Lobbyist group wants seat at table in coalition looking to reform biz

A trade group that lobbies for lobbyists is upsetting watchdog groups with its complaint that it has been excluded from a coalition looking to reform the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).

“They seem to be avoiding having representation from the trade association that represents lobbyists,” Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, told The Hill. “All what we want is to get a seat at the table.”

In a letter to the director of the Sunlight Foundation, Marlowe complained his group is being left out of talks on how to improve lobbying laws.

“The lack of any outreach from your organization, as well as others involved in the [the American Bar Association’s] task force effort, is both counterintuitive and counterproductive,” Marlowe wrote in the letter sent Thursday. “We may not agree on all details, but we should have the chance to discuss each other’s views, and those of the task force.

Marlowe was referring to a January report by a task force led by the ABA that recommended changes to the LDA. A March 14 panel discussion organized by Sunlight on how to reform lobbying law -- where a League representative was not invited to attend at first -- will likely touch on the ABA task force’s report.

In his letter, Marlowe noted that the lobbyist trade group was involved in the last major reworking of the law in 1995, which improved the lobbying registration system. He also said that he has set up his own work group to come up with recommendations on how to best change the law. Those recommendations will be sent to the League’s board in the next 60 to 90 days for approval.

Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s director said she thought Marlowe’s letter was “bizarre” and seemed “hostile.” She also questioned the accuracy of some of Marlowe’s statements, particularly his complaint that a panel discussion hosted by Sunlight does not include a single registered lobbyist.

Miller noted two of the panelists — Tom Susman, the ABA’s director of governmental affairs, and Lisa Rosenberg, who represents Sunlight and works at the Bernstein Strategy Group — are registered lobbyists.

Marlowe, however, said they are not representative of the professional lobbyist.

“The fact is none of those folks are up on the Hill doing lobbying work every day like a professional lobbyist does,” Marlowe said.

Miller said her group had contacted the League two weeks about working on reforms to lobbying law through Dave Wenhold — the president of the group before Marlowe’s ascension earlier this year — but they didn't hear back until Thursday.

“We have always reached out to them. We have always touched base with them,” Miller said.

Also copied onto Marlowe’s letter was Susman of the ABA. Susman was counsel to the ABA task force that looked into changing lobbying law.

Susman said he was “annoyed” by Marlowe’s letter, saying it was “overblown” and he disapproved of how the League approached the issue.

“I would pick up the phone and ask ‘What's this all about, can I participate?’ And then if I was dissatisfied, I would send a letter,” Susman said.

He also defended the ABA task force’s report, saying it has been released publicly long before it will be approved by the ABA itself.

“He talks about their work group sending it to their board. Why not share it with the public first? The ABA report is on the web for the public to see now and it won't be adopted until August” by the group’s leaders, Susman said. “It is open for everyone to comment on.”

Sunlight has sent a letter in response to Marlowe’s missive where they took issue with its inaccuracies. Nevertheless, they agreed that the American League of Lobbyists should be part of the panel and invited Marlowe to attend.

“When I saw that he wrote to us, I said ‘Absolutely, let's invite him.’” Miller said. “We shall see whether he wants to join us or not.”

Marlowe said a representative of the lobbyist trade group will attend the panel discussion.