Originally published in The Daily Caller:
A degree in education and urban planning, training in the tactics of “radical activism,” two million drones of workers continuing the free-flowing million dollar stream of union dues, an open criminal review into potential illegal lobbying activities by the U.S. Attorney—these are the qualifications of Andrew Stern, the newest edition to President Obama’s “Debt Panel.”
The bipartisan debt panel is tasked with the goal of cutting the growing federal deficit. The 18-member group consists of economists, major leaders of industry, Republican and Democrat members of Congress, and Mr. Stern, the president of the largest union in the U.S., the Service Employee International Union (SEIU)—who is under criminal review.
In November 2009, the Alliance for Worker Freedom and Americans for Tax Reform requested the acting United States Attorney Channing Phillips investigate Mr. Stern. Specifically to determine whether Mr. Stern was engaged in unregistered lobbying, violating the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), 2 U.S.C. 1601, et seq. Mr. Stern was a registered lobbyist for SEIU through January of 2007 until early campaign speeches by the President indicating his unwillingness to work with registered lobbyists, forced him to terminate his registration. Evidence suggests that Mr. Stern continues to lobby extensively after he terminated his registered status, and in 2009 devoted enough time to lobbying and covered activities by the LDA that he should have re-registered.
According the LDA, a “lobbyist” is someone who spends more than 20 percent of his time in a calendar quarter talking with, writing to, preparing and meeting with two or more “covered” officials in Congress or the White House. In effect, if Mr. Stern spent on average one day per five-day workweek in a calendar quarter, approximately 13 days total, engaged in the aforementioned activities, he is a lobbyist and should register.
During the first calendar quarter of 2009, according to White House logs, Mr. Stern spent 11 days lobbying and over 22 days between Jan. 20-Sept. 15, 2009. During the second quarter, Mr. Stern visited the White House 10 times on 9 different days. Additionally, Mr. Stern has used Twitter to personally announce his lobbying activities.
On June 17, Mr. Stern Tweeted, “Great discussion last 2 days with many Senators…” On May 18 he said, “At Springsteen concert. Lots of fundraisers in box, good free choice meeting with Senators today.” Mr. Stern even announced he was lobbying on June 24 saying, “Lobbying with Mayor Bloomberg on healthcare. Leaving Senator Snowe.” Again on April 29 he admitted he met with Sen. Specter and Secretary Sebelius.
The evidence overwhelmingly suggests Mr. Stern is indeed violating the LDA by continuing to lobby illegally. Failure to register under the LDA is a criminal violation of the Act, which provides for civil penalties of up to $200,000 and up to five years in prison.
While the Secretary of the Senate has confirmed they have closed their file, the U.S. Attorney’s office confirmed they are currently reviewing the matter, as reported by Ed Barnes at FoxNews.com:
Keith Morgan, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, blamed the delay on the unique way the complaint came to his office, which handles thousands of lobbyist complaints every year.
“Most of the referrals we get come directly from the House or the Senate,” Morgan said. “This one is rather unique,” he said, referring to the conservative groups’ involvement, “and we are still taking a look at it.” He said there is no time frame for a decision to be made.
When the accusations were first made in November, the SEIU issued a written statement calling them meritless, adding that it was their “final” comment on the matter. Kawana Lloyd, spokeswoman for Stern, did not return calls seeking additional comment this week.
However there is a larger issue here than the LDA and an open criminal review.
Registered lobbyists must disclose financial contributions to candidates and Political Action Committee’s (PACs) Mr. Stern, by purposely not re-registering, does not. Additionally, those registered must also comply with the Congressional “gift ban” which forbids lobbyists from providing “covered” members anything with a monetary value over $20 unless a previous gifting relationship can be proven (marriage, etc). By not registering, Mr. Stern can provide vacations, trips, and gifts of an endless amount without having to publicly disclose.
This is exactly the type of activity President Obama pledged to fight—so why is Mr. Stern there?
This year’s employment data reveals organized labor’s route back to power. Private-sector union membership has reached an all-time low at 7.2 percent, down 834,000 from their 2008 level. With more industries taking note of the hard lesson learned by the American auto industry, it is expected this number will continue to decrease. However the unions’ silver lining lies with the drones of government employees filling our ever-expanding bureaucracy. And, for the first time in history, over 50 percent of all union members now work for the government at some level. With an increased incentive for bigger government, based purely on self-preservation, unions are ramping up their political activism.
Mr. Stern will use this position to push policies that skew the market towards private sector unions in an attempt to revive what is a dying movement.
Transparency and accountability are gone. Whatever hope left that President Obama was going to change things in Washington just got locked out the room—leaving the President and Mr. Stern on the other side of the door.