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GAO Finds Fault With Lobbyist Reports

by PolicyFellow

by Cassandra LaRussa

Only 63% of information disclosed on lobbying reports were "properly reported and supported," according to a new Government Accountability Office audit. The March 2012 report surveyed lobbyist compliance with federal reporting requirements during 2011. According to the report, the major reasons for inaccurate disclosure reports included confusion regarding the definition of “lobbying activities” and the definitions of “covered positions.”

Although the majority of lobbyists surveyed indicated that lobbying reporting (LD-2) disclosure requirements were overall “easy” or “somewhat easy” to meet, some lobbyists interviewed indicated that they “were not sure when research and support activities become lobbying activities and therefore needed to be disclosed.” Others described confusion “as to whether congressional interns were considered covered positions and therefore need to be disclosed.” At least 11% of lobbyists in the study did not disclose previously held covered positions.

After the audit, 17 lobbying firms planned to amend and resubmit their LD-2 forms.

GAO reviewed a random sample of 100 LD-2 Forms, which lobbyists must file according to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. After examining the LD-2 forms, GAO asked lobbyists to verify the reported information by providing supporting documents.

Although lobbyists are not required to keep this documentation on file, all lobbyists complied with the request and provided documents to support 93% of the disclosure reports. Last year, lobbyists selected for review were able to support 97% of their reports. Reasons for not providing supporting documentation included a lack of recordkeeping and situations in which lobbyists over-reported, and did not actually lobby during the time period in question.

The GAO study also looked at LD-203 forms, in which lobbyists disclose their federal campaign contributions. Only 86% of lobbyists in the study who were required to file an LD-203 actually did so. At least 4% omitted one or more political contributions that should have been reported.

There has only been one enforcement case brought by the Department of Justice since the enactment of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. The GAO indicated that the US Attorney’s Office hired a new staff member in September 2010 specifically to handle lobbying compliance matters and developed a “top-ten list of noncompliant lobbyists” for closer investigation.

Photo credit [F]oxymoron