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For Clues About Who They're Meeting, Check Lobbyists Tweeting

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Companiespoliticianscelebrities and journalists have all taken to Twitter to promote their brands. But based on a search of Twitter’s API for the names of thousands of registered lobbyists, as well as interviews, lobbyists have been a bit slower to join the Twitter party.

However, some lobbyists’ tweets reveal insider tidbits about what they are monitoring, who they are influencing, and how Washington works, all in real-time.

We have compiled a list of lobbyists using Twitter on the @sunfoundation account so citizens can follow what some of them are up to. This list, which includes over 200 lobbyists, is only a sample of lobbyists using the service and we hope to add more.

How did we make the list? By querying Twitter’s API, we tried to match the names of thousands of registered lobbyists from Center for Responsive Politics data with Twitter user names. Because Twitter only allows a limited number of queries each day, matches were only attempted for about one fourth of the over 15,000 lobbyists that were registered in 2009 or 2010. When a lobbyist’s name matched a Twitter user name, and when more biographical data matched the details in the Twitter profile, the account was included in our list. Then, we supplemented the list by searching Twitter for lobbyists we are familiar with and top spending lobbying firms.

In the process, we found that, amidst a sea of quotidian, what-I’m-eating-for-dinner tweets, sometimes lobbyists provide a real-time look into how they might be influencing members of Congress.

For instance, one lobbyist, Rob Nichols, the president of the influential Financial Services Forum, tweeted live from a September charity event featuring the Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

At the 2011 boehner lieberman williams dinner benefiting the catholic elementary schools <a href='http://twitter.com/#!/LukeRussert'>@LukeRussert</a> MCing

The tweet provided a rare, real-time glimpse into the details of a lobbyist attending a lawmaker’s pet charity event. Nichols said he was there as a guest of a friend and did not donate, according to FSF spokesperson Jen Scungio.

Other lobbyists tweet about their access to high-ranking lawmakers. In one case, a meat industry lobbyist revealed that he has even gone hunting with one.

<a href='https://twitter.com/#!/FrankBruni'>@FrankBruni</a> I've shot w/ Paul Ryan. He's the best shot (by far) in GOP. 100% sincere love of hunting, nothing folksy put on there.

Michael Formica, the chief environmental counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, was defending Congressman Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, after New York Times columnist Frank Bruni accused him and other politicians of projecting themselves as ordinary, outside-the-beltway Americans to be more appealing.

Formica said he was on Ryan’s team at the annual shoot-out fundraiser for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation a few years ago, which the NPPC and other entities sponsor.

“The one time I shot with him, he was by far the best Republican shot. We talked about hunting and he legitimately knew what he was saying and what he was doing,” Formica said.

Although the NPCC lobbies Congress, Formica himself does not, he said.

“I don’t do lobbying. I’m a lawyer and I deal with EPA. It annoys me that they list me as a lobbyist.”

On Twitter at least, some lobbyists aren’t so shy. Gregg Hartley, the senior Republican at lobbying powerhouse Cassidy and Associates, tweeted about the great view from the House Majority Leader’s office, running into GOP operative Karl Rove, and which lawmakers he’s throwing fundraisers for. That is, until he closed his account some months ago, making his past tweets unavailable (we saved some).

Still other lobbyists have even revealed when they’re going to a Capitol Hill hearing. Soon after it was announced that there would be a hearing on regulating online poker Oct. 25, Peter Dugas, a financial services, energy and gaming lobbyist, tweeted:

I'll be there: RT <a href='http://twitter.com/#!/ppapoker'>@ppapoker</a>: House committee takes 'first step' on legalized online gambling - The Hill http://ow.ly/75m7p <a href='http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23poker'>#poker</a>

Dugas, who used to lobby for MGM Resorts International, which is pushing to lift the federal online poker ban, cautioned that such tweets require context. “It’s always important to have some context why you’re going. People may assume that I have a client in online gaming if I’m going.” He added, “In reality I’m only going because I have a personal interest in the issue.”

Asked if Twitter or other social media could be used by lobbyists to disclose who they are meeting with in real-time, Dugas responded, over Twitter of course, that perhaps they could “check-in on Four Square linked to LD-2.”

