Washington, DC – The news reports that AT& T and Swiss-based drugmaker Novartis paid Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, an estimated $1.8 million in 2017 should set off alarm bells for the lobbying profession, Congress, and the American people.
In 2005, it took the actions of one man, Jack Abramoff, for the American people and Congress to come down hard on the lobbying profession. There was legislation seeking to outright ban lobbyist activities to requiring that they report every move they made. Today however is a different story. Today, we have Michael Flynn who made millions of dollars “lobbying” for foreign governments without reporting his activities. We have Paul Manafort who made millions of dollars “lobbying” for foreign entities without reporting his activities. Now, it appears Michael Cohen was paid almost $2 million by large companies seeking access to the Trump Administration and yet there is no call for reform.
“I’m sitting here scratching my head today,” said Paul Miller, President of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics (NILE). “In 2005, my days were filled with hearings, interviews, and hate mail calling for our heads because of the actions of Jack Abramoff,” Miller recalls. “Today, however, no matter how hard we try to get attention focused on the epidemic of “shadow” lobbying, no one seems to care,” he added.
NILE’s Lobbying Task Force spent a year reviewing the current Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). In 2017, NILE released a detailed report on its findings, including very specific recommendations for changes to the LDA. It concluded that lobbying has changed dramatically over the past five years and the current LDA was not keeping pace with the profession and its practices. Furthermore, NILE identified “shadow” lobbying as the number one threat to the profession, and since that time, the organization has been meeting with key members of Congress – with limited success – to achieve the goal of focusing more attention on the issue.
“I guess if you have ties to the President, no one cares if you are breaking the law,” Miller said. “Had I, or any of my colleagues, done these same things, we would be slapped with heavy fines and quite possibly prison time,” added Miller.
NILE continues to urge Congress to work with the profession on updating the LDA so that it is truly meeting its original goals of transparency. To most, the actions of Flynn, Manafort, and now Cohen may seem like trivial issues or a witch hunt, but they are a big deal for the lobbying community and to how our system of government operates. We have rules in place for a reason. The LDA is in place to make sure that lobbying is transparent, and the public knows who is petitioning the government. To some, this will not mean anything, but the only way to fully know who is having an impact on policies affecting all of us, is through transparency and the LDA.
“NILE’s concerns aren’t trivial or overblown. We have a real epidemic of “shadow” lobbyists shielding their activity and payments from the government and the public. This is what happens when current rules don’t keep pace with a profession. I’m hoping Congress will now begin working with us on commonsense changes that can close loopholes that allow for these activities to continue,” stated Miller.
Miller summed it up with the following statement: “During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump said he could go out on the street and shoot someone and no one would care. It appears “shadow” lobbyists can break the law in the same way and no one will care. That is a sad statement for our profession.”
The National Institute For Lobbying & Ethics is the professional association representing those in the lobbying, grass-roots, public-policy and advocacy profession.