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K Street Brought Out Big Guns to Kill DISCLOSE

The business community has spent mightily trying to defeat the Democratic-backed DISCLOSE Act, which suffered a bruising loss in the Senate earlier this week. Lobbying disclosure reports show that the campaign finance bill set off a flurry of lobbying activity in recent months.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher was the latest firm to report lobbying on the contentious legislation. According to Senate records, the firm was paid $90,000 in the second quarter by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to sway Members against the DISCLOSE Act as well as to influence the Wall Street bill.

On July 21, Ziebart Consulting also reported collecting $40,000 by the National Association of Business Political Action Committee for the most recent three-month disclosure period.

Lobbyist Geoff Ziebart said the primary burst of advocacy work on the DISCLOSE Act happened soon after it was introduced in the House on April 29. In an attempt to prohibit international involvement in the American election process, Democrats tried to ban foreign firms from funding political ads, a complicated task in a global economy where it’s not always easy to define a domestic company.

Soon after the bill’s debut, Ziebart said Republican lawyer Jan Baran alerted the downtown business community of the possible unintended consequences in the Democrats’ new campaign finance bill, which the bill’s authors quickly fixed.

“We had a good response to our efforts,” Ziebart said. “The specific provisions related to our issues — preservation of political action committees — were preserved in the House.”

Baran, who runs the firm Wiley Rein’s election law practice, said the lobbying involvement by the business community on this campaign finance bill dwarfs the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which banned specific unlimited corporate contributions to political parties.

“The business community wasn’t all ratcheted up about banning soft money contributions to the political parties — they didn’t want to pay it anyway,” Baran said. “But telling the business community that they’re going to be excessively regulated and openly discouraged from doing public advertising — on potentially very important issues like the Employee Free Choice Act — that got everybody’s attention.”

Lobbying records make it difficult to determine exactly how much corporate interests and watchdog groups have spent trying the influence the bill since it was introduced this spring.

Still, the public disclosures clearly show that since April 1, more than 100 lobbying firms, corporations, unions, watchdog groups and trade associations have registered to influence facets of the DISCLOSE Act, which would bulk up disclosure requirements for companies, trade associations and unions that run televised political ads with unregulated money.

Democrats proposed the new requirements following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in January, a narrow ruling that threw out many restrictions on direct political spending by unions, corporations and nonprofit groups.

Senate records show that a chamber-linked group paid Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to lobby against the DISCLOSE bill, which faces an uncertain future after failing to muster the necessary votes to cut off debate in the Senate. In the second quarter, energy giant Exxon Mobil paid Avenue Solutions $60,000 to lobby Members on the DISCLOSE Act and other pieces of legislation. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association also paid the shop $50,000 for second-quarter lobbying on the DISCLOSE Act and other bills, Senate records show.

Senate filings also detail how trade associations of all sizes worked vigorously to shape the bill, which went through numerous iterations in the House before passage there — and is likely to see many more if it is ever to pass the Senate. In addition to the chamber, big players such as the National Federation of Independent Business, AARP, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers reported official lobbying contacts with lawmakers, as did the National Rifle Association, which successfully lobbied for a carve-out in the House bill.

A Democratic lobbyist said the bulk of corporate outreach on the campaign finance bill was done primarily by companies based outside of the United States but that have substantial operations here. According to Senate filings, large international firms reported lobbying Members — or hiring others to do so — on the DISCLOSE Act in recent months, including Sony and Honda (Japan), the financial firm UBS (Switzerland) and drugmaker Novo Nordisk (Denmark). The lobbyist also speculated that many companies, particularly domestic firms, took a pass on the legislation.

“A lot of companies decided not spend political chits on it,” the lobbyist said.

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