Lobbyist Disclosure Gets Oversight


Lobbying disclosure reports will finally get reviewed by an oversight body as a result of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) began auditing the first quarter lobbying reports to determine compliance and noncompliance to the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 and subsequent amendments included in HLOGA. The GAO may ask for time sheets and restaurant and travel records to check to see if employees are meeting the lobbyist threshold. The audit results should be released around Sept. 30, 2008, six months after the initial quarterly report filing date. Michael Stern at Point of Order points out some issues that may prevent the GAO from requiring audited firms to turn over documents:

According to this article in Roll Call, the failure to comply with a GAO request could then be referred to the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House, which are responsible under the LDA for notifying any lobbyist or lobbying firm that “may be in noncompliance” with the law. This in turn could lead to a referral to the U.S. Attorney for potential civil or even criminal enforcement.

This, I think, must be wrong. HLOGA gives GAO the authority to request information from certain individuals and organizations, but it does not require that the information be provided.If Congress had intended that registrants and lobbyists be required to provide information requested, it surely would have said so explicitly. To imply such a duty would seem particularly inappropriate given the possibility that requests might infringe on First Amendment rights or other privileges.

A more likely interpretation is that Congress intended that the GAO’s notification would be referred to the committees of jurisdiction, which could then choose to use their subpoena power to obtain the needed information.