AFL-CIO Fails on Disclosure

Posted November 21, 2003 at 6:22pm

Officials at the AFL-CIO are blaming “human error” for the organization’s failure to report presumably millions of dollars spent lobbying Congress over the past two years, while insisting there had been no attempt made to shield the group’s lobbying activities from public view.

Senior officials at the labor group attributed the lapses to the organization’s legal division, which has been tasked with vetting and then filing the reports with Congress. Officials discovered when they made inquiries into the missing reports last week that the reports had never even been compiled.

Bill Samuel, the organization’s top lobbyist, said the lawyers told him that they had been unable to collect all the information they needed from the AFL-CIO’s numerous departments, and “rather than sending them in incomplete, they waited for taxicab receipts and other things.”

“I think it was poor staff work,” Samuel said. “And without pointing any fingers, it was our legal people [who were at fault].”

AFL-CIO officials said the organization was expecting by Monday to file a report covering the six-month period ending June 30, along with its missing year-end report from 2001.

However, AFL-CIO officials “may still be reviewing” the two missing reports from the interval, and these disclosures will be filed as soon as they are ready, a spokeswoman said.

Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, it is illegal for anyone who lobbies Congress to “knowingly” fail to comply with the reporting requirements or fail to correct a “defective filing,” once it is cited by Congressional officials. Violators can face civil fines of up to $50,000.

In defending their failure to file the reports, AFL-CIO officials said they had not been aware of the oversight until it was revealed to them last week, and indicated they never received any notices from Capitol Hill that would have noted the lapses in filing.

But a senior Congressional official who is involved in overseeing the disclosure process said records clearly show that the AFL-CIO, like every other group that lobbies Congress, was sent reminders before the end of each filing period that the deadline loomed.

“They’re in the lobbying database. They got the [reminders],” the official said.

The official acknowledged, however, that the AFL-CIO has probably not received so-called “dun letters” that are sent to lapsed filers. A backlog of those reminders piled up as an indirect consequence of the Capitol Hill anthrax attacks of 2001, and the bulk of the 2001 and 2002 letters will not go out until December.

The Congressional official said lobbying reports are not always complete when they are filed, and that lobbyists often amend their reports as new information comes in. Lobbyists are required to file on time regardless of whether their reports are complete, the official added.

AFL-CIO officials said it remains a mystery even to them how the organization managed to go two years without filing a report — a rote practice at any active lobbying shop in Washington.

“We have no excuse,” Samuel said. “If we [in the legislative affairs division] had known [the reports weren’t] submitted, we would have done it ourselves. From now on, I think we will do it ourselves.”

In generic terms, the semiannual reports provide broad detail of lobbying efforts during the filing period, as well as the total amount of money spent in support of those efforts.

The last report filed by the AFL-CIO, covering the six months ending June 30, 2001, revealed nearly $1.3 million in expenditures.

The two-year period in question covers virtually the duration of the Bush presidency, whose onset marked a turning point for organized labor’s fortunes on Capitol Hill.

As a result, some Republicans have insinuated there may be more than coincidence to the timing. They note that the practical effect of the lapse would be to obscure the AFL-CIO’s lobbying activities during one of the most contentious legislative periods in the group’s recent history (even if evidently no one sought out the disclosures during that time).

House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio), who charged the AFL-CIO with waging “an unprecedented campaign of lies” against GOP initiatives in recent years, singled out legislation that would enable businesses to provide “comp time” in lieu of overtime pay — a measure organized labor has fought tooth-and-nail.

“Did the AFL-CIO fail to disclose the lobbying resources and tactics it devoted to this project? If so, why?” Boehner asked.

He added, “If law or rules were broken, it should be investigated, and there should be accountability.”