Lobbying Laws Need to Capture All Who Lobby

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Sunlight’s new Lobbyist Registration Tracker is a great new tool to let users track who is lobbying about what issues. It’s a valuable resource for anyone who wants to detect what trends are hot in Congress. But, it could be even more useful if it weren’t for the yawning gaps in the law about who is required to register as a lobbyist.

Right now, the oft-cited “20 percent exemption” lets some of the most influential players in Washington—the former politicians, the labor leaders and the corporate CEOs—wield their influence in the White House and the halls of Congress on behalf of clients, without registering their activities. So long as their lobbying activities take up less than 20 percent of their time on behalf of any one client, they don’t have to make their influence peddling public. It’s no secret that in Washington that a few well-placed phone calls to Members of Congress or their most senior staff by a power player like Tom Daschle, Bill Thomas or Andy Stern can yield significantly more results than dozens of meetings by the majority of registered lobbyists. But until the law is changed to close the 20 percent loophole, those meetings won’t end up in Sunlight’s lobbyist tracker, and the public will be prevented from having a complete picture of who is helping to shape our laws and policy.

One of Sunlight’s policy goals is to amend the Lobbyist Disclosure Act to create real-time, online disclosure about lobbying, including changing the definition of lobbyist to ensure there is disclosure by everyone who lobbies. Interested in helping make this sensible change happen? Sign up here and we’ll keep you informed on ways to get involved.

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