Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lobbying Blitz Takes On Obama’s Wall St. Overhaul

With the Obama administration looking to score another major legislative victory, an array of pro-business groups and fiscal conservatives are mounting a well-financed campaign to scale back or block altogether the Democrats’ plan to overhaul regulation of the financial industry, The New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau and Edward Wyatt report from Washington.

By the time the campaign is over, opponents of regulation plans will probably have spent tens of millions of dollars to lobby Washington lawmakers, run advertisements and start petition drives. It is an effort that many of the players, from the United States Chamber of Commerce down to smaller splinter groups, see as vital to their economic survival.

“This is a re-ordering of our financial institutions for generations to come,” Paul Schott Stevens, president of the Investment Company Institute, said last week at a meeting hosted by the chamber.

Wall Street executives say that although they support increased regulation, the changes sought by Democrats could exacerbate the problems that emerged in the 2008 economic crisis rather than fix them. Among the targets of their criticism are the creation of a consumer financial protection agency, the establishment of a multibillion-dollar fund to head off bailouts of companies deemed “too big to fail,” and the regulation of derivatives as well as other high-risk trading instruments.

On the opposing side, labor unions and other groups are pushing hard to enact tougher measures, including provisions to rein in executive compensation and allow shareholders more say on a company’s board.

Many of the arguments the financial industry is making in opposition to the plan echo the themes heard in the health care debate: more government involvement is the problem, not the solution; tightened regulation risks stifling competition; and the plan is fiscally irresponsible.

But the common refrains mask the divisions among the legislation’s opponents, who tend to agree that the overhaul is dangerous but point to very different elements of the House and Senate plans.

“I don’t think there’s a unified business community position yet, nor do I think there will be because there are so many different interests,” Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist for Citigroup and other major firms, said in an interview.

“There are obviously a lot of stakeholders here — Wall Street, big banks, hedge funds, insurers, mortgage brokers — who all care about what happens here,” he said.

Indeed, the issue has attracted a dizzying array of lobbyists since last year, when the House began considering, and ultimately passed, a bill to impose a wide range of new restrictions. The debate has shifted to the Senate, where the Senate Banking Committee approved a Democratic plan on a straight party-line vote.

By the end of last year, lobbyists from some 400 businesses and groups, including bankers, beer makers, cruise ship operators and grocery stores, had registered with Congress to weigh in on the regulatory reform, according to data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity, a research and advocacy group in Washington. That number is expected to climb when new lobbying reports are filed next month.

In the last decade, the financial sector has spent more money than any other industry to influence Washington policy — more than $3.9 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Wall Street’s resistance to some of the plan’s core elements has already drawn condemnation from the Obama administration.

One of the more public campaigns against the Democrats’ reforms does not come from Wall Street, however. It comes from an obscure, Republican-leaning group that is seeking to cast the plan as a boon to Wall Street.

The group, the Committee for Truth in Politics, has spent an estimated $5 million on advertising against the proposals, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which monitors political advertising. The ads portray the financial reforms — misleadingly, the administration says — as a $4 trillion bailout for big banks.

The group’s membership and financing have been kept secret, and it has refused to divulge its donors; it is suing the Federal Election Commission, claiming the rules for disclosure in political advertising are an unconstitutional impediment to free speech.

James Bopp Jr., the lawyer and conservative advocate who represents the group in its lawsuit, said in an interview that the ads accurately reflected a section in the House bill that would allow the Federal Reserve to spend up to $4 trillion to stabilize the financial system in a liquidity crisis. He said characterizing the bill as anything other than a bailout “is a typical Washington lie where politicians do one thing in Washington, which is to advance the Obama socialist agenda, and lie about it when they go home because they don’t want anyone to know about it.”

But Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who guided the bill through the House, calls the ad campaign “a complete mischaracterization” of the legislation, which he said would limit the Fed’s ability to support otherwise healthy banks during a liquidity crisis and prevent the type of bailouts that have gone to the American International Group and other giant firms.

The ads have run in about 10 states, including those of Democratic members of the Senate Banking Committee.

Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, said his office had received “hundreds” of calls citing the “bailout” language in an ad by the Committee for Truth in Politics, after it started being broadcast in his state in February. “This is not a bailout,” he said of the Senate bill. “I don’t support bailouts.”

The plan’s focus on tighter regulation of “too big to fail” institutions has also pitted bigger banks against smaller ones, with the smaller, community-based banks generally supportive of the proposed regulations and Wall Street opposed.

Camden R. Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, an association that spent about $4.75 million last year on federal lobbying, said his organization was outmatched in finances and resources in the debate by Wall Street’s representatives in Washington.

“Literally, when our guys are walking into a key senator’s office” to plead their case on the legislation, “they can see four or five Wall Street lobbyists walking out, and that can be a little intimidating.”

The Chamber of Commerce, which spent a reported $123 million on lobbying last year, has already spent $3 million on ads criticizing the reform proposals, and it plans to spend at least that much more on future ads, David Hirschmann, senior vice president of the chamber, said in an interview. The group is reaching out to Democrats and Republicans, he said, on the Senate Banking Committee and elsewhere.

