Candidates Supportive of Hoekstra, and Pulitzer-Prize Winning Political Fact-Checkers, Say Hoekstra’s Logic that He’s not a Lobbyist—Despite Working at a D.C. Lobbying Firm—Doesn’t Hold Water
LANSING – Candidates supporting U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra are now disputing the logic with which Hoekstra claims he is not a lobbyist, and Pulitzer-prize winning political journalists Politifact.com are questioning Hoekstra’s reasoning as well. Hoekstra began denying he was a lobbyist when he began running for Senate, despite the fact that documents Hoekstra filed in November show he’s made a quarter million dollars in the last eight months representing special interest clients at a well-known D.C. lobbying firm. With independent fact-checkers and Republicans now weighing in on what constitutes lobbying and influence peddling, Mark Brewer, Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, again called on Hoekstra to resign from the D.C. lobbying firm where he’s currently employed.
“Lobbyists and their well-connected friends have too much control in Washington as it is and we don’t need to elect any of them to office,” said Brewer. “I’m glad to see even Republicans who had supported Pete Hoekstra are now agreeing with me on that.”
When Hoekstra’s employment at the D.C. lobbying firm was announced, a Dickstein-Shapiro news release said Hoekstra would be working in “legislative and regulatory counseling” and Hoekstra himself said he was proud to be joining the firm’s “government relations” team. Hoekstra also said he particularly looked forward “to collaborating with former House Speaker Denny Hastert and former U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson again on a daily basis.” Both Hastert and Hutchinson are registered lobbyists.
But since deciding to run for Senate, Hoekstra and his campaign operatives continue to claim that that he is not a lobbyist, he is just a consultant who provides strategic advice to his clients, and point out that he has not registered as a federal lobbyist. Ethics laws bar former Members of Congress like Hoekstra from becoming federally registered lobbyists for one year after leaving their elected post.
Since coming under fire for his representation of special interests and peddling influence for money, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has similarly claimed he was not a lobbyist but only paid by clients for “strategic advice.”
But Pulitzer-prize winning Politifact.com disputes the Hoekstra-Gingrich rationale, saying “the ‘strategic advice’ category is a way of using influence without having to register as a lobbyist… Giving strategic advice is widely considered a way of using political influence without having to register [as a federal lobbyist].” (more from Politifact below)
And recently both Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney, in news releases and public statements, have criticized Gingrich for his work lobbying and peddling influence on behalf of special interests in Washington.
Bachmann has said: “[Gingrich’s] organizations have taken in over a hundred million dollars just this year alone to peddle influence. You don’t have to be a lobbyist within the letter of the law in order to influence the outcome of legislation. These special interests aren’t paying him $100 million for nothing, they’re paying him over $100 million because he’s influencing legislation in Washington, D.C….”
Romney has said: “I’m going to let the lawyers decide what is and what is not lobbying. But you know, when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. It’s a duck.”
“I agree with Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and the independent fact-checkers,” Brewer said. “Lawyers would be needed to decide if Pete Hoekstra is breaking the law or doing a very good job at skirting it. But in either case, getting rich working at a D.C. lobbying firm representing special-interest clients and then wanting to go to the U.S. Senate where you can continue representing them is a horrendous conflict of interest. Hoekstra should do the right thing and step down immediately.”
More from Politifact.com (full entry available here)
Experts we spoke with and the research we reviewed showed the “strategic advice” category is a way of using influence without having to register as a lobbyist.
They said strategic advisers can do quite a bit for clients like Freddie Mac without acquiring the lobbyist label. They can stay at the client’s office and give their best advice on with whom to meet and what to say. They can give instructions to someone who is a registered lobbyist, again telling the lobbyist with whom to meet and what points to address. They can take their clients to meetings with groups that aren’t part of the government, such as grassroots political groups. They can even have one big meeting with an elected official to make a case for a client.
“There’s a lot of activity that ordinary people would think of as lobbying that doesn’t trigger the obligation to register as a lobbyist under federal law. Strategic advice is one of those kinds of things that doesn’t,” said Joseph Sandler, an attorney with the Washington law firm Sandler Reiff Young & Lamb.
Sandler was one of four co-chairs of an American Bar Association task force that recommended changes to federal lobbying laws to improve disclosure and reduce conflicts of interest. One of its recommendations was that people who give strategic advice disclose their work under a new category of “lobbying support.”
“Newt Gingrich is certainly not alone among well-heeled political players who say they just offer consulting services or strategic advice — without needing to register as lobbyists. But it’s a stretch to claim that they aren’t part of the influence game,” said Michael Beckel, a spokesman with the Center for Responsive Politics, via e-mail. The nonpartisan group monitors lobbying and campaign spending.
“The distinction isn’t as important as Gingrich is making it out to be,” he added.
Gingrich is technically correct that he was not a registered lobbyist for Freddie Mac. But it appears he took pains to avoid being subject to the rules. Giving strategic advice is widely considered a way of using political influence without having to register.