Friday, July 11, 2008, 3:07 PM

Political GPS: New Semi-Annual Lobbying Report: Could There Be Changes Before July 30?

With less than three weeks to go, Congressional officials are considering changes to the semi-annual lobbying report - the guidance, the instructions, even the report itself - according to yesterday's BNA Money & Politics Report.

The semi-annual report must be filed by every organization that employs federal lobbyists and separately by each individual lobbyist.

Each report must include a Sarbanes-Oxley type certification, attesting to the organization's (or individual's) understanding of the Congressional ethics rules, and certifying that the organization (or individual filer) made no gift to a Member of Congress or staffer in violation of these rules. Moreover, the report must disclose certain political contributions, as well as previously undisclosed donations and payments related to lawmakers.

On June 30, just one month before the report has to be filed, Congressional officials released forms and instructions for filing that reportedly are the product of “months of work and testing,” according to BNA. Unfortunately, the new forms and guidance are frequently out of sync with the law and raise numerous questions. One of the biggest problems concerns the requirement that filers disclose payments for events that “honor or recognize” a covered official. Interpretive guidance from the ethics committees is breathtakingly broad, requiring filers to disclose the costs associated with every event at which a lawmaker spoke or whose mere attendance was announced in the invitation to the event.

Our July 9th webinar on the semi-annual report, addressing this and other issues, will soon be available on our website at www.wcsr.com/politicallaw.

Back to Work . . . FEC Faces Many Issues
Suppose your boss told you to take a six-month vacation, but while you were gone no one did any of your work. What would you do first when you returned? Five new Commissioners at the Federal Election Commission are about to find out what that’s like. Since the waning days of 2007, the FEC has lacked a quorum while U.S. Senators wrangled over new appointments.
This week, five new Commissioners began work: Democrats Cynthia Bauerly and Steven Walther, and Republicans Donald McGahn, Caroline Hunter, and Matthew Petersen. They join holdover Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who has served since 2002.

In addition to a backlog of enforcement matters and advisory opinion requests, here are just a few of the many matters needing attention:

  • Public Financing: The FEC must decide whether to certify public financing payments – approximately $85 million -- to Senator McCain for the general election. Senator Obama has announced he will forgo public financing.
  • Bundling regulations: The FEC is expected to complete action on rules to implement a key part of last year’s lobbying reform law. This law requires campaigns and leadership PACs to disclose “bundled” contributions received from lobbyists. And the law cannot take effect until rules are written by the FEC. With just a few months until the election, it seems unlikely that bundling rules will be in place this election cycle.
  • Hybrid Ads: The FEC is also slated to complete rules on the ability of candidates and political parties to split the cost of so-called “hybrid ads” – ads that mention a candidate, but generally refer to the candidate’s party. If permitted, publicly-funded presidential candidates (who cannot receive private contributions), could benefit from ads whose costs are partially paid for by the party.
  • Coordination: The District of Columbia Court of Appeals recently struck down key parts of the FEC’s regulations regarding coordination between campaigns and independent groups. The FEC has to decide whether to pursue the matter further in the courts or re-write its regulations.
  • Millionaire’s Amendment: In addition, the Supreme Court struck down the “Millionaire’s Amendment,” which provides for increased contribution limits for candidates facing opponents who pour significant personal funds into their campaigns. Left up in the air is the ability of campaigns to use funds that were raised under the higher limits, but have not yet been spent.

So much for August at the beach for the Commissioners.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact Larry (LNorton@wcsr.com, (202) 857-4429) or Jim (JKahl@wcsr.com, (202) 857-4417).

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