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We Know it Pays to Lobby, but What Does it Cost?

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As the federal government considers changes to the Lobbying Disclosure Act, such as those we have recommended here, another consideration could be whether to impose lobbyist registration fees. Although the current federal system does not require fees, a majority of states do. They vary widely - from as low as $5 to $650 annually. These fees do everything from supporting state lobbying disclosure systems and ethics commissions to augmenting the general treasury.

I've taken a close look at state lobbyist registration fees and found some interesting things.

Texas and Wisconsin top the list in terms of the cost of registration. Texas has a flat $500 fee for all lobbyists except nonprofits, who pay $100, and contractors, who pay $50. Wisconsin charges lobbyists who lobby on behalf of a single employer a fee of $400, but the fee is $650 if a lobbyist lobbies on behalf of more than one organization. Organizations that hire lobbyists also have to pay a fee in Wisconsin - $375 to register plus an addition $125 authorization fee for each individual lobbyist hired.

By contrast, the average registration fee is around $100, and roughly half of states charge less than $50 annually. It is difficult to determine the exact average or median amount, however, as many states do not have a single set registration fee. These states have developed systematic ways to charge different amounts for different types of lobbyists or lobbying.

For example, in Kansas the registration fee is based on how much a lobbyist reports in annual expenditures on behalf of a client. If the amount reported is under $1,000, the annual fee is $50. If the amount reported is over $1,000, the fee jumps to $375. If the lobbyist is employed at a lobbying firm then the fee is even higher - $450 annually.

While Kansas bases its fee on annual expenditures, Wyoming bases its fee on the lobbyist's annual payment or reimbursement for lobbying activities from an employer. If the amount is less than $500, the registration fee is $5. If the amount is over $500, the fee is $25.

In Kentucky, lobbyists register as either an "Executive Agency" lobbyist or as a "Legislative" lobbyist. The annual fee is $125 per organization that employs one or more lobbyists for Executive Agency lobbying. The annual fee increases to $250 for any organization that employs one or more lobbyists for Legislative lobbying.

Maine differentiates between "lobbyists" and "lobbyist associates" for the purposes of registration fees. The fee for a lobbyist is $200 while the fee for a lobbyist associate is $100. The state defines a lobbyist as anyone who is employed to lobby and spends more than eight hours in any month lobbying. The state defines a lobbyist associate as anyone who works with a lobbyist, lobbies on behalf of a lobbyist’s employer, and spends more than eight hours in a month lobbying.

Nebraska charges compensated lobbyists a $200 fee, but drops the fee to $15 for lobbyists who do not receive compensation.

Nevada charges paid lobbyists $300, unpaid lobbyists $20, and unpaid lobbyists who are veterans no fee.

Ohio has a system where the state charges a registration fee of $25 for earch of the three possible lobbying categories for which a lobbyist lobbies: legislative, executive, and retirement system.

And finally, Vermont charges an initial flat registration fee of $25, but also charges an additional $5 for each lobbyist employer listed. If the registrant is a lobbyist employer then the employer has to pay the $25 registration fee plus an additional $5 for each lobbyist listed.

There has been legislation introduced on the federal level that would establish a $50 annual registration fee for lobbyists. Our Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman wrote about that legislation last year.