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New tool tracks new lobbyists and their clients

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After the Nov. 2, 2010 election, lobbyists filed more than 350 new registration forms, disclosing their hiring by clients seeking to influence everything from the federal budget to Kyrgyz government negotiations with the United States to supply jet fuel to airbases in Manas, Kyrgyzstan and Bagram, Afghanistan. 

As members of the 112th Congress begin work, special interests will start adapting to the new political landscape in part by hiring new lobbyists to work the corridors of power on Capitol Hill. To follow those adaptations, the Sunlight Foundation is launching the Lobbyist Registration Tracker, a tool for tracking newly hired lobbyists, their clients and the specific lobbying issues they disclose. 

Lobbyists must file registrations with the House and Senate within 45 days of being hired. The tracker extracts information from filings made with the Senate Office of Public Records, and provides a snapshot--updated weekly--of who's hiring lobbyists and why.

In December, as cutting federal spending and repealing or amending the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act emerged as key priorities of the incoming Republican House, 36 registrations reported new lobbying clients interested in the budget and appropriations, while 30 cited health care as an issue. Some 14 entities that hired lobbyists were interested in taxes, including the Americans Standing for the Simplification of the Estate Tax, a group of auto dealers who proposed replacing federal estate levies with a 1.77 percent surtax on the income of the top one percent of earners. The tax deal agreed to by Congress and President Barack Obama levies a 35 percent tax on estate assets over $5 million. Just two filings disclosed immigration as a key issue, even as Congress considered the DREAM Act in the final days fo the lame duck session.

Though reports don't have to be filed for a full month and a half after organizations hire new lobbyists, the Lobbyist Registration Tracker provides the earliest insights into what topics are drawing the attention of special interests, and can point reporters and the public to trends in  Washington's economy of influence. Whether the topic is foreign relations--where lobbyists have been engaged on behalf of firms battling foreign governments over control of their investments and to advocate on the status of Jerusalem--or education, for which lobbyists have been hired by for-profit higher education institutions, traditional universities and charter schools to lobby Congress over funding and regulatory matters, the Lobbyist Registration Tracker gives a glimpse of which policies in Washington draw the attention of special interests and the employment of lobbyists.