Represent.Us’ American Anti-Corruption Act received a thumbs-down from the American League of Lobbyists, partly because one of its advisers was Abramoff, above, the former lobbyist convicted after a corruption scandal that led to new ethics and lobbying restrictions.
The league also considers the American Anti-Corruption Act’s lobbyist restrictions unconstitutional, outgoing ALL President Howard Marlowe said. Represent.Us organizers offer an extensive constitutional defense of the plan on their website, but Marlowe remains unconvinced.
Nevertheless, he said, lobbyists are receptive to rules changes and have voiced “serious concern” about the role of campaign contributions in the policymaking process. ALL spent 15 months coming up with its package of proposed changes, he noted, which were approved unanimously. The group debated different approaches to separating lobbying from fundraising but was unable to reach consensus on that point, Marlowe said.
“In the lobbying community, there are a number of lobbyists who believe that they cannot lobby outside of the campaign fundraising process,” Marlowe said. “The reason for that is that the easiest way to get the time and attention of a member of Congress and/or his legislative staff is at a campaign fundraiser.”
This is in part an unintended consequence of the post-Abramoff ethics overhaul, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which banned lobbyist gifts and meals, said Marlowe.
ALL has toiled alongside the ABA and other change-minded groups to convince lawmakers to at least hold a hearing on expanding lobbying disclosure rules. The lobbying profession has grown to include armies of advocates who fall outside the Lobbying Disclosure Act, Marlowe maintains, because they engage in grass-roots or “grass-tops” advocacy, as opposed to meetings with lawmakers.
“They are seeing a lot of people who are coming before them who are paid to advocate but who are not registered,” Marlowe said. “And that does not do well for them, and it does not do well for us.”
But the group’s proposals to change lobbying rules have not yet generated much response on Capitol Hill, Marlowe said: “So far, the telephone hasn’t rung.”
Proponents of the American Anti-Corruption Act maintain it would change the culture of Washington more dramatically than either the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act or the other campaign finance proposals on the table, including disclosure and public financing legislation. The Anti-Corruption Act would also limit campaign donations from lobbyists and their clients to $500 a year and lengthen the cooling-off period for federal lawmakers leaving Capitol Hill for K Street.
If the plan’s authors were serious, “then they would sit down with us, and with the ABA, and with public interest groups” already working on lobbying fixes, Marlowe said. These players “don’t always agree by any means on everything,” he added, “but we definitely all agree on the need for transparency and accountability and the serious concern that we have about the role of money in the political process.”