Federal Politics

Published — May 10, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

American Maritime Officers: The same agenda year after year?

Union’s lobbying disclosure forms under scrutiny

Introduction

An examination of lobbying records filed by the American Maritime Officers (AMO) union has revealed a stunning long-term pattern of Lobbying Disclosure Act violations by the union, and a lack of oversight by congressional offices tasked with ensuring the accuracy of such reports.

Late last month, following inquiries by the Center, the union moved to address some of the issues.

The problems came to light as a result of research conducted by the Center for its upcoming Who Bankrolls Congress? series. The union turned up as one of the top career contributors to House Minority Leader John Boehner, and a closer examination of its lobbying reports filed with the Senate Office of Public Records uncovered a nearly decade-long gap in the union’s reporting of its legislative activities.

The AMO, the nation’s largest union of merchant marine officers, represents about 4,000 members nationwide and is headquartered in Dania Beach, Fla. The group was part of the AFL-CIO’s Marine Engineers Beneficial Association until 1994, then functioned as an independent unaffiliated union for almost a decade before signing an affiliation agreement with the AFL-CIO’s Seafarers International Union of North America. The AMO has had legal problems in recent years: In 2007, the union’s former president and its former secretary-treasurer were both convicted for racketeering conspiracy and mail fraud in a scandal involving illegal contributions to political candidates. Neither was a registered lobbyist for the organization.

The Senate Office of Public Records makes available lobbying reports on its website dating back to 1999. Listed on the AMO’s 1999 midyear disclosure form are more than a dozen legislative proposals on which the group lobbied during that time period. Included were the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1999, the Maritime Administration Authorization Act for fiscal years 2000 and 2001, a “Cruises to Nowhere Act” governing gambling cruise ships, and the Water Resources Development Act of 1999. Some of these measures were enacted, some were merged into other bills, and others died in Congress.

A year later, the union’s 2000 midyear and year-end filings included all the same bills, as well as two new additions: the United States Cruise Vessel Act and the Free Market Antitrust Reform Act of 1999. With the 2000 elections, the 106th Congress came to an end and the legislative docket was wiped clean. But the union’s list of legislative lobbying targets didn’t change for nine years. Though each Congress seated every two years starts fresh with a new slate of legislation, the union’s 2001 midyear and end of year forms suggested that the AMO continued to lobby on the same 16 outdated and, in many cases, dead pieces of legislation.

As the years rolled by, AMO continued to file form after form listing the same 1999-2000 legislative items. Though the union has updated its contact name, expense amount, lobbyist names, and filing methods, the fourth quarter disclosure form for 2009, filed on Jan. 20 of this year still claimed the union was lobbying the 111th Congress on the 16 items from a decade ago. Indeed, some AMO forms were even resubmitted with amendments to add lobbyist names omitted from the initial filings, but the issues section remained untouched. For the past several years, the forms have been signed electronically by AMO’s national president, Thomas J. Bethel.

That’s not just sloppy filing — it’s also a violation of federal law. The Lobbying Disclosure Act mandates that the form include for each quarterly period “a list of the specific issues upon which a lobbyist employed by the registrant engaged in lobbying activities, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a list of bill numbers and references to specific executive branch actions.” The government rarely pursues such cases, but a lobbyist who knowingly fails to comply can be punished with a civil fine of up to $200,000. If the failure is deemed “corrupt” in a court of law, it can also mean up to five years in prison.

Although the lobbying disclosure law designates the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives to “review, and, where necessary, verify and inquire to ensure the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness” of reports, apparently neither office caught the dozens of faulty reports filed by the AMO from 2001 to 2009.

Only after an inquiry from the Center did the Secretary of the Senate’s office confirm that it will send a letter to AMO notifying the union that it may have violated the disclosure law. If the AMO fails to appropriately respond within 60 days, the Secretary of the Senate is required to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for possible legal action. A spokeswoman for the office told the Center that it cannot comment on whether the letter has yet been sent.

A spokesman for the House Clerk said he would respond to Center inquiries but did not do so.

Mary Boyle, vice president for communications at Common Cause, called the situation “a complete embarrassment” that demonstrates why enforcement of the law is critical. “It’s incredible that for nine years this organization has filed the required paperwork that has just not even been looked at. It is a sad commentary,” she told the Center. “It’s not enough for Congress to just make rules on disclosure; those laws have got to be enforced.”

Multiple attempts to contact the AMO by phone and e-mail were not returned. Center reporters went to the AMO’s office in Washington, D.C., but no one was made available for comment. Weeks later, after an additional round of calls, the union’s national vice president at large told the Center he “decline[d] to comment.” But it seems the union did take notice. Following the Center’s numerous inquiries, the AMO’s first quarter 2010 lobbying filings, submitted on April 20, contain an entirely new list of lobbying agenda items.

Read more in Federal Politics

Share this article

Join the conversation

Show Comments

11
Leave a Reply

avatar
9 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Mark Sullivan
Guest
Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
Guest
CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
Guest
George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
Guest
j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
Guest
Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
Guest

hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
Guest
SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
Guest
Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
Guest
Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
Guest
South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
Guest
SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT