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New Lobbyist Leader Presses for Change on K Street

If you’ve ever met Monte Ward, chances are he’s tried to convince you of the merits of lobbying.

“It’s our profession, and I want to make sure people understand exactly what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis,” Ward said. “We’re not just walking around Capitol Hill with cash sticking out of our pocket, trying to hand out everywhere.”

Ward is the newly elected president of the American League of Lobbyists, a group that’s existed since 1979 to lobby on behalf of lobbyists, because in Washington even the influencers need representation.

His priorities for the organization include bolstering ALL’s membership, which is currently at 1,100 in a city with more than 10,000 registered lobbyists. He also plans to continue to fight against the Obama administration’s policy of limiting interaction with registered lobbyists. And Ward said he will advocate for changes on K Street that would make it harder for government relations types to operate in the shadows without triggering a registration under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Under the two-year tenure of ALL’s most recent president, Howard Marlowe, the group drafted four pages of recommendations that include lowering the threshold for registering under the disclosure act to 10 percent of a lobbyist’s time instead of the current 20 percent.

Marlowe views the recommendations as one of the biggest accomplishments of his term.

“That took 15 months of hard work,” Marlowe said. “It still has a lot of hard work to go, in terms of convincing Congress to make changes.”

Modernizing ALL’s back office was also a feat, Marlowe said. “It’s not terribly sexy, but they took a heck of a lot of time,” he said.

But one area where ALL’s membership remains divided is on overhauling the campaign finance system. Some members favor restrictions on their fundraising and donations, while others regard that work as a major part of how they do business.

“It’s a difficult situation,” Ward said, adding that the group has pledged to work with members of Congress on the subject.

An independent practitioner who often conducts business by cellphone from Union Station, Ward said he is considering changes to the league’s structure and is looking at putting together more professional and networking programs for lobbyists. And even as Ward wants to press for proposals to rope in “unlobbyists” — government relations professionals who do not register with Congress — he wants ALL to do more to recruit them into its fold.

“The whole lobbying profession has changed over the past few years,” said Ward, a one-time aide to former Reps. John J. Rhodes III, R-Ariz., and Michael P. Forbes, a Republican-turned-Democrat from New York. “You have a lot more people involved in grass roots and PACs and super PACs we need to pay attention to as an association. So we’re certainly considering ways we can make ourselves available to them.”

Lobbyist Mike Fulton, an ALL board member, said Marlowe guided the organization through a rough patch when President Barack Obama was targeting the industry and the group’s internal workings came to a standstill after the death of longtime Executive Director Patti Jo Baber.

“Howard Marlowe and his staff at his firm stepped up to the plate in a mammoth way and helped make sure the American League of Lobbyists didn’t miss a beat,” Fulton said. The executive director slot is now filled by Danielle Staudt.

Fulton noted that Ward has been an organizer of the league’s charity basketball games against members of Congress and Hill aides. The new president also led a long-term planning initiative, which includes the goal of tripling membership in five years. “Monte’s brought a lot of organization and strategy to the group,” Fulton said.

Added Marlowe: “We’ve had a grueling past two years, so I’m looking forward to pulling back in terms of time commitment.”

Though the league presidency is a volunteer gig, Ward said he, too, expects it will sometimes feel like a full-time job.

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