Dem front-runners cash in on slippery definition of lobbying

Source: Politico | July 19, 2019 | Theodoric Meyer

Campaigns won’t take money from registered lobbyists but will accept it from those who work in other sectors of the influence business.

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and other leading Democratic presidential candidates have sworn off contributions from Washington lobbyists as a way to insulate themselves from those who might try to shape their agendas if elected.

But they’re hardly walling themselves off from K Street.

Didem Nisanci, global head of public policy for Bloomberg LP, has given $2,000 to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, according to new campaign finance disclosures. Margaret Richardson, Airbnb’s head of global policy, has donated nearly $2,800 to Harris. And Jay Carney, who’s in charge of Amazon’s public policy efforts, has given to at least four candidates who won’t take contributions from lobbyists, including a $2,800 check he wrote in May to Biden’s campaign.

All three were able to donate because they’re not registered to lobby, a legal requirement for people who meet criteria such as devoting at least 20 percent of the total time they spend working for each client to lobbying and contacting at least two government officials per quarter.

People who oversee teams of lobbyists or work on corporate advocacy campaigns often don’t meet that definition. Others have found it’s easy to stay below the 20 percent threshold since they can quickly text or email the lawmakers they hope to influence.

The slippery definition of lobbying means that barring lobbyists from contributing isn’t an especially effective way for campaigns to keep K Street at bay.

“It’s arbitrary at best,” said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the think tank New America who studies lobbying.

Paul Miller, president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, a trade group for lobbyists, called such restrictions a “gimmick” and warned they might lead fewer people to register as lobbyists.

“It’s hypocrisy all across the board,” Miller said.

The Biden, Warren, Harris and Buttigieg campaigns didn’t directly answer questions about why they won’t take money from registered lobbyists but will accept it from those who work in other sectors of the influence business.

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