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Holding the Government Accountable

Dissing Disclosure Laws

For anyone who spends time perusing Congressional lobbying records, a constant source of frustration is usually to be found on page 2, section 12, which asks lobbyists to describe "specific lobbying issues (current and anticipated)." Sometimes this section is left blank, or, more often than not, filled with something short and cryptic.

While the firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz is among the few lobby shops that's actually pretty good about providing more detail than most in section 12, we can't help but wonder if, based on a glaring omission in a section 10 of a recent filing, Baker Donelson is more than a little concerned about revolving door criticism.

Though the story hasn't gotten a lot of coverage, Westinghouse is being acquired by Toshiba--which is particularly keen to market Westinghouse's nuclear reactors as intensely as possibly, especially to China. With the deal requiring US government approval, it was hardly surprising that Toshiba would retain Baker Donelson to, as the filing clearly states in section 12 (on page 2), consult "with the appropriate Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government, and the appropriate agencies on CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States] and antitrust matters, all related to Toshiba Corporation's acquisition of the Westinghouse Electric Company."

Perhaps a little vague, but still better than most. Section 10, however, requires a lobbying firm to list actual individuals who will be lobbying, and also requires that if a lobbyist has served in a high appointed or career federal position in the last two years before registering as a lobbyist, that position be disclosed. At the top of the list on the Toshiba filing is Howard Baker himself. From 2001 until last year, Baker was US Ambassador to Japan--but you wouldn't know that from the filing, as there's nothing but blank space next to Baker's name. Similarly, the document also fails to note that lobbyist Richard Newcomb was, until less than two years ago, director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control--a nice guy to have on hand when dealing with CFIUS. (Newcomb did, however, list his Treasury position in a filing last year.)

And while lobbyist John C. Tuck is under no legal obligation to disclose that he was Under Secretary of Energy way back in the George H.W. Bush Administration--as well as Baker's senior advisor at the US Embassy in Tokyo 2001-2002--POGO thinks Tuck and others should be required to list ALL their government affiliations. But for the time being, we'd settle for the Congressional clerks' offices cracking down on lobbyists who don't follow the current lobbying disclosure law (pdf).