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Association Bisnow
June 3, 2008


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We don’t imagine that John Engler, three-term GOP Governor of Michigan and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, draws many comparisons to Hillary Clinton, but we’ll say this much: neither of them goes down without a fight. Despite losing a federal District Court challenge to the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, requiring NAM to release the names of 65 donors to its lobbying activities, NAM is pressing on in its fight against the Act’s disclosure rules. Next step: argument before the Federal Court of Appeals in DC in early July.


We met up with John at NAM’s Metro Center HQ—this is a lobby display, not a mad scientist’s workshop. It provided some spring drama in DC when NAM’s interim petition to the Supreme Court (asking to withhold disclosure until its appeals on the merits are exhausted) failed. That triggered the release, per the law’s terms, of names of members like Chevron and Northrop Grumman that contributed $5,000 or more to NAM’s lobbying last quarter. Now, John says, the case is about principle. He points out that while trade associations have to comply, environmental groups, unions, and legal organizations (like the trial lawyers at Alliance for Justice) don’t have to disclose under the Act. NAM has drawn support from other associations, including the National Paint and Coatings Association, which recently filed an amicus brief.


NAM, which reportedly spent $2.6 million on lobbying in the first half of ’07, based its challenge in part on its members’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and—how appropriate—freedom of association. John tells us he’s worried his members may now become targets of litigation. If a member contributed to lobbying on asbestos removal, for example, trial lawyers might assume some fault and target the company for a lawsuit. While no such suits have been filed in the month since disclosure, John says the situation has Pandora written all over it.


Worse, John says, the Act also leaves questions unanswered, like Who’s in charge? Neither the Senate nor House has committees responsible for oversight of the Act yet, and he adds that no government agency exists to deal with any issues that could arise. While the appeal is a priority, John says NAM is going about business as usual and that “compared to the time we’re spending on infrastructure and global climate, [the appeal] is barely the blink of an eye.” Still, we couldn’t resist having the Governor pose with these law books for effect.

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