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The rise of the Washington not-lobbyist

By Laurie Bennett

November 18, 2011 at 2:36pm

When is a Washington lobbyist not a lobbyist?

When he doesn’t register.

With both major parties having declared lobbying a dirty word, the capital now teems with influencers who proudly declare themselves advisers, consultants, counsel and, now, historians.

They have built impressive networks of powerful people by holding important jobs in presidential administrations, the House, the Senate and the military.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

And they declare themselves not lobbyists with the fervor of Nixon maintaining he was not a crook.

We recently published a map of former members of Congress who now work with major lobby shops.

Often, these folks have lofty titles, usually including the word “senior,” but are not registered as lobbyists.

Instead, younger associates, with more limited experience at the highest levels of the D.C. power structure, register with the House and Senate.

Imagine this repeating loop: Associate X seeks advice from senior counsel Y about whom he should approach regarding issue Z. The senior counsel counsels, and the associate schedules a meeting with the appropriate people in the White House or Congress. The target knows full well who the big names are at the firm, and more than likely will cross paths with them at political events and social functions. Perhaps the area of concern will come up in casual conversation; perhaps not.

Who’s the lobbyist here?

Few professions are as difficult to regulate. Imagine doctors being able to perform surgery without being licensed. For that matter, imagine beauticians being able to cut, perm and dye hair without licenses.

The Lobbying Disclosure Act requires registration and regular reporting by lobbyists, lobby organizations and lobby clients. However, unlike surgery and hair cutting, the definition of lobbying is hard to nail down.

We won’t make you read all the legalese, except to say there are loopholes.

Newt Gingrich is quite proudly a not-lobbyist, despite collecting more than $1.6 million from Freddie Mac. He is so successful at being a not-lobbyist, that his critics call him “Gingrich, Inc.” and “Ginrich Enterprises.”

As The New York Times blogged Thursday, Tom Daschle and George Mitchell were declared not-lobbyists by the Obama administration.

We recently wrote about the workaround retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, former commander of American forces in Afghanistan. had created to meet his commitment to never become a lobbyist. He formed a consultancy, which affiliated with a new lobby shop, whose new clients include General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Boeing.

McChrystal is decidedly a not-lobbyist.

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