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“People say to me, ‘I don’t lobby. I engage in strategic planning and education,’” he said. “I say to them, ‘That’s exactly what lobbying is — if it’s for the purpose of influencing legislation or policy, not strategic planning on who’s going to win the Super Bowl.’”
Added William Minor, a lobbying expert at DLA Piper: “There is confusion about the 20 percent. They think, ‘I only made a couple of phone calls, it took an hour.’ But the question is always 20 percent of your time for that client. What else did you do unrelated to lobbying activity for that client?”
The 20 percent cutoff is precisely one of the reasons the ABA is lobbying for an expanded definition of lobbying, Susman said. In August, the ABA approved a resolution that would expand lobbying disclosure and registration rules and require a two-year cooling-off period for lobbyists making campaign contributions.
“Our feeling is the lobbying disclosure law is not capturing the full picture of money being paid to influence official decision-making,” Susman said. The ABA resolution calls on Congress to require LDA registrants and their clients to report “lobbying support activities” by the firms they retain, “including strategy, polling, coalition building and public relations activities.”
Howard Marlowe, a registered lobbyist who is president of the American League of Lobbyists, said his organization also plans to release a proposal in March that would “close the Gingrich loophole.”
Marlowe said many K Streeters operate in the shadows even if, in reality, their work meets the two-contact, 20 percent threshold.
“You can do it because there’s no enforcement. Nobody’s gonna find you,” he said. “We think anybody who is doing advocacy work — and getting paid — ought to be transparent to the public.”
It’s precisely the kind of influence consulting that’s stirred up controversies over the advocacy work of former lawmakers such as ex-Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Dole initially denied being a lobbyist but eventually registered as one.
Daschle signed on as a “special policy adviser” with the K Street shop of Alston & Bird, an ambiguous and controversial role that helped knock him out of the running to be Health and Human Services secretary when President Barack Obama took office.
For his part, Gingrich has forcefully denied Romney’s attempts to paint him as a K Street "influence-peddler," saying flatly during the Monday debate: “I have never done any lobbying.” But three former Members of Congress and one sitting House Member have told various news outlets that Gingrich contacted them in 2003 to urge them to vote for a bill that expanded prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has called for a federal investigation into whether Gingrich violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
“Mr. Gingrich was a lobbyist, and he should not be allowed to play word games with the American people,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.
The Gingrich campaign did not respond to email requests for comment on this article.