New Lobbyist Disclosure Rules Under Attack


Last Friday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an amicus brief in support of the disclosure requirements of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA), joining the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21 and Public Citizen in defending the disclosure provisions. All were in response to the National Association of Manufacturers who earlier in February had filed suit in federal court challenging the disclosure provisions and saying they are "vague, overbroad and burdensome" and were in violation of the First Amendment.

HLOGA requires any organization actively participating "in the planning, supervision, or control" of lobbying efforts that ponies up more than $5,000 in a quarter to disclose their activities and expenditures. The law’s purpose is to shine a light on stealth lobbying and sham coalitions, pushing legislation such as those that are often promoted by groups like NAM. The law’s criminal penalties on groups that fail to accurately disclose their lobby efforts succeeded at getting their attention. NAM says that the clause in question is imprecise and impacts groups that it is not intended to target. They fear the law will also require it to disclose the names of its members. NAM has requested the court issue a preliminary injunction on the disclosure rules until the court decides the case.

OMB Watch‘s blog reports that strong legal precedent exists on the disclosure of lobbyist activities, the 1954 United States v. Harris Supreme Court decision that upheld disclosure provisions in the Regulation of Lobbying Act. The court determined that Congress had a right to gather information about "those who for hire attempt to influence legislation or who collect or spend funds for that purpose." Federal and state courts have used this precedent to almost unanimously upholding lobbying disclosure statutes based on the state interest in informing the public of the persons and groups that are attempting to sway the legislative process, according to OMB Watch.

In announcing their filing, CREW quoted U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) from a statement he made last year explaining the necessity of HLOGA’s lobbying disclosure requirement: "(As) President Harry Truman said, ‘The buck stops here.’ But with stealth lobbying we don’t know where ‘here’ is or whose buck it is."