The intensity of the rhetoric was on display at last week’s Chamber of Commerce meeting. The deputy Treasury secretary, Neal S. Wolin, was invited as the keynote lunch speaker and surprised some audience members by offering a bruising indictment of the chamber’s position on regulatory reform, calling the opposition “shortsighted and misguided.”

“As the president has made clear, we will oppose efforts to weaken it,” Mr. Wolin said. “And my primary message to you today is this: so should you.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Viewpoint: Massachusetts lobbying law has unintended consequences

When Gov. Deval L. Patrick signed the Ethics, Lobbying and Campaign Finance Reform bill into law on July 1, many of us celebrated its measures to create a more open, honest government, and many of the changes were good and necessary.

However, many professionals, including nonprofit leaders, spoke out about the potential unintended consequences and confusion surrounding the lobbying provisions of the law.

The law now requires a person to register as a lobbyist if he or she engages in “lobbying” and makes at least one communication to a government employee. But since “lobbying” is now defined to include the behind-the-scenes time spent on planning, researching issues and preparing comments and testimony on a wide range of legislative and executive branch matters, the law will cover many more people that few would regard as lobbyists.

Consider the following examples: A recent college graduate is hired as a research analyst for an environmental advocacy organization.

The analyst spends several weeks researching the environmental impact of a proposed natural resources regulation and writes up her analysis. She attends a meeting of environmental specialists with a governmental employee to explain her findings.

The executive director of a homeless shelter sees that cuts in a proposed state budget would effectively close his shelter and put families on the street. He spends days pleading with any government official he can to restore the funding.

The head of a community hospital discovers that a state rule change would save the state money and allow for better health care to be provided to the working poor. She writes up her idea and meets with a government official to persuade the state to change the rule.

In each of these examples and in many others like them the individual likely would be required to register as a lobbyist.

Registration not only includes the payment of a fee, but also will require both the individual and the individual’s employer to make detailed reports every six months. The reports include which matters the individual “lobbied” on, what position he or she espoused, how much in salary and other costs – ranging from postage to electricity – was spent in support of the “lobbying” and more.

Every hour and every dollar spent on responding to these administrative obligations is time and money diverted from the organization’s core mission. Some fear that many people who are required to register under the new law will unintentionally fail to do so, thereby incurring liability for the new fines and criminal penalties.

However, our most serious concern is an impact that can be major, profound and negative, and yet still go unnoticed. We have heard from many in the nonprofit community that they will not violate the law, nor will they become registered lobbyists.

They will simply choose not to get involved in civic engagement at all at the state level, saying, “It’s just not worth the hassle.” This response not only results in a decrease in needed civic engagement by citizens, but it also deprives government of the expertise of people most directly affected by government action or inaction.

I was told recently by a representative of a major nonprofit with expertise in housing matters that in-house staff experts were advised that they should no longer communicate with government employees for fear that they might be violating the lobbying law.

The perverse irony here is that when the voice of organizations that focus on the needs of those without power and money is suppressed, the voice of those with power and money is enhanced: clearly not the intent of the reform bill!

We at the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network,, have been actively involved in following these issues and advocating for legislative clarifications. It has been tough because policymakers fear being judged as “watering down” the law.

We will continue to track the impact of the new law, attempt to help others understand the changes as clarification emerges and propose clarifying or moderating legislation if necessary.

In the meantime, we recommend that people seeking clarification check the website of Secretary Galvin, It may not answer all questions, but it is the best official source available at this time. It might also be appropriate to speak with local legislators about the unintended consequences of the Act.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gibbs asked if Emanuel lobbied House member nude in the House gym

At the Tuesday White House briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Rahm Emanuel.......

Q Robert, as long as we're asking about lobbying members of the Congress, I have to ask you whether you've had a chance to talk to Rahm Emmanuel about whether or not he lobbied Congressman Massa in the nude in the House gym and whether that's a standard practice or not?

MR. GIBBS: I have -- you're happy to email him. I have not asked him.

Q But can you speak to the larger issue that Congressman Massa -- I understand that he resigned. Obviously a lot of Democrats don't want to talk to him. He has shifted his story about what exactly is the reason why he's left. But he's leveling these charges, broadly speaking, that Democrats, the White House, Democratic leaders wanted to push him out because he's a "no" on health care. Can you deal with that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I addressed this largely this morning, Ed. Keeping in mind that on Wednesday he announced he would not seek reelection because of a health problem that he said was a recurrence of cancer; on Thursday he said he wasn't running because -- not because of cancer but because of his use of salty language; on Friday he seemed to take some responsibility for his actions at a different event, and we learned that the ethics committee was looking into his actions relating to sexual harassment -- so I don't know why I would give any weight to what he said on the fourth day any more than I would on the previous three days, Ed. The notion that somehow the White House had anything to do with the series of events that have caused him to not seek reelection and ultimately leave the House -- the notion that somehow we were involved in that I think is, as I said this morning, is silly and ridiculous.

Darden Restaurants spends $290K to lobby in 4Q


Darden Restaurants Inc. spent nearly $300,000 in the fourth quarter to lobby on issues related to food safety and menu nutrition information along with other matters, according to a recent disclosure report.

The trade group also lobbied the federal government on legislation related to tax law for depreciation and charitable contributions, collective bargaining measures and health insurance legislation.

In the October-through-December period, the group lobbied both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, according to a disclosure report filed in January with the House clerk's office.