being shaped by foreign lobbyists. Here's a snapshot:
* Lobbyists for various foreign agents, including a handful of for-profit corporations, disclosed receiving $87 million in fees during the period.
* Lobbyists contacted congressional offices more than 10,700 times, including 2,280 meetings, nearly 2,600 phone conversations and more than 4,000 e-mails, with the balance of contacts in letters and faxes.
* Countries that engaged in the most intensive lobbying campaigns include long-term allies like Turkey and recent adversaries like Libya. Wealthy countries like the oil-rich United Arab Emirates are players, but so are poor nations like Ethiopia, with a per capita GDP of just $800.
For more, check out the following:
THIS DAY IN HEALTH CARE INFLUENCE PEDDLING Over at National Journal's Under The Influence blog, Niraj Chokshi breaks down the numbers on the ten companies that have contributed a quarter of the health-care lobbyist money so far this year. They are PhRMA, Pfizer, the American Hospital Association, the AMA, Eli Lilly, Amgen, Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer AG, and Roche Holdings, and their pile of cash is $70 million of the overall $263 million spent on health care sector lobbying.
Not all spending was necessarily related to the health care legislation, and some insurers -- notably, America's Health Insurance Plans and Blue Cross/Blue Shield -- did not figure into the analysis because they fell outside CRP's five health-related industries: pharmaceuticals/health products, hospitals/nursing homes, health professionals, health services/HMOs and miscellaneous health.
HOW YOUR SAUSAGE GETS GRILLED Even though it's August, you can still crash a fundraising party if you like -- and a cut rate one, at that! For a mere $100, you can grill out with the Chiefs of Staff for Senators Pat Roberts, Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell, Thad Cochran, David Vitter, Tom Coburn, James Inhofe, Chuck Grassley, and John Thune. All those guys probably rank pretty high with the National Rifle Association, so -- in our great new Town Hall tradition -- you should feel free to bring along your favorite assault weapon!
GENERAL ELECTRIC LOBBYING When General Electric isn't cutting side deals with Fox and muzzling Keith Olbermann, they are "bringing good things to life" by spending $7.2 million on Capitol Hill. TELL THEM WHAT THEY'VE WON!
GE lobbied on several pieces of legislation related to the economy and nation's financial system. The company is hoping to benefit from government stimulus spending in areas like energy, where GE makes wind turbines, and on health care information technology. GE produces electronic medical records programs for hospitals and health care providers.
GE also lobbied on bills that included stronger protections for credit card holders and proposals to prop up the nation's financial system. The company's huge GE Capital financial arm deals with a wide range of loans, such as store brand credit cards.
The conglomerate strongly opposes a financial sector reform proposal from the Obama administration that could force GE to split off GE Capital. It now appears unlikely that provision will be approved.
LOBBYIST STAND-INS Apparently, holding places in line for lobbyists isn't just something fun for the homeless anymore. The elderly are getting in on the action!
Rose and Zine Hosein have stand-up jobs -- and get paid $15 an hour for it. They've also learned that being a line-stander is tougher than being a bystander.
The 60-something couple has the ultimate niche occupation in Washington's influence economy, holding places in line for lobbyists outside crowded congressional hearing rooms. They bring folding chairs, coffee and patience to a job regarded by some about as highly as the influence brokers who hire them.
Their days can start before 3 a.m., leaving them to wait -- sometimes outdoors -- for six or more hours. They take off after turning over their spot in line to their customers, and the hearing-room doors swing open. Finding elbow room is up to them.
August 18, 2009
AXELROD AND PhRMA The White House's wranglings with Billy Tauzin's Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America have certainly been eye-opening (and to people who want effective health care reform, depressing). But, brother, this shizz is about to get REAL. The House Republican Conference is going hard after White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod. Why? Peep this, from Bloomberg's Timothy Burger:
Two firms that received $343.3 million to handle advertising for Barack Obama's White House run last year have profited from his top priority as president by taking on his push for health-care overhaul.
