Just as lobbyist registration fees vary widely among states, so do requirements for who must register in the first place. Most states do not have any registration threshold, requiring “all lobbyists” or “all compensated lobbyists” to register. Other states, however, have registration thresholds based on percentage of time spent lobbying, hours spent lobbying, amount of lobbying expenditures/compensation for lobbying activities, or a mix of the above. Here’s a brief overview.
Percent of Time Spent Lobbying Threshold
Four states use the percentage of time spent on lobbying activities as a trigger to require registration. In North Carolina, lobbyists are required to register if they spend over five percent of their time lobbying. By contrast, Georgia lobbyists are required to register if they spend 10 percent or more of their time lobbying.
Hours Spent Lobbying Threshold
Alaska and Maine use a minimum of hours as their threshold for registration. In Alaska, when a person is compensated and spends more than 10 hours in any given 30-day period lobbying, then he or she is required to register. Maine requires registration for any person who spends 8 hours in any given month lobbying.
Lobbying Expenditures/Compensation Threshold
Several states have a threshold based on lobbying expenditures or compensation. For example, in Arkansas lobbyists are required to register if they receive compensation or reimbursement of at least $400 or expend at least $400 in a quarter for lobbying activities. In Connecticut, the threshold is expending, receiving, or agreeing to expend or receive over $2,000 annually for lobbying.
Some states require registration if either a time or an expenditure/compensation threshold is met. In Hawaii, lobbyists are required to register if they spend over $750 in a reporting period (either 8 months or 2 months, depending on the time of year) or spend five hours in any month of a reporting period on lobbying activities. In Oregon, registration is required if a lobbyist either spends 24 hours or $100 in a quarter on lobbying activities.
Pennsylvania, on the other hand, only requires registration if both the time and expenditure/compensation thresholds are met. Anyone who spends and receives more than $2,500 for lobbying and spends over 20 hours lobbying during any 3-month reporting period is required to register.
California also has both a time and an income threshold, but further breaks it down by type of lobbyist. In-house lobbyists are required to register if one-third of their time per month is spent engaging in direct communication with officials for lobbying purposes. Contract lobbyists are required to register if they receive or are entitled to receive $2,000 per month for direct communication with officials.
Maryland may have the most detailed system with different thresholds for different types and degrees of lobbying. Legislative Branch lobbying requires registration once a person spends over $500 on travel or subsistence expenses related to lobbying, earns over $2,500 for direct lobbying, or earns over $5,000 for indirect lobbying in a reporting period. Executive Branch lobbying requires registration once a person spends over $100 on direct communication with covered officials, earns $2,500 or spends over $500 for direct lobbying, or earns over $5,000 for indirect lobbying in attempting to influence a regulation or an executive order in a reporting period. There is a catch-all provision as well: all lobbyists who attempt to influence action regarding a procurement contract over $100,000 or who are compensated by a business to obtain a state grant or loan are required to register. Finally, any organization that spends $2,000 on grassroots lobbying in a 6-month reporting period is required to register.
The federal system currently has a time and contacts threshold, where lobbyists are required to register if they spend 20 percent of their time lobbying and make two lobbying contacts. In addition, organizations that employ in-house lobbyists are required to register if their total expenses for lobbying activities in a quarter exceed $11,500. The 20 percent federal registration threshold is one of the provisions that needs to change, as it creates a loophole where many of the most influential players in Washington – including former Members of Congress, business executives, and labor leaders – are exempt from registering and reporting their lobbying activities.