April 1, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Ex-Gingrich Adviser Now Trying to Close Lobbying Loopholes

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

The lawyer who a decade ago advised Newt Gingrich on how to engage in advocacy without officially becoming a lobbyist is now working to close the loopholes that enable the former Speaker and other Members to avoid public disclosure.

Gingrich argued in a GOP debate Monday night that he was never a lobbyist, which is true largely because the lobbying rules allow individuals to conduct limited advocacy activities without being legally required to register.

Gingrich said he had hired an expert in lobbying law to make sure he never did anything that would qualify him as a lobbyist.

That expert was Thomas Susman, now the director of governmental affairs at the American Bar Association, which is pushing to expand the lobbying disclosure rules so that advocacy professionals dont fly under the radar as Gingrich did.

In the year 2000, Mr. Gingrich said: Im going to have consulting, strategizing whatever it is take me around the country, and I dont ever want to cross the line and register as a lobbyist, said Susman, who at that time was a lawyer with Ropes & Gray. And thats what I was hired to do.

Susman confirmed that he trained staff members at Gingrichs firm, then known as the Gingrich Group. He declined to go into the details of his advice to Gingrich but said the definition of a federal lobbyist is clear: someone who spends at least 20 percent of his time for each client on lobbying activity and also makes two contacts with covered government officials.

There is a clear line at 20 percent, Susman said. At 19 percent, even if you get $100,000 for your advice, youre not required to register under federal law. Its fairly clean.

But things are trickier than they look, say experts familiar with the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Lobbying activity includes the typical K Street work such as asking a Member of Congress to vote for a bill. But it also includes behind-the-scenes strategy sessions with colleagues and clients to prepare for meetings or contacts with covered officials.

If an in-house lobbyist is going to be speaking with somebody on the Hill and says, Do you know this guy? Whats the best way to approach him? And you help him prepare, thats lobbying, explained Ken Gross, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who specializes in lobbying laws and ethics.

And its much easier to trigger a lobbying contact than one might think, Gross said. Calling a Congressional aide to set up a meeting or urging the staffer to take a clients phone call is, in most cases, a lobbying contact. Even being present but not speaking during a clients meeting on Capitol Hill is a lobbying contact, he added.

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