One is AKPD Message and Media, the Chicago-based firm headed by David Axelrod until he left last Dec. 31 to serve as a senior adviser to the president. Axelrod was Obama's top campaign strategist and is now helping sell the health-care plan. The other firm is Washington-based GMMB Campaign Group, where partner Jim Margolis was also an Obama strategist.
This year, AKPD and GMMB received $12 million in advertising business from Healthy Economy Now, a coalition that includes the Washington-based Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, that is seeking to build support for a health-care overhaul, said the coalition's spokesman, Jeremy Van Ess.
Burger notes that AKPD still owes Axelrod $2 million, to be paid out in installments beginning at the end of 2009. Politico's Ben Smith, assaying the situation, points out: "It's hard to imagine a situation in which, say, Karl Rove was still getting checks from a firm that was, in turn, employed by the drug lobby not drawing fire from the left." Ben Smith is absolutely right!
And so, to quote the House Republican Conferences Matt Lloyd: "Some may wonder whether White House senior advisors earning millions of dollars paid for in part by the pharmaceutical industry represents the kind of change Americans can believe in."
KENT CONRAD, AT A GLANCE Kent Conrad, who wants America to embrace a future of receiving their health care from untested, crappy health care co-ops, is getting more money from lobbyists and out-of-stater than he is from his own constituents. OpenSecrets has a complete snapshot, detailing exactly who's buying Conrad's vote away from actual North Dakotans..
WHAT'S DASCHLE DOING? Mother Jones' Rachel Morris asks a good question: What WAS Tom Daschle doing on Meet The Press this past Sunday? As Morris points out, Daschle is doing the latest lobbyist two-step that's in vogue right now in Washington: the whole, "LOOKEE! I AM NOT A LOBBYIST ANYMORE! I AM A 'STRATEGIST' NOW. SURELY THAT IS VAGUE ENOUGH, FOR EVERYONE!" Ugh, no.
On one side was fierce, uncompromising reform foe Sen. Tom Coburn, who has said that Obama's plan would "endanger the U.S. economy, but millions of patients as well." And on the other side [Daschle]...a hired gun for insurance behemoth UnitedHealth, which, as BusinessWeek has discovered, is leading the charge to defeat the public option, the centerpiece of liberal goals for reform.
Naturally, NBC didn't bother to disclose any of this! This leads me to wonder if they are taking their journalistic responsibilities very seriously. You know, like disclosure? Like that whole big thing about military analysts last year?
DEMOCRATS SHILL FOR COAL Bob Burton at PR Watch has a great piece today detailing the extent to which various Democratic lobbyshops are in the tank for the coal industry. It all begins with Steve Elmendorf, of Elmendorf Strategies (strategies!), who has a 25 year history of, uhm..."strategizing" with Democratic party politicians:
Steve Elmendorf, who founded Elmendorf Strategies in 2007, was an adviser to various Democratic Party campaigns and politicians for over 25 years. So his connections with Democratic Party movers and shakers seem beyond dispute.
Over the last year Elmendorf and several of his colleagues have been lobbying on climate change issues for the giant U.S. power utility, Ameren, and the Shell oil company. Neither company is mentioned in the limited client list on the firm's website. In 2008 and early 2009, Ameren paid Elmendorf Strategies $120,000 to lobby on "energy issues, global warming and greenhouse gas legislation, energy taxes."
Now, Ameren ended their relationship with Elmendorf STRATEGIES back in April, but other lobbyshops have picked up the business. Among them: The Gephardt Group! All told, Ameren has managed to spend "ten times the amount that the Sierra Club spent in the same period."
MORTGAGE BANK MONIES Mortgage bankers funneled $761,000 to various Congresscritters during the second quarter. TELL THEM WHAT THEY'VE WON, ASSOCIATED PRESS!
The trade group lobbied on numerous pieces of legislation affecting mortgage lending, taxes, housing policy, foreclosure relief and regulation of government-controlled mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to a July 17 filing with the House clerk's office.