He later said that lobbyists could use the locational service to report with whom they are meeting and on whose behalf. That information could be linked to their lobbying disclosure form, called the LD-2. Those forms currently require lobbyists to indicate federal agencies or legislative bodies they contact—for example, the Internal Revenue Service or the House—and not list individuals within those bodies that they contacted.

Politically Opinionated Lobbyists

Lobbyists tend to use Twitter more as an outlet for their political views than a tool for disclosure. The bombastic and conservative John Feehery, the president of communications at Quinn Gillespie, tweets out links to his blog, The Feehery Theory.

Mr. Obama is not a flip-flopper. It seems to me that he is a liar. <a href='http://bit.ly/owI3x6'>http://bit.ly/owI3x6</a>

From time to time those opinions coincide with his clients’ issues. While representing the Interactive Gaming Council (he no longer does), he pushed for the legalization of online poker on his blog, writing, “If people want to engage in an activity that is personal in nature, whether that activity is drinking booze, smoking pot or playing cards online, the market is going to serve those people.”

“Sometimes I’m particularly incensed by something that my clients are dealing with and I identify something in my blog,” Feehery, who blogged favorably about legalizing and regulating online poker after he stopped representing the Interactive Gaming Council, said.

Dena Battle, a tax lobbyist with Capitol Counsel, routinely criticizes President Obama.

Obama calls it the Buffett tax -- I call it the buffet tax -- all you can eat government spending.

Battle lobbies for nearly four dozen entities, including the American Petroleum Institute, the National Business Aviation Association and phRma. All three industries backed by these trade groups—oilcorporate jets, and the pharmaceutical industry—have been a target of proposed tax increases under the Obama Administration.

Susann Edwards, a Cassidy & Associates lobbyist, identifies herself on her Twitter bio as one of a “dying breed of moderate Democrats.” But her tweets tended to reveal more about her musical tastes than her work for the firm—she is apparently a fan of late 1990s hip-hop.

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Tweeting for business

As both a communications professional and a lobbyist, Feehery sees the potential for lobbyists to make use of both Twitter and Facebook in the influence business.

“To be an effective advocate you have to use social media. Whether you call yourself a lobbyist, a public affairs person or a strategist, if you don’t include social media in your offering you’re just not really playing,” he said.

Yet there are hurdles for lobbyists to jump over, he said. “Most lobbyists are policy people…they typically don’t do that in social media world—typically in one-on-one communications,” Feehery said. “I don’t think lobbyists are going to use Twitter per se because I don’t think lobbyists understand public communications and how to communicate to a wider audience.”

Lobbying firms are lagging behind on the social media, said Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an online content manager at First Street, a research platform that serves K Street. “Spitting it out for the universe to see on Twitter" is counterintuitive for them, as they value the personal relationships gained from decades on Capitol Hill. They are mostly using Twitter for personal reasons and to monitor news, he added.

Twitter helped Katherine Hamilton, also a lobbyist at Quinn Gillespie and an expert on smart grid technology, enhance her credibility in her field.

“If you are a thought leader and you establish yourself through a blog, through tweeting, any kind of social media, you can present that as an asset to attract clients,” Hamilton said.

She started using it in 2009 or 2010, she recalls, as the president of GridWise Alliance. When she started lobbying for Quinn Gillespie earlier this year, she also started a smart grid blog, which she links to on Twitter. Most of her tweets—she says she is lucky to tweet once per day—are policy-related.

Careful tweeting?

Most lobbying firms we called would not comment as to whether they have guidelines for how their employees should behave on social media sites. Feehery said he did not know if Quinn Gillespie has one but he maintained that the firm does not muzzle its lobbyists.

“We encourage our folks to be part of the conversation as long as they are respectful,” Feehery said.

“I think that the most important thing is honesty. Being honest and identifying yourself and making people know when you are speaking on your own behalf," he added.

Dugas used to be able to be a bit less cautious, he said, because he worked at lobbying firm. He recently joined a law firm that also lobbies.

“Since I’ve joined it, because we are a law firm, I’m much more sensitive to my activities and the conversation that I discuss on a social network just out of an abundance of caution,” Dugas said.