Ethics Reform Shouldn't Hamper Lobbying Congress passed an ethics reform bill requiring strict accounting for money contributed to political campaigns. Lobbyists Vic Fazio and Dave Hoppe share their thoughts on how their business might be changed by the legislation. They speak with Scott Simon.
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Ethics Reform Shouldn't Hamper Lobbying

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Ethics Reform Shouldn't Hamper Lobbying

Ethics Reform Shouldn't Hamper Lobbying

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The House and Senate passed identical ethics and lobbying bills this week. Among other changes the bills will require that money contributed to political campaigns by lobbyists to be more strictly accounted for.

We're going to turn now to two lobbyists to get their thoughts on how their business might be changed by this legislation.

Vic Fazio is a senior adviser at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. He represented California's 4th Congressional District as a Democrat for 20 years. Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. VIC FAZIO (Senior Adviser, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Democratic Lobbyist): Thank you.

SIMON: And Dave Hoppe is president of Quinn Gillespie Public Affairs. He was a Republican staff member in the Senate for 27 years.

Mr. Hoppe, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. DAVE HOPPE (President, Quinn Gillespie Public Affairs): Good to be here.

SIMON: Okay. Irresistible. No more lunches at the Palm?

Mr. HOPPE: It doesn't stop lobbyists from eating lunch. Just you, heretofore, could take somebody out to lunch and pay $20 or $25 for their lunch. If somebody really wants to do it right now, they can take somebody out, a single person, and make it a fundraiser and pay them $500 for their campaign fund. It's a fundraiser and you go to lunch for $500 instead of going to lunch and paying $20 to $25.

Now, that's a loophole in it. All in all, these are things that are responsible and good things and helpful. But I think there's not going to be all that great a change, I don't think, in the way lobbyists do their business.

SIMON: Mr. Fazio?

Mr. FAZIO: Well, I think the social side of lobbying has been on the wane for a long time now. I think that more and more…

SIMON: The social side of lunches, dinners, political parties…

Mr. FAZIO: Yeah. That sort of thing has pretty much been on the decline. So I think things are changing. This kind of cements some of that change in my view. It will make it perhaps harder for lobbyists to communicate with members of Congress, unless, of course, they have a certain level of trust built up and a certain level of expertise that's respected built up.

Largely, the staff relationship is still the most important one for lobbyists and that's one reason so many of the lobbyists are former staffers who have…

SIMON: Like Mr. Hoppe.

Mr. FAZIO: Yes, like Mr. Hoppe and many other quality people like him.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the new limitation on corporate travel because, as I understand it, it used to be that if some business got and chartered a private aircraft to fly, obviously, the stereotype is a group of congressional representatives to, let's say, the Super Bowl, but it's also possible it could be the waste management recycling land use conference or something…

Mr. FAZIO: Sure.

Mr. HOPPE: On the way to the Super Bowl or on the way back…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You were very good at this, weren't you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I can see. They would just pay, I think, coach or first-class airfare, now I guess it's been changed that they would actually…

Mr. FAZIO: It was first class, that was the standard.

SIMON: Now, it's been changed, as I understand it, that they would have to pay the, I guess, entire cost of the charter.

Mr. FAZIO: Well, in the Senate, I think they're now going to have to pay charter fares. The House has completely banned it.

SIMON: Will this have a substantial change?

Mr. FAZIO: Not as much as some people think. Most House members except for a very few leaders, really ever took advantage of that perk. The senators, particularly those who have national ambitions and that usually runs pretty deeply in the body…

Mr. HOPPE: About 99 out of a hundred - yeah.

Mr. FAZIO: They were more inclined to use it than the House members. But it does probably impose some sort of problem on people who live in far-flung places. The folks from the large Western states probably use this more for convenience and actually for dealing with constituents than folks from other parts of the country.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. HOPPE: Yeah. The other - the only thing that I think I'd add to that is the people who tended to use it more were leadership, to get around to a lot of places, districts, where they were trying to work with their members, help their members, sometimes campaign or for various other things. And it's going to be much harder for a leader to do the type of multiple state actions over a weekend without being able to have a charter. It's just very hard to get a commercial flight. So those sorts of things will change, but I don't know once again how much - how profound the change will be.

Mr. FAZIO: I agree with that. The impression was that this was about luxury and going to fun things, but in most cases it really was about maximizing time. And obviously, the people who made the planes available were going to travel along, and so for them it was a chance to get to know the members and that sort of thing. But it really was not about that Super Bowl anywhere near as much as it was making three fundraisers in one 24-hour period.

SIMON: I would preface a question by saying that lobbyists are perhaps the most unpopular group of people in the country as a whole, if I weren't peculiarly conscious of the fact that I think it's actually journalists are less popular than lobbyists. But that…

Mr. FAZIO: But we compete.

Mr. HOPPE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah, all right. And used car salesmen, who, I think, are a good deal higher than both of us. Could you explain to our listeners why what you do is necessary and honorable? Mr. Hoppe?

Mr. HOPPE: The purpose of a lobbyist is somebody who can express the views of the client who has hired them. And this is a system in which it has gotten so busy, there is so much being done. There is so much legislation being written and so much legislation moving through committees and being voted on that lobbyists provide a legitimate service of allowing people to have their arguments made. If only lobbyists were allowed to talk to people, this would be terribly wrong.

Mr. FAZIO: I think the most important thing is that there is a balance of inputs. And frankly, members of the lobbying community often are spending as much time lobbying their clients about the reality of what's happening on the Hill and the views that exist, as they do the members. They are providing information to both their clients and the people on the Hill - the staff and the members they're communicating with. But members of Congress are still going to put the views of their constituents up front.

SIMON: Above somebody who becomes (unintelligible) makes representation.

Mr. HOPPE: Above anybody who lobbies.

Mr. FIAZO: Anybody.

SIMON: Dave Hoppe is president of Quinn Gillespie Public Affairs, and Vic Fazio is senior adviser at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Gentlemen, thank you both very much for being with us.

Mr. FAZIO: Thank you.

Mr. HOPPE: Our pleasure.

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