HA exclusive: ATR, AWF demand probe of SEIU's Stern for illegal lobbying

At 9 am ET today, Americans for Tax Reform and the Alliance for Worker Freedom will deliver a letter to both chambers of Congress and to  US Attorney Channing Phillips in Washington DC, demanding a federal investigation of Andrew Stern, president of the SEIU.  They will claim that Stern, who stopped registering as a federal lobbyist in 2007, has continued his lobbying efforts.  They claim to have compiled evidence of Stern’s lobbying from the recently released White House visitor logs, media reports — and Stern’s own Twitter feed, in what has to be a first for the social networking service.

In a Hot Air exclusive, here is an excerpt of the letter:

By this letter, we urge you to investigate the activities of Mr. Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), regarding meetings and other lobbying contacts with administration, White House and Congress during 2009. Specifically, it is important to determine whether those and related activities could constitute unregistered “lobbying” by Mr. Stern in violation of the Lobbying Disclosure Act  (LDA), 2 U.S.C. 1601, et seq.  In fact, Mr. Stern was a registered lobbyist for SEIU until January of 2007 when he terminated his registration.  For the reasons discussed below it appears that Mr. Stern continued to lobby extensively after he terminated his registered status, and in 2009 devoted so much time on lobbying and related activities that he should have re-registered as a lobbyist under LDA. …

Of course, the available public information does not reveal all of the days that Mr. Stern was meeting with or talking with covered government officials about legislation or programs.  Nor does it reveal the additional amount of time Mr. Stern spent planning and preparing for his meetings, as well as the time he spent coordinating with others, except for Mayor Bloomberg.  Such non-public communications and activity would significantly expand the amount of time that Mr. Stern spent on lobbying as defined by federal law.

Nevertheless, the limited public record that is available indicates that Mr. Stern appears to have met the LDA definition of being a lobbyist by spending at least 16 days during the second calendar quarter lobbying dozens of officials and being the White House’s most frequent visitor.

Finally, under the LDA, if Mr. Stern has violated federal lobbying disclosure laws at various points during this year, it does not adequately remedy the violation for him to simply register now.  The fact that Mr. Stern affirmatively delisted himself as a lobbyist and then went on to conduct further extensive lobbying activity raises an issue of possible willful conduct that should be carefully investigated. We have provided the enclosed documents for your consideration and review.

Most neutral observers would probably rate Mr. Stern as the most visible power-player in Washington this year – personally advancing his legislative agenda on health care, labor law changes and a host of other issues in meetings with a huge number of top officials in the Administration and Congress.  Any failure to fully and adequately enforce the nation’s lobbying disclosure laws as they apply to Mr. Stern’s high-profile lobbying presence would make a mockery of the law and invite public skepticism as to its efficacy.

The Obama administration released the White House visitor logs from the Secret Service as part of its effort to show transparency.  In seven months, Stern visited the White House 22 times, or more than once every two weeks.  The notes on the logs show that Stern went to the White House mainly to discuss policy — and as a labor leader, his efforts to push Obama on his team on issues like health care reform certainly meets the LDA definition of lobbying.  And it doesn’t take much to therefore be considered a lobbyist:

Accordingly, a “lobbyist” is someone whose job includes talking with or writing to two or more “covered” officials in Congress or the White House and who spends more than 20% of his or her time in any given calendar quarter on such communications as well as on efforts to prepare for such communications and to coordinate with other individuals who are engaged in their own lobbying activities.  In effect, if an individual spends on average one day per five-day work week in a calendar quarter engaged in lobbying activities and communicates with covered officials, that person is a lobbyist.  There are approximately 13 weeks in a quarter.  Therefore, spending more than 13 days on lobbying activities strongly indicates that the individual is a lobbyist and should report his or her activities as required by federal law.

But ATR and AWF doesn’t just rely on White House logs and media reports, although they have plenty of both.  They have also included entries from Stern’s own Twitter feed, which has about a dozen examples from a two-month period this spring in which Stern talks freely about his lobbying efforts.  Again, in an exclusive early look at the case made by ATR and AWF, Stern actually uses the term “lobbying” and admits pushing politicians on “free choice,” meaning Card Check, an SEIU and Big Labor priority:

“Lobbying with Mayor Bloomberg on health care. Leaving Senator Snowe. Mayor big proponent of keeping people healthy and the right public plan”

(https://twitter.com/SEIU_ANDYSTERN, 6/24/09)

“Great discussion last 2 days with many Senators. Complicated issue but commitment to change. All understand-longer we wait worse it gets”

(https://twitter.com/SEIU_ANDYSTERN, 6/17/09)

“Leaving White House. Serious , real discussion with great possibilities. Now work to be done by June 1 deadline. Glad we get start this.”

(https://twitter.com/SEIU_ANDYSTERN, 5/11/09)

So can a violator simply register as a lobbyist and avoid any penalties for prior activity as an unregistered lobbyist?  Not according to the law.  Failure to  register as a lobbyist is a criminal act, which could result in up to five years in prison and a $200,000 fine.  But beyond that, wasn’t this the administration that was supposed to be the most transparent in history, and the one that would not tolerate lobbyist influence?  Didn’t anyone at the White House ask whether Stern had properly registered as a lobbyist when he was showing up every ten or eleven days in the West Wing?

Keep an eye on this, and check back on the websites of ATR and AWF, where the full letter will be published shortly.  Will Congress and the US Attorney act?  And will the White House explain their failure to force Big Labor’s most visible presence to adhere to their own policies on lobbying?

Update: ATR has the letter up at this link.