The Wall Street Journal reports that lobbying firms are skirting the new stimulus lobbying rules by sending corporate executives and unregistered lawyers to lobby for funds from the stimulus bill. The new rules require that all lobbying for stimulus funds be done in writing only and that all contacts must be disclosed to the public. (I’ve been tracking the number of agencies posting lobbying communications over the past two weeks.) This was a major concern raised by limiting the lines of communication and requiring unprecedented transparency for lobbyist contacts. It does have an obvious solution: lower the bar for lobbyist registration to include all potential influencers.
Currently, lobbyist registration is only necessary for those who spend 20% or more of their time lobbying. This allows many lawyers, advisors, and executives — including some former lawmakers (see: Daschle, Tom) — to lobby without registering, unacceptably obscuring their participation in the processes of government.
There are many ideas out there regarding how to lower the registration bar. The simple percentage time could be lowered to 5% or 10%. Anyone paid by an organization, be they an advisor, lobbyist, or lawyer, would be required to register upon making a single lobbying contact with a government official. Or simply require the disclosure of all contacts. This latter idea would be the most problematic, as it would likely blur the legal recognition of lobbyists as separate, and able to be regulated, from others contacting their government.
Are there other ideas to increase transparency of influencers in Washington? How could we work to lower the lobbyist registration bar to include all the influencing actors operating inside the beltway?