In late April, the Senate defeated a plan to spare hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure through bankruptcy. President Barack Obama embraced the measure, but did little to pressure lawmakers who worried it would encourage bankruptcy filings and spike interest rates.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT Dick Armey (aka, The Dick Armey) terminated his employment at DLA Piper, because he's way into fake grassroots anti-health care nuttery, now.
August 17, 2009
A FIELD GUIDE TO HEALTHCARE ASTROTURFING Who are the people in your neighborhood, yelling at elected officials like screaming meemies, and occasionally toting guns? They are the useful idiots of many well-funded, fake-grassroots organizations. Over at McClatchy Newspapers, Margaret Talev offers the Complete Fiend Folio of astroturfery.
OBAMA WON'T BUDGE ON F-22 The White House has threatened to veto any defense bill that does not comport to the spending standards sought by President Obama and SECDEF Gates. That means you, obsolete F-22 fighter plane! Beth Sussman at National Journal's Under the Influence blog has the deets:
"The special interests, contractors and entrenched lobbyists are invested in the status quo. And they're putting up a fight. But make no mistake, so are we," Obama said while addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix. "If a project doesn't support our troops, we will not fund it. If a system doesn't perform, we will terminate it. And if Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with that kind of waste, I will veto it."
As Sussman points out, this is a rare area of alignment between Obama and his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain.
HONDURAN COUP LOBBYING Lanny Davis has been lobbying on behalf of the people who have staged a coup in Honduras. He recently debated NYU Latin American history professor Greg Grandin on the Democracy Now! radio show. Grandin says Davis lied, many many times! Naturally, as Davis is one of the most relentlessly unpleasant people in politics, I am not surprised by any of this!
Through the program, host Amy Goodman demonstrated almost superhuman restraint, professionally refusing to respond to Davis's provocations.
His very first lie accused her of an ideological rant for simply reporting the truth -- for saying that Zelaya accepted a proposal to settle the crisis brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
This is demonstrably true -- Zelaya has repeatedly indicated a willingness to accept the compromise; Micheletti, on the other hand, is playing for time until November's regularly scheduled presidential elections -- yet Davis repeatedly insisted otherwise.
My favorite part of the debate took place about a third into the show, when in response to me pointing out that he was carrying out ad hominem attacks, Davis said that I was the one engaging in ad hominem, since I used the word "elite" to describe supporters of the coup.
"'Elite' is an ad hominem word," Davis said.
For fifteen more supposed lies, click here!
August 15, 2009
TARP limits on lobbyists still haven't taken effect
The Wall Street Journal reports:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's stated intention of limiting the influence of lobbyists over the $700 billion TARP has "yet to get off the ground -- even as the program nears an end."
Just a few hours after being sworn in last January, Mr. Geithner promised to craft rules preventing external influence over bailout decisions. More than six months later -- and 100 days before the financial-industry bailout program is scheduled to stop taking applications for aid -- those rules have yet to be finalized.
August 14, 2009
Armey resigns amid Freedom Works scrutiny
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) is resigning from DLA Piper law firm, Politico reports, because of criticism of his organization FreedomWorks and its role in town hall disruptions.
In an interview with POLITCO Armey said that he was concerned about the media scrutiny the health care protests were drawing to the firm he has been associated with since retiring from Congress.
"The firm is busy with its business, and shouldn't be asked to take time out from their work, to defend themselves of spurious allegations," Armey said. "No client of this firm is going to be free to mind its own business without harassment as long as I'm associated with it."
In April, ThinkProgress reported on how Armey used the "grassroots" FreedomWorks movement to support his corporate lobbying clients.
-- Rachel Weiner
Still a work in progress
We know everyone's been busy, but this is ridiculous. Meena Thiruvengadam writes for Dow Jones Newspapers:
A few hours after being sworn in as U.S. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner in January promised to fight lobbyist influence over bank bailout decisions. More than six months later and 100 days before the controversial program is scheduled to stop taking applications,
details of the Tr