The countless lobbyists urging Congress to include relief for their clients in the third coronavirus legislative package (“COVID 3.0”) currently pending in Congress may soon be unemployed, at least if the House version becomes law.

The Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act (H.R. 6379), proposed by Democrats in the House of Representatives on Monday (“House bill”), prohibits “[a]ny corporation that receives Federal aid related to COVID-19” from “carry[ing] out any Federal lobbying activities,” until the corporation has “repaid” all COVID-related aid to the Federal government.

The temporary ban on federal lobbying appears in a part of the 1,432-page bill that imposes a number of “conditions” on corporations that may receive aid under the legislation.  In addition to refraining from federal lobbying, if the House bill becomes law, corporate recipients of COVID-related relief may not pay executive bonuses, pay “any type of compensation” to an executive who leaves the company, buyback any stocks of the corporation, or pay any dividends.

How the lobbying ban would operate in practice is unclear.  For starters, what does it mean to “carry out” lobbying activities?  Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, “lobbying activities” includes “lobbying contacts”—communications with certain covered government officials on behalf of a client regarding “the formulation, modification, or adoption of Federal legislation” or “the formulation, modification, or adoption of a Federal rule, regulation, Executive order, or any other program, policy, or position of the United States Government—but also “efforts in support of such contacts.”  2 U.S.C. § 1602(7).  Does this mean that any activity related to a government policy that affects the company must cease?  Could the company conduct research for lobbying that will take place after the aid is repaid?

The legislation also raises questions about corporate participation in trade associations that employ lobbyists.  Would this provision ban a corporation from joining and paying due to a trade association?  What about strategizing with the trade association about its own lobbing?  In light of the broad definition of “lobbying activities” under the LDA, the scope of this lobbying ban could be similarly broad.

In addition to the lobbying provisions, which apply only until the COVID-related aid is “repaid,” the House bill would impose permanent conditions and reporting requirements on certain aid recipients.  The bill requires certain so-called “accelerated filers”—a term that the bill directs the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to define—to file detailed disclosure reports with the SEC, disclosing, among other things, all “expenditures for political activities.”  Such reports would include details about independent expenditures, electioneering communications, and trade association and other membership dues paid by the corporation, and would be made available to shareholders and to the public on a quarterly basis.

These provisions are one part of a rapidly developing COVID-19 relief package that is under active negotiation by both parties and both chambers of Congress.  We will continue to monitor whether these provisions advance as part of the COVID 3.0 legislation, and will be ready to advise clients on their impact should they become law.

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Matthew Shapanka

Matthew Shapanka draws on more than 15 years of experience – including on Capitol Hill, at Covington, and in state government – to advise and counsel clients across a range of industries on significant legislative, regulatory, and enforcement matters. He develops and executes…

Matthew Shapanka draws on more than 15 years of experience – including on Capitol Hill, at Covington, and in state government – to advise and counsel clients across a range of industries on significant legislative, regulatory, and enforcement matters. He develops and executes complex, multifaceted public policy initiatives for clients seeking actions by Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state government agencies, many with significant legal and political opportunities and risks.

Matt rejoined Covington after serving as Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, where he advised Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on all legal, policy, and oversight matters within the Committee’s jurisdiction, including federal election law and campaign finance, and oversight of the Federal Election Commission, legislative branch agencies, security and maintenance of the U.S. Capitol Complex, and Senate rules and regulations.

Most significantly, Matt led the Rules Committee staff work on the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act – landmark bipartisan legislation to update the antiquated process of certifying and counting electoral votes in presidential elections that President Biden signed into law in 2022.

As Chief Counsel, Matt was a lead attorney on the joint bipartisan investigation (with the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee) into the security planning and response to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. In that role, he oversaw the collection review of documents, led interviews and depositions of key government officials, advised the Chairwoman and Committee members on two high-profile joint hearings, and drafted substantial portions of the Committees’ staff report on the attack. He also led oversight of the Capitol Police, Architect of the Capitol, Senate Sergeant at Arms, and executive branch agencies involved in implementing the Committees’ recommendations, including additional legislation and hearings.

Both in Congress and at the firm, Matt has prepared many corporate and nonprofit executives, academics, government officials, and presidential nominees for testimony at legislative, oversight, or nomination hearings before congressional committees, as well as witnesses appearing at congressional depositions and transcribed interviews. He is also an experienced legislative drafter who has composed dozens of bills introduced in Congress and state legislatures, including several that have been enacted into law across multiple policy areas.

In addition to his policy work, Matt advises and represents clients on the full range of political law compliance and enforcement matters involving federal election, campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “Pay-to-Play” rule, as well as the election and political laws of states and municipalities across the country.

Before law school, Matt worked as a research analyst in the Massachusetts Recovery & Reinvestment Office, where he worked on all aspects of state-level policy, communications, and compliance for federal stimulus funding awarded to Massachusetts under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009. He has also worked for federal, state, and local political candidates in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.