Aug. 28, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Lobbyists Ask Obama for a Hand

The American League of Lobbyists is sort of like the teen outcast who somehow comes up with the gumption to ask the most popular guy at school not only to stop making fun of her, but also for a date.

The guy, in this case, is President Barack Obama. And the date would come in the form of a meeting about changes to the laws that govern K Street.

The lobbyists’ group is hoping to tamp down the commander in chief’s vitriol for the influence industry while harnessing some of his enthusiasm for reforms aimed at the sector.

But three days after writing to Obama, who has never concealed his disdain for federal lobbyists, the league waits. And waits.

“We’ll give them a couple days, and then we’ll call,” said Howard Marlowe, the league’s president. “We’re going to keep on pressing to actually get a meeting.”

The lobbyists hold little hope for a face-to-face with Obama, but Marlowe said they’d be happy to meet with officials from the Office of Government Ethics.

The outreach to the Obama administration comes at a crucial time for the group, which is in the midst of negotiations among its membership to come up with a set of reforms to the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Not surprisingly, K Street in general, and the league in particular, is not of one mind on how to best regulate the industry.

Some lobbyists favor sweeping efforts to prohibit them from fundraising and giving campaign donations. Others say such measures would kill their businesses by limiting their access to Members of Congress.

There are also disagreements about loopholes in the current lobbying law that allow people such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Steve Ricchetti to escape the branding of being a registered lobbyist while still making a living by representing clients seeking to influence government actions. Ricchetti, of course, was recently named a counselor to Vice President Joseph Biden; he unregistered as a lobbyist — even though he continued to run his government relations firm Ricchetti Inc. — so he would not be subject to Obama’s ban on lobbyists joining his administration.

“You have attacked lobbyists as being the primary source of political dysfunction, yet you have embraced those lobbyists who choose to call themselves consultants, advisors, or any other name besides a lobbyist,” Marlowe wrote in the league’s March 12 letter.

The Obama administration declined to comment as of press time.

One loophole Marlowe said the league wants to close is known as the 20 percent threshold. The LDA allows people to lobby without registering as a federal lobbyist if their influence activities amount to less than 20 percent of their duties for any given client. Some call it a CEO exemption — allowing a top executive to fly into Washington, D.C., for lobbying meetings while not requiring that person to register as a lobbyist. But it also allows high-profile folks with future aspirations for government work or an elected position to keep their advocacy work concealed from public view.

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