Mysterious, Powerful Lobbying Group Won’t Even Say Who It’s Lobbying For

David Dayen

Mar. 20 2016, 10:15 a.m.

The Commercial Energy Working Group (CEWG) is one of the many lobbying organizations in Washington. They make recommendations to federal agencies and try to sway lawmakers on policies. They engage in the basic political work of making the government friendlier to business.

There’s only one problem: who the Commercial Energy Working Group actually represents is a secret.

This violates federal lobbying and ethics laws, according to Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum, who has urged the House and Senate to investigate the matter. “The Commercial Energy Working Group is one of the most active – and secret – organizations seeking to undermine energy market regulations,” Slocum told The Intercept. “The purpose of my complaint is to force the group to start identifying its membership.”

Under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, all lobbying organizations registered with the federal government must list the names of any business that has contributed more than $5,000 to them in any one quarter. But the CEWG “does not disclose the individual companies or entities that constitute its active membership,” according to Slocum’s letter.

The group has no web site, does not file annual reports with the IRS, and hasn’t sought incorporation in any state. It operates out of a D.C. law firm – Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan – and used the Sutherland offices as their formal business address in their initial 2013 lobbyist disclosure form. CEWG’s official lobbyists, Alexander Holtan and Blair Scott, are employees of Sutherland.

Sutherland has listed lobbying income between $10,000 to $60,000 for its “client,” CEWG, every quarter since mid-2013, with a total of $130,000 in lobbying income in 2015.

That money is coming from someplace, but CEWG and Sutherland refuse to say where.

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