SF-LLL Timeline: Part 1 (1989)


The timeline for form SF-LLL that I foolishly promised the other day has grown to an alarming length. I’m posting the pre-SF-LLL history now–the events that led Congress to pass and the President to sign a bill requiring those seeking federal contracts or grants to file a disclosure form whenever they pay a lobbyist ito influence members of Congress or the executive branch in obtaining those contracts or grants. So here’s a very brief accounting of the relevant events from 1989:

June 1989: Context is important. In 1989, a scandal unfolded that involved former Reagan Administration officials successfully lobbying the Department of Housing and Urban Development to secure HUD funds for their clients (including some big campaign contributors) in exchange for hefty consulting fees (skimmed off the top of those HUD funds). Federal dollars intended to provide affordable housing for low income Americans instead is ending up in the pockets of the likes of James Watt, the former Interior secretary. Just as Congress was rightly getting into high dudgeon over the ability of lobbyists to earn six figure sums by getting taxpayer money from the executive branch, the Washington Post published a story by reporter Dan Morgan on June 18 that showed that lobbyists were making as much of $50,000 a month per client by getting tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money from the congressional appropriations committees, while also helping to raise campaign contributions for the members of Congress who sat on those committees. As the Washington Post’s Robert G. Kaiser recounts in his excellent online series Citizen K Street, this irritates Sen. Robert Byrd; it appears that, like HUD, the Senate Appropriations Committee (which Byrd chairs) is handing out federal favors to insiders, if I’m reading Kaiser correctly.

July 25, 1989: The Senate Appropriations Committee sends the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to the full Senate for consideration. Within the bill is something known as the Byrd Amendment–which blocks government contractors and grantees for paying for lobbyists with federal funds and requires greater disclosure from lobbyists seeking to influence members of Congress or executive branch officials when seeking government contracts or grants for their clients. (Thanks to the vagaries of Thomas, I can’t link directly to the information, but if you search the 101st Congress for H.R. 2788, you can find much of this information for yourself.)

July 26, 1989: The Senate passes the Interior Appropriations bill, with the Byrd Amendment intact. At the time, the Post described it thusly:

The Senate Wednesday passed a Byrd-sponsored amendment that would require persons or organizations receiving federal contracts, grants, loans or guarantees to report to government agencies the names of consultants and lobbyists who help them. Grantees also would have to say how much the consultants were paid, report the source of the funds and describe the activities covered.

Current laws require registration by lobbyists who have an interest in pending legislation. Byrd’s amendment applies to anyone influencing or attempting to influence congressional staff members or executive branch officials, and would forbid use of federal funds to pay for such activities. The information required under Byrd’s legislation would be centrally available to the public and Congress, at the offices of the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House.

July 31, 1989: The Washington Post publishes a story, also by Dan Morgan, saying that Byrd has decided to block the earmark tha West Virginia Universtiy sought.

Aug. 20, 1989: The St. Petersburg Times publishes an op-ed by Byrd, discussing his legislation. Byrd writes,

Whether justified or not, the perception is growing that the merit of any project, grant, or contract awarded by the government has fallen into a distant second place to the moxie and clout of lobbyists who help spring the money out of appropriation bills for a fat fee. As the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have become concerned not only by the perception, but also by the possibility, that this practice could become widespread.

Sept. 13, 1989: The House votes in favor of the Byrd Amendment.

Oct. 3 and 7, 1989: On the first date, the House approves the Interior appropriations bill, on the latter, the Senate does the same. The Byrd Amendment survived the Conference Committee process.

Oct. 23, 1989: President Bush signs the measure into law — P.L. 101-121, if you’re keeping score at home. The Byrd Amendment is Section 319 of the act. (If you’re so inclined, you can download Section 319 as a Word Document by clicking here.

Dec. 23, 1989: The Byrd Amendment takes effect. However, as we’ll see in the soon-to-be posted 1990 timeline, there’s no means yet established for complying with it.