By JOSH ISRAEL & AARON MEHTA – CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
An examination of lobbying records filed by the American Maritime Officers union has revealed a pattern of Lobbying Disclosure Act violations by the union and a lack of oversight by the congressional offices tasked with ensuring the accuracy of the reports.
Under the act, lobbyists are required to report every quarter the issues in which they are engaged, but for nine years the union reported lobbying the same 16 outdated â€”and, in many cases, dead â€” pieces of legislation that it initially reported lobbying in 1999 and 2000.
On a form it filed Jan. 20, covering the fourth quarter of 2009, the union updated its contact names, expense amounts, lobbyist names and filing methods but still stated the union was lobbying the 111th Congress on the same legislation from a decade ago. For the past several years, the forms have been signed electronically by AMOâ€™s national president, Thomas Bethel.
The Lobbying Disclosure Act mandates that the form include for each quarterly period â€œa 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.â€
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 â€œcorruptâ€ in a court of law, it can also mean up to five years in prison.
The AMO, the nationâ€™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-CIOâ€™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-CIOâ€™s Seafarers International Union of North America.
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