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Lobbyists Ask Obama for a Hand

Former Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.), a lobbyist with K&L Gates who serves on the league’s board, said he wants to do away with the 20 percent threshold altogether, even if that means a corporate CEO will have to register.

“We just think the administration’s position on lobbying is really working exactly the opposite of what they want,” Walsh said.

Tom Susman, an active ALL member who is director of the American Bar Association’s government affairs office, said  his group came up with a series of lobbying proposals last year that it, too, is urging Congress to adopt. Among its ideas, the ABA has called for a ban on lobbyists fundraising for Members they’ve lobbied in the past two years. That hasn’t gotten much traction on Capitol Hill and isn’t likely to be included in ALL’s recommendations, either.

“I wish I could find someone in Congress as interested as the president,” said Susman, who added that he and Marlowe have met a few times to discuss their respective reform efforts.

“It’s slow, there’s controversy,” Susman said. “None of this to me suggests that nothing can be done.”

Nick Allard, a Democrat who co-runs the lobbying practice at Patton Boggs and helped the ABA draft its proposals, said the president’s rhetoric on lobbyists is counterproductive for both K Street and government.

“It’s like scratching a rash: It feels good for a second but actually makes things worse,” Allard said. “It is not only demonstrably wrong that lobbyists are the cause of all the problems, but it breeds distrust of our government.”

As for the status of the league’s recommended reforms, Marlowe said he has conducted six listening sessions with the organization’s members, as well as two with his board. Meanwhile, an ALL working group is trying to sort through the suggestions and will likely have something ready to unveil next month. The group then plans to lobby Capitol Hill to implement its proposals. And, as the letter says, the league would like to get Obama on board where “common ground exists.”

Noting the internal disagreements,  Marlowe acknowledged that the next month won’t be easy — with or without Obama’s help. Though the league’s membership is mostly unanimous on eliminating the 20 percent loophole, even that proposal is not without dissent. Some lobbyists are concerned about roping in citizen advocates who might come to town as part of corporate or association fly-ins.

“Is it hard? Yeah,” Marlowe said. “Is it doable? Yes, it’s my job.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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