One said that a few colleagues have raised the possibility of terminating their lobbying registrations and moving into roles within their firms that are officially classified as non-lobbying, to avoid travel or gift bans if they apply only to registered lobbyists.
“I was at a party yesterday with a friend who said this is what he’s going to do,” said the Republican lobbyist.
And how about getting around new limits on Members using corporate jets? The Democratic lobbyist said he’d heard about lobbyists trying to get state party committees to charter corporate flights for Members.
Another GOP lobbyist said he’s been preparing himself for months to deal with a gift ban, which is expected to keep in place the numerous exceptions for widely attended stand-up receptions and for pre-existing personal friendships.
If the exemption for widely attended events holds, this lobbyist said, he would consider holding quarterly parties instead of just one holiday party each year.
“I need to have contact with staff that’s not official business,” he said. “If I can’t take them to lunch or can’t take them to sporting events, I have to figure out how I can spend some time with them without being annoying.”
Several lobbyists said that fundraising events, too, will be at a premium, especially if Congress does not enact any campaign finance reforms geared toward lobbyists.
“I am going to be embraced and hugged and kissed as long as I’m giving them a check” for their campaign, said one lobbyist.
Most of the 18 lobbyists interviewed for this article said they would use fundraisers to talk more about legislative issues that affect their clients. Some lobbyists say they feel that doing so has been historically seen as taboo — though experts say such chatter does not violate any current rules on campaign finance or lobbying.
“It looks more like a quid pro quo,” said one GOP lobbyist. But most agreed that they won’t hesitate to talk business — especially if Members ask what issues they’re working on.
Still, not all lobbyists expect much hardship from the proposed reforms.
Andy Rosenberg, a Democratic lobbyist at the Federalist Group, said a gift ban won’t faze him because he hasn’t bought an aide a lunch or taken one to a sports event over the past year, he said.
“We’re discontinuing our baseball tickets,” he said. “Regardless of what the leadership does, the firm has taken a very strict position, and it hasn’t impacted our ability to get things done for clients.”
But, Rosenberg added, the cultural changes may still be hard to fully adapt to.
In a recent meeting, he said, he and his colleagues were trying to figure out a way to “educate” a new Congressional staff person on a client’s issue. “I was about to say that ‘maybe we can take him out ... ,’ and another person finished the sentence by saying ‘Don’t say lunch, because you can’t take him out to lunch.’”
It’s made lobbying “a little less fun and a little less social,” he added.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.