On September 10, FedSmith ran an article noting that the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) violated the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act which prohibits using appropriated funds for indirect or grassroots lobbying in support of or in opposition to pending legislation. (See HUD Violated Anti-Lobbying Provision Law Says GAO)
It appears that HUD may not be alone in using appropriated funds for indirect or grassroots lobbying to support pending legislation.
Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, recently wrote: “I took the Department’s message to the people. And not just a handful of people either –our virtual town hall discussion reached thousands of participants from coast to coast, even as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam.”
He asked Americans to “get a little noisier” and demand Congress pass a long-term investment plan to rebuild the nation’s transportation infrastructure. He also wrote that this requires “sharing your interest in this with your friends, your family, your online communities, and your coworkers. It means engaging your Members of Congress on long-term funding, explaining why we can’t wait until May and why upping our investment in transportation is so important.”
While the DOT appeal to pass the Administration’s highway bill (The GROW AMERICA Act) is not as direct as the one at HUD (HUD urged people to “contact these 17 senators”), it does involve a much more expansive effort (bus tour, national “town hall”, web posting, special twitter hashtag) aimed at putting pressure on Congress to pass the Administration’s highway bill. The DOT appeal includes calling on Americans to contact their Congressmen and Senators as noted above and to use social media to convince Congress to pass the Administration’s bill (See video at about 48:00 to hear appeal to all Americans from DOT Secretary Foxx).
Whether GAO would also call out DOT for violating the law as it did with HUD is not known. The GAO did not cite any penalty against HUD for violating the anti-lobbying provisions of law in finding that agency in violation. As penalties for violating the law may not be severe, more agencies may decide to take to the airwaves to try to increase pressure on Congress to obtain more funding for their programs regardless of legal restrictions.