Lobbyist Registration Policy: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell


Washington lobbyists are supposed to register new clients within 45 days of being in their employ. Big surprise, a lot of them don’t. In fact, the registering and reporting regime is so loose that sometimes lobbyists won’t report new clients for up to three years after being hired. An investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics found 137 registrants to have filed later than the 45 day period, one registrant was so unpunctual as to have filed 1,102 days late.

One of Sunlight’s priorities is to have contemporaneous lobbyist disclosure filing of all activity. Filing 1,102 days late, however, cannot qualify as contemporaneous in any world (maybe in one where time doesn’t exist). But who, or what entity, can manage to oversee whether a lobbyist is registered with a company if they don’t file a registration?

The new lobbying rules enacted under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 – yet to be signed by the President – increase penalties for noncompliance from a ceiling of $50,000 to $200,000 and include possible jail time. The amount of the fine is determined by the severity of the violation. I’m left to wonder if late filers under the current system receive little or no punishment for failure to file in a timely fashion and whether this will continue. It appears that if the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House don’t ask, lobbying firms can wait as long as they want to tell.

In an ideal system of contemporaneous filing lobbyists would be required to file within 24 hours of contacting a lawmaker for a particular client. For that to work enforcement mechanisms, such as exorbitant fines for late filers would likely be required as we can see from the failure of the current system to account for all registrations.