Improving Federal Lobbying Laws topic of ABA Task Force Report

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Improving federal lobbying laws is the focus of a new report released by a task force of the American Bar Association’s Section on Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice. The Task Force on Federal Lobbying Laws, on which I served,* recommended [PDF] more comprehensive disclosure by lobbyists and those who support their efforts as well as strengthened enforcement of current law. To become ABA policy, the report must be reviewed by the ABA’s governing bodies.

Here are highlights from the report’s recommendations:

  • End a major loophole as to who counts as a registered lobbyist. The law would be changed so that a person need only spend 12 hours/quarter to be required to register as a lobbyist; current law requires a person to spend 20% of their time engaging in lobbying activities before having to register. It would also simplify the monetary trigger that requires registration.
  • Disclose more lobbying information. Lobbying firms and organizations would be required to disclose more information about their activities, including contacts with all congressional offices, committees, and federal agencies; provide a list of all bills and topics regarding which lobbying activity was conducted; and identify all persons who engaged in “lobbying activities” or “lobbying support.”
  • Better track lobbyists and lobbying. The publicly-accessible lobbying disclosure database should be improved; lobbyists would now be able to be tracked individually through the use of unique identifiers; and a new form for lobbyists to deregister would be employed.
  • Require reporting for those involved in professional lobbying campaigns. Clients would be required to disclose the lobbying and lobbying support activities of firms hired to assist in a lobbying campaigns — whether they are engaged in polling, public relations, coalition building, strategic planning, or providing assistance from high-profile public figures. All of these disclosures would be available online. Most people doing this work would be officially deemed “lobbying supporters.”
  • Focus special attention on big money and big wigs. Anyone who is a “lobbying supporter” must file regularly if he or she has bundled money; given more than $10,000 in federal donations w/in a year of providing lobbying support; spent more than 10% of his/her time providing advice on lobbying strategy; or served as a Member of Congress, Senate-confirmed political appointee, or within the last 5 years as a Congressional staffer or within the Executive Office of the President.
  • Separate lobbyists and fundraising. Individual lobbyists cannot engage in certain fundraising activities to support a campaign for a Member of Congress — or a candidate for Congress — with whom that lobbyist has had a “lobbying contact” within two years. Similarly, an individual lobbyist cannot make a “lobbying contact” if he or she has engaged in a covered fundraising activity within the past two years. (Note that candidates for Congress are not covered under current law.) Also, this prohibition on fundraising would be applied to other registered lobbyists at the same firm where a lobbyists has made a lobbying contact, and would require the firm as an entity to abstain from raising funds for that Member/candidate or directing money to that political figure.
  • Clear up Earmarks. Although the report doesn’t take a specific position, it generally recommends that the House and Senate consider making earmark disclosure more timely and meaningful, perhaps in the ways described in the Earmark Transparency Act of 2010. Similarly, lobbyists who seek earmarks (and their employers) would be required to file a form stating they have neither contributed to nor sought individual or PAC contributions for the Members they lobbied for earmarks during the current session of congress. Also, lobbyists who are paid on a contingent fee basis would need to publicly file that contact if they lobby for earmarks, tax relief, or targeted loans, grants, contracts, or guarantees.
  • Fix the Byrd Amendment. The Byrd Amendment, which (generally speaking) bans those who receive government contracts from using government money to hire lobbyists to lobby Congress or the executive branch, is badly worded and needs to be clarified. The report calls on OMB to issue final rules interpreting the statute.
  • Improve enforcement. The Task Force noted the lackluster enforcement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and recommended that Civil Division of the Department of Justice may be a reasonable candidate to be assigned the duty of interpreting and enforcing compliance with the LDA.

* Note: I served on the Task Force as a liaison, which means that I participated in all the deliberations but did not vote on any issue.

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