The Washington Post reported yesterday on new lobbyist regulations being proposed by the American League of Lobbyists. According to the report, ALL recommends eliminating the 20 percent loophole for lobbyists for hire. That would mean powerful stealth lobbyists like Tom Daschle, Newt Gingrich and Jon Corzine would have to register. ALL’s proposal would reduce the size of the loophole for in-house lobbyists, but just barely. It would allow lobbyists who work in-house to fly under the radar by claiming they spent less than 15 percent of their time lobbying. Sunlight has been advocating closing the 20 percent loophole for all lobbyists since before it was cool.
Sunlight’s position is simple. If you lobby, and you are paid to lobby, you should register to lobby. Twenty percent, fifteen percent, in house or not, it makes no difference.
Any carve out will be exploited, giving power players a way to hide their activities. Take Chris Dodd. The head of the Motion Picture Association of America is a former powerful senator who undoubtedly has the private numbers of many current members of Congress programmed into his cell phone. He’s not registered now, and there is no reason to think he would register simply because the threshold was lowered from 20 to 15 percent. Yet he has far more access and far more power than I, an outside lobbyist consultant to Sunlight, or the vast majority of lobbyists-for-hire could hope to have. Why give him a pass?
ALL is not the only group with a proposal to reform lobbying. The American Bar Association has a set of recommendations (that includes eliminating the 20 percent loophole, among other things), as of course, does Sunlight. Lobbying reform legislation has been introduced in Congress, and the President continues to talk about the issue. With all of the suggestions, ideas and competing (and overlapping) proposals, the time is ripe for Congress to take the issue of lobbying reform seriously. A start would be to hold hearings so that advocates could fully explain their positions and members of Congress could start to build a record and build a consensus for meaningful reform.