Lobbyists used to worry about keeping members of Congress out of trouble with gifts and travel. But now they have to worry about themselves. A stiff law passed by the Democratic Congress applies not just to politicians, but to those currying favor as well—and violating it can get you a 5-year trip to the pokey. Craig Engle and his cohorts in Arent Fox’s political law group are teaching corporations and trade associations how to stay on the right side of the law. Bisnow swung by for a tutorial.
The New Yorker covers lining Engle’s wall are drawn by Peter Arno. Engle likes the rich irony in Arno’s work and wants to write a biography someday of the famed cartoonist, who drew more than 80 New Yorker covers before his death in 1968. “I just need some help with the first paragraph,” Engle says.
Arent Fox gave a recent seminar on the new law for 75 execs of associations, Fortune 100 companies, think tanks, and small lobbying firms, and here’s the gist: The legislation bans most gifts and travel offers, requires twice the number of reports (including a Sarbanes-Oxley-like certificate of compliance), and ups the penalties in a big way. The previous maximum, a $50,000 civil penalty, is now up to $200,000, and for the first time criminal penalties attach, including fines and possible jail time. The Arent Fox seminar—which may become a series—featured presentations by Engle; Arent Fox counsel and former Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Ark); and white collar enforcement expert John Nassikas, who represented the former chief of staff to Congressman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) in a Justice Dept. probe of actions he took on behalf of Jack Abramoff’s clients, among other things. Separately, Engle has also given presentations on the gift and travel ban to the Chamber of Commerce and the ASAE.
Arent Fox’s political law group includes associate David Adkins, a UNC Law grad who just capped off a vacation to the Greek island of Mykonos with—what else?—a jaunt to Dover, Delaware for a NASCAR race. Here, he and Engle argue over who has the sharper blue tie.
Portions of the new law became effective on the September 14th signing, while the reporting requirements kick in on January 1. Lobbying reform was a priority for Democrats—a resolution on the matter was one of the first official acts of the new House of Reps—and for obvious reasons, lobbyists were not consulted. “Congress was on its own,” says Engle, who hopes that Congress might pass regulations putting “meat on the bones” of the statutory language.
Engle doubles as a lobbyist and a counselor on lobbying matters. (He gives D.C. United, among other clients, an assist with its local government relations.) His lobbying practice, he says, is a natural outgrowth of his legal expertise in elections and campaign finance, which he shares with others in Arent Fox’s five-lawyer political group. Currently, the firm provides “back-office support” (including tax work and financial record-keeping) for an array of Congressional committees and PACs navigating campaign finance rules.
Engle foresees a period in which Arent Fox will provide similar services to lobbyists who need to be sure that they’re keeping everything legit . . . and staying out of jail.
[Editor's Note: Arent Fox is a sponsor of Bisnow on Business publications.]