Video: CNN looks at Stern lobbying issue

Over the last two months, the groups Americans for Tax Reform and Alliance for Worker Freedom have pursued complaints against SEIU chief Andy Stern and SEIU treasurer Anna “Queen of Labor” Burger for illegal lobbying. The national news media has shown little interest in the story despite Stern’s weekly visits to the White House — until now. CNN takes a surprisingly balanced look at the charges, although they only see fit to interview Stern rather than the very-accessible groups demanding the investigation:

Stern claimed he would send ATR and AWF a letter telling them the truth, which prompted the groups to respond thusly (letters are published at their websites):

When responding to a question from CNN’s Carol Costello during American Morning on January 5, 2010, concerning Americans for Tax Reform and the Alliance for Worker Freedom’s investigation request, you said, “we’re going to send them a letter and tell them the truth, which is we’ve complied with the law. And we assume whenever the investigation is done it will be fine.”

It has been 55 days since we first requested an investigation to elucidate your lobbying during 2009 and we have received no correspondence from you or your organization.

Please note that “Lobbying activity” under LDA includes time spent on lobbying contacts as well as time spent by the individual on any efforts to support his or her, or another’s, lobbying contacts such as preparation or planning activities, research and other background work, as well as time spent coordinating the lobbying activities of others.

As for the White House refusal to comment on Stern’s activities, ATR and AWF note that transparency seems to be in short supply:

Today, Andy Stern, President of the Service Employee International Union  (SEIU), contemptuously disregarded lobbying rules when  questioned by Carol Costello on CNN’s American Morning.

On Nov. 13, 2009, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and Alliance for Worker Freedom Executive Director Brian Johnson called on acting United States Attorney Channing D. Phillips to investigate Stern’s potential violation of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), 2 U.S.C. 1601, et seq. Stern de-registered as a lobbyist in January 2007 however it appears he continues to lobby.  When asked about this by Carol Costello on CNN, Stern replied:

“We’re going to send them a letter…I don’t care if I went there [The White House] once, or I went there every single day – they would think it’s too much.”

It appears the law would think it is “too much” as well. The LDA defines a “lobbyist” as a person who spends over 20% of his time on “lobbying activities” per quarter. Evidence submitted by the organizations shows Stern spent 11 days at the White House and more meeting with members of Congress per quarter.  Since 13 days per quarter constitutes the 20 percent threshold, and all prep-work, research, communication, etc also contributes to the 20 percent, an investigation was requested.

It’s shocking that a White House which claims to be ‘the most transparent in history’, refused to comment to CNN on this matter, and is allowing Mr. Stern to claim he doesn’t have to follow the rules other lobbyists do, yet he can still visit the White House ‘every single day,’” says AWF Executive Director Brian Johnson.

The Senate Secretary has already responded on Burger, saying that she will close her investigation because, er, Burger assured her that she doesn’t spend 20% of her time lobbying. The groups will send a letter this morning to the Secretary demanding that she share any correspondence on the matter:

The decision to close Ms. Burger’s file appears to be based on a letter you received from SEIU, as you wrote, “the response [from SEIU] stated that Ms. Burger has not spent 20% or more of her time on lobbying activities in either 2008 or 2009.”

We are formally requesting any correspondence between your office, Ms. Burger or the SEIU and/or any other entities in relation to this matter. Further, we are requesting any documentation or evidence provided to you by Ms. Burger, the SEIU or any third-parties which indicates Ms. Burger is not in violation of the 20 percent threshold.

Perhaps we may see some action yet.  Will other media outlets start looking into how an SEIU chief with a war room specifically designed for lobbying on health care can visit the White House every week and still not have to register as a lobbyist?