The Carmen Group, a firm the Center for Public Integrity highlighted in a report about inadequate lobbying disclosure, agreed to pay $125,000 to settle federal allegations that it failed to report lobbying activity and political contributions.
The fine is the largest civil settlement of its kind since the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act became law in 1995.
The Center for Public Integrity's report, published in August 2014, described how the Carmen Group attempted to convince federal officials to forgive $130 million worth of taxpayer-backed emergency loans the U.S. Department of Education had given Xavier University of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Carmen Group even drafted legislation for lawmakers to use and pass.
But when it came to publicly disclosing the nature of its six-figure lobbying efforts on the university's behalf, which federal law compelled it to do, the Carmen Group offered only five words: “Hurricane Katrina related recovery issues.”
“The American public has a right to know about the efforts of paid lobbyists to influence legislative and executive decision-making,” Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen Jr. said in a statement today. “Lobbyists who fail to report their activities thwart the purpose of the Lobbying Disclosure Act and remove transparency from the legislative process. This settlement reflects our determination to seek significant penalties from repeat offenders who fail to meet their reporting obligations.”
Upon reaching the settlement, the Carmen Group denied that it ever knowingly violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
"To avoid the delay, uncertainty, and expense of litigation, the parties mutually desire to reach a full and final settlement of allcivil claims the United States has or may have against Carmen Group and its registered lobbyists based on the conduct alleged above," reads the settlement, signed by Carmen Group President and Chief Executive Officer David Carmen and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Short.
In the five-page settlement, the U.S. Attorney's office does not detail specific situations where it believes the Carmen Group failed to file mandatory lobbying reports. It also does not cite specific clients represented by the Carmen Group, including Xavier University of Louisiana.
Carmen Group's client list this year is primarily composed of state and local government entities, colleges, hospitals and environmental outfits.
Among them: the San Antonio River Authority, the California State Coastal Conservancy, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Dillard University in New Orleans, and Napa County, California's flood control and water conservation district.
The firm's lobbying income has steadily declined since peaking at nearly $13 million in 2007. It's on pace to earn about $4 million in publicly disclosed lobbying revenue this year, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.