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Lobbyists Rebrand Themselves Consultants, Evade Campaign Finance Laws


Honest Leadership and Open Government Act is no match for determined lobbyists.


Other "non-lobbyists" on the GOP Convention Strategies staff also happen to be experienced government hands, including a former George H.W. Bush staffer, a George W. Bush appointee, a one-time political director for the National Senatorial Republican Committee who also served as executive vice president for public affairs at the American Gas Association, as well as the aforementioned Amy Ford Bradley – a principal at the Direct Connect Consulting Group who "has been actively involved in political fundraising and strategy for the past 18 years and served in top-level positions under Chairman Phil Gramm and Chairman Mitch McConnell at the National Republican Senatorial Committee." (Direct Connect demonstrates how flexible the rules can be about what does and does not constitute lobbying, insisting on its website: "We do not lobby; we focus behind-the-scenes to position your advocacy team to be at the forefront of opportunities that ensures your company stays a step ahead. We elevate your company's voice through the creation and implementation of a customized strategy. We research and then reach out to companies with similar interests to create a coalition to maximize your voice, and design a plan to spend your hard-earned PAC dollars in a setting that will get the undivided attention of policy makers.")

An Uphill Battle

"I'm trying to shut down parties that are hosted by lobbyists, honoring members of Congress," Craig Holman, says.

Sadly, he's not having much luck.

In 2008, the last time the quadrennial political conventions were held, Holman embarked on a similar "bird-dogging" campaign in partnership with the Sunlight Foundation.

"Out of 400 parties, I was able to shut down one," Holman says. "I'm hoping to double my record this time around."

Though carefully arranged to land just this side of the law, legislators can get testy when challenged.

At another event put on by GOP Convention Strategies and sponsored by major transportation companies including BNSF Railways (BNI) and Norfolk Southern (NSC), George Zornick of The Nation asked Senator Jim Inhofe (himself involved in legislation stripping thousands of railroad workers of federal minimum-wage and overtime protections) who was throwing the party.

"[I]t's a transportation thing. Transportation industry," Inhofe replied, before claiming not to have "met many" lobbyists inside and calling Zornick a "punk" before walking away.

Indeed, the GOP is far more adept at wringing large amounts of money out of deep-pocketed donors.

"On the GOP side is where the worst of it is," says Holman. "It's an amazingly sad state of affairs."

However, neither political party is blameless.

The one event out of 400 Craig Holman was able to shut down four years ago?

"A lobbyist-sponsored party for the House freshman Democrats who had just been elected to office in 2006," he told me in an email message, "on an ethics platform."

Follow Justin Rohrlich on Twitter: @chickenalaking
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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