Imagine if a lobbyist for teachers unions or for-profit colleges volunteered to tutor a governor’s kids. Or imagine if a lobbyist for the NFL was also the Pop Warner coach of the governor’s kid’s team. That would certainly give off the appearance of improper closeness between a lobbyist and an executive. And impropriety is certainly in the air following a complaint against Humane Society of the United States lobbyist Jennifer Fearing.
Fearing runs HSUS’s lobbying in California, and she’s also got a special role as a dog-walker for Governor Jerry Brown. This year, Brown has signed all six HSUS-backed bills that passed the state legislature. Coincidence, or undue influence?
Some hunting activists think the latter and are complaining about Fearing, alleging that her dog-walking amount to a “service” that should be declared as lobbying under state law.
So is there any merit? It’s a complaint worth considering, according to one expert:
Fearing is “a powerful person who wants something from the government,” said Jessica Levinson, an expert on law and governance issues and associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
With her role in the dog’s life, “she has access to Gov. Brown,” Levinson said. “There are a variety of ways to exercise influence.”
Fearing replies thusly:
“I wouldn’t misuse that relationship,” she said. “I deal with staff, and I go through the right channels. I would like to believe that we live in a civilized society where you can do neighborly things like walking people’s dogs.”
Interestingly, advice on getting close to legislators is dished out in a lobbying guide prepared by HSUS itself. In a document titled “Basics of Lobbying Animal Protection Legislation at the State Level,” HSUS has the following tips for getting to legislators:
THROUGH THE BACK DOOR – Animal protection issues are usually not a top priority with legislators. If you can get to know an elected official because of another issue, take the opportunity. If you are affiliated with the PTA, a local business, civic group, or fighting a zoning battle, go out of your way to work with an official, Then when the time is appropriate, use that relationship to cultivate him/her on animal protection issues.
STAFF – Get to know the staff. If the staff likes you, you are more likely to get to know the legislator directly. Also provide assistance to the staff and have them think of you as a resource for those issues that come up on animals. Offer to do research.
So Fearing’s claim that she “wouldn’t misuse that relationship” of being merely a neighborly dog-walker seems especially weak given that HSUS itself has advised that their people use “back door” channels to attempt to gain influence over lawmakers. That appears to be just what Fearing has done here in getting close to the Governor.
The reason that states have ethics counsels is because it’s important to keep a close eye on lobbying activities. It’s important to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. We don’t know if Fearing violated any rules, but it sure does smell rotten.