Jack Abramoff and Lobbying Reform: Legislating for the Bad Apples

By January 26, 2006Miscellaneous

Yesterday, NAM President John Engler went down to the Senate to testify before the Government Affairs Committee on lobbying reform. “How big is the problem we’re trying to fix?”, he asked. Fair question.

Fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three separate felony offenses: conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion. Rep. Randy Cunningham pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery, fraud, and tax evasion. These two weren’t dancing on the edge of the law, they were so far beyond it that it was, well, illegal. For this they were caught and will be punished. Advantage the rules. Abramoff’s antics especially — rightfully condemned by every law-abiding citizen (including lobbyists) — caused a feeding frenzy and triggered the quadrennial lobbyist reform Olympiad in which we now find ourselves. Having caught one guy going 100 m.p.h., they have now decided to lower the speed limit for everyone to 35.

The NAM is a lobbying and advocacy organization. Some 30+ of our Washington-based staff are registered lobbyists (Full Disclosure: this number includes the blogger-in-chief). Here’s what we do: We go to Capitol Hill dozens of times every week, meet with Members of Congress and their staffs — Republicans and Democrats alike — and explain to them how what they’re doing or not doing will impact American manufacturing. For our sins, twice a year we fill out dense lobbying disclosure forms and file them with appropriate Congressional authorities. We fully comply with the sometimes confounding ethics rules of the House and the Senate. (Click on the links to see them for yourself and you’ll see what we mean by “confounding.”) We don’t have a PAC, only the most engaged and active members in the country. They’re our backbone.

What has attracted the interest of many reporters and commentators are our Congressional Staff Tours. Gasp! We pay for Congressional travel. Isn’t that what got Abramoff into the soup? Not exactly.

Every year, we conduct a number of Congressional Staff Tours — 7 in 2004, 8 in 2005 — taking a combined total of 80 and 83 staffers, respectively (again — Republicans and Democrats alike). They occur in all the garden spots where you find manufacturing: Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cincinnati, New Jersey, among other places. Some 40-50 NAM member companies — large and small — have chipped in to foot the bill for these tours.There is no golfing involved. And, as anyone who’s been to both can attest, Cleveland is hardly St. Andrew’s. A copy of the agenda of two such tours is appended to Gov. Engler’s testimony from yesterday. See for yourself. These are all business, with staff being schlepped from plant to plant, to watch stuff being made, to see the manufacturing process (to see some very cool innovation along the way) and to talk to plant mangers and employees. To a person these have been a huge hit. For most, it is the only time they have ever been on a shop floor. Nothing like hearing about health care or energy costs directly from the folks who have to pay it. More important, every one of these trips has received the written blessing — in advance — of the House and Senate ethics offices.

While we wish we could regale you with tales of sunny climes, palm trees, endless beaches and verdant golf courses, the truth is not as glamorous. We’ll write more on this topic in this space tomorrow, addressing some of the so-called “solutions” that are being bandied about — some of which would ban staff travel like this. In the process, they will throw out the law-abiding babies with the illegal bathwater, a classic case of over-reaction. We lobby for manufacturing in this country. A lobbyist’s job is to educate. We will continue to do everything in our power — and within the law — to make sure every member of Congress understands and appreciates manufacturing’s contribution to the great prosperity we all enjoy, and the challenges we face every day.

And — until somebody changes the law — if that means we have to take ’em to Cleveland to do it, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Sandra Westlund-Deenihan says:

    Last year our company,Quality Float Works, Inc. participated in the Chicagoland Congressional Staff Tour. It was a valuable experience for our company as well as the staffers.

    Many of these staffers who are advising their bosses had never been in a manufacturing facility. They heard first hand issues that effected our employees. We discussed healthcare, the death tax, OSHA related issues, R.& D. credits and our difficulty in finding skilled laborers. Other invited business leaders addressed asbestos issues and the rising cost of energy and how that effects their bottom line.

    We took the staffers out to the factory floor to see how we manufactured our metal float balls. They actually touched and felt something that is used in many everyday applications and made in the U.S.A.

    These tours are needed. We’ve got to keep the dialogues going between the voters and the people who represent them.
    We have maintained relationships with these staffers.This has opened up communications with Congresswoman Bean, Senator Obama, and Senator Durbin.

    I thank you for standing up for the importance of these educational experiences.

    With kind regards,

    Sandra Westlund-Deenihan, President
    Quality Float Works, Inc.
    1382 Payne road
    Schaumburg,IL 60173
    sandy@metalfloat.com

  • Pat Cleary says:

    Joe:

    Sorry you feel that way. Like Is aid, we don’t have a PAC, there is no money being stuffed in anyone’s pockets. We are up against a 22% (non-wage) cost disadvantage in this country vis a vis our trading partners. That’s in area like energy, (highest in the world, taxes (highest in the world) and legal costs (highest in the world). If policy makers don’t understand the fundamental importance of mfg to the economy and our standard of living, if they don’t understand what we’re up against, we can’t expect any legislative action on these items. We educate Congressional staff, take them to the plants, let them see for themselves. As a manufacturer, you should be bringing them through your plant, too. It’s how we drive the mfg message, no funny business, all above board. That was the point of this — it’s all out in the daylight for all to see.

    Thanks for writing.

  • Joe says:

    Well Pat,

    This looks like a preemptive CYA. We all know that NAM is just a corporate mouthpiece and you are just as prone as Abramoff to pay off politicians to further Big Business wants and needs. NAM continues to push the free trade agenda- as if 3 billion Chinese and all the ?wealthy? CAFTA nations will suddenly find piles of cash in their pockets and start buying American products. CAFTA and free trade aren?t about exports, they are about corporate America?s ability to move jobs overseas and gut our working class.
    ?Congressional Staff Tours? is just a euphuism for paying off politicians so a few big businesses get their way. You said it yourself when you claimed ?Some 40-50 NAM member companies — large and small — have chipped in to foot the bill for these tours?. That statement right there is exactly what is wrong with NAM. A few big companies pulling your puppet strings making you and your lobbyists say whatever they want.
    Large corporations are not America?s biggest employers- small businesses are- but we have no voice. We don?t sit on piles of cash that?s distributed to lobbyists so they can wine and dine politicians, bending their ears, convincing them that moving every factory in the U.S. to China is ?good? for the American worker.
    Here?s a great idea. Next time you have one of your bus tours why not have the lobbyists drag their purchased politicians to a few hundred factories that were closed when China was given favored trade status? Hand out the copies of the 50 auction fliers I have saved up from local mold shops closing. Take them to Wal-Mart and Home Depot- show them what underemployment is all about. Run them to New Orleans and Florida, show them that the only reason unemployment is so low is because construction (or re-construction) is providing jobs.
    Do anything but please don?t try to sell yourselves as a voice for the common worker. The common worker has no voice- big money and big business has made sure of that by having their hands deeply implanted in NAM?s back side- puppet mouth working away.

    Regards,

    Mold shop owner Joe