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Lobbyists Shook Up Over Ethics Bill

August 6, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The fact that lobbyists are getting nervous about having information about their work made public is a good indication that we really do need to know more about what they are doing. Last week, Congress passed the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, a bill that has sent “”"target="_blank">a ripple of fear through K Street."

>It comes amid signs that federal prosecutors are taking a newly aggressive approach to corruption cases — including treating campaign contributions as potential bribes.
>By requiring them to certify the good behavior of their employees, the law puts lobbyists at new legal risk and could subject them to new pressure from prosecutors. And new centralized disclosures of lobbyists’ campaign contributions, fund-raising activities and even their achievements — in the form of Congressional earmarks in spending bills — make it only easier for federal investigators to paint unflattering portraits of lobbyists’ influence.
>“It will be easier to connect dots,” said Ted Van Der Meid, a Washington lawyer who was counsel to Representative J. Dennis Hastert when he was House speaker. “Even if there shouldn’t be a connection, you are going to have to explain to them how the way they connected the dots is not what you intended. You are going to have to basically prove your innocence.”
>Stanley Brand, a longtime Washington defense lawyer who usually represents Democrats, said the law was a sea change. “It should send shivers down lobbyists’ spines,” Mr. Brand said. “It is a minefield now.”

But at least one part of the bill could be a boon for the lobbyists. Like the earmark disclosure rules that the House approved in January, the new rule requiring lawmakers to disclose the identity of any lobbyist who “bundles” together $15,000 or more in campaign contributions, could lead to a more competitive bundling market.

>For lawmakers, one of the most contentious elements of the package is the requirement that candidates disclose the names of federally registered lobbyists who solicit and “bundle” contributions. But lobbyists say the recognition may only encourage them to bundle. Ties to lawmakers are calling cards for clients.
>“That is not going to be viewed as the mark of Cain or anything,” Lawrence O’Brien III, a Democratic lobbyist and fund-raiser, said dryly. “It could be perceived as bragging rights.”

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