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Tom Daschle's New Job Title: Stealth Lobbyist?

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Tom Daschle starts a new job today as a senior policy adviser in the government affairs division of DLA Piper. As he’s contemplating whether he needs a plant in his office and figuring out where to have lunch, he has already made one firm decision. Mr. Daschle won’t register as a lobbyist.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with the term, “government affairs” is often a euphemism for “lobbying.”

Daschle has made the decision that he is not a lobbyist before. At his previous position at Alston & Bird, whose clients represent a who's who of health care interests, Daschle acted as a “resource” to the President and high-level White House officials, and advised clients “about the personalities of his former colleagues, as well as strategies to achieve their policy goals.”

Daschle’s activities beg the question, how is providing paying clients with strategies to help them achieve their policy goals not lobbying?

In all likelihood, Daschle’s claim that he is not a lobbyist rests on a cavernous loophole in the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The law says that anyone “whose lobbying activities constitute less than 20 percent of the time engaged in the services provided by such individual to that client over a three month period” is not a lobbyist.

A few hours a week of Tom Daschle’s strategic advice divided among Alston's multiple health care clients probably exempts him from the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. But his frequent trips to the White House belie his claims that he is not attempting to influence policy on behalf of his clients. His clients, and their lobbyists, benefit from his access to key decision makers as well as his strategic advice on how best to influence lawmakers.

Until the 20 percent loophole in the LDA is closed, Daschle and untold numbers of former elected officials, corporate CEOs, and presidents of labor unions can act as stealth lobbyists—often with greater access and influence than the majority of registered lobbyists, and almost always without leaving a trace of what they are saying, who they are saying it to, and on who is paying them to say it.