The trade group representing K Street lobbyists in Washington, D.C., is shutting down.
The Association of Government Relations Professionals, formerly called the American League of Lobbyists, began winding down operations Monday, according to a notice posted on its website.
“The President and Board of the Association of Government Relations Professionals (AGRP) are very disappointed to announce that as of April 18, AGRP will be winding down its operations,” the group stated. “After a long-running legal dispute over a 2008 contract, AGRP's Board believes it is no longer viable to continue operations.”
Paul Miller, a lobbyist with Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies and a former president of the American League of Lobbyists, said the dispute dates back to an agreement with the publishing company Columbia Books, which runs Lobbyists.info. Columbia Books had signed on as a sponsor for the group's events, Miller said.
“I was in that room, and there were several of us who didn’t like the contract because it gave Columbia Books too much authority. If the relationship went sour, which it has, [AGRP] would have to pay Columbia Books in perpetuity,” said Miller, who added that he left the lobbyist organization two years ago in part over the arrangement.
A spokeswoman for Columbia Books, Brittany Carter, said the lobbying group "had many opportunities to solve its legal problems, but did not pursue them." A D.C. Superior Court Judge, Alfred S. Irving Jr., sided with Columbia Books in February and ordered AGRP to pay more than $120,000, according to a court document.
Columbia Books "very successfully" grew an educational certificate program with the lobbyists' organization, Carter said in an emailed statement. She also said the agreement did not include "any perpetuity clause" and that Columbia Books was "responsible for working hand-in-hand with AGRP to run the program" including sharing in its profits and losses.
Miller, who said he also disagreed with the organization's decision to re-brand in 2013 by removing the word "lobbyists" from its name, is launching a new organization dubbed the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics. The entity will begin programs and seminars next month, he said.
Senior advisers of the new group will include former Missouri Rep. Kenny Hulshof, a Republican, who is registered to lobby for clients through the firm Kit Bond Strategies. Thomas M. Susman, the director of the American Bar Association’s government affairs office and a co-author of the ABA’s “The Lobbying Manual,” will also be involved in the new organization, Miller said. Hulshof was not immediately available for comment. Susman said he planned to provide educational courses on lobbying and ethics to the new group.
“I want to know if I can get a refund on my dues,” Susman said of the AGRP.
Katie Lane Chaverri of Tayman Lane Chaverri, a lawyer representing AGRP, said that the group's members would not be first in line. Columbia Books would hold that position.
"In wind-down situations, there is an order of payment, and the judgment creditor will likely come first," she said.
Putting the word lobbying in the new organization’s name, Miller added, was no accident, even in an election year fueled by anti-K Street rhetoric, especially from GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont who is seeking the Democratic nomination.
“When you’re influencing legislation or regulation, you’re doing what lobbyists are doing,” Miller said. “With the anger out there [that] Sanders and Trump have created, where is our profession in that anger? Yes, we have bad actors in our profession, like all professions do. But stop asking us for information, and see how the system works.”