Pity the Poor Lobbyists


The Hill’s Congress Blog last week featured an item by Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, in which Mr. Marlowe called on lobbyists to “break our code of silence and show our true determination to solve the critical problems that are tying the federal government in knots.”

I’m not privy to this code, despite being a registered lobbyist myself. Apparently, Mr. Marlowe’s concern centers on lobbyists acting “as though there was no choice but to silently take the abuse to ourselves and our profession.” Poor us.

But if Marlowe is concerned about the image of lobbyists, rather than dismiss proposals to make the profession more transparent, he should embrace them. Sunlight strongly supports the H.R. 2339, the Lobbyist Disclosure Enhancement Act introduced by Rep. Quigley. The bill would require lobbyists to disclose the names of the covered executive branch officials or Members of Congress lobbied (or the name of the employer if the lobbyist meets with staff), closing a meaningless provision in current law in which lobbyists merely have to report whether they have lobbied the House, the Senate or the Executive branch.

But where is the American League of Lobbyists on this? Firmly opposed. It’s “not realistic” says Marlowe. At the same time, he claims that it was ALL who led the effort two decades ago to enact lobbyist disclosure, noting, “Today anyone can turn to a database on the Internet that tells who is lobbying, what they are lobbying for, and how much they are getting paid to lobby.” Why wouldn’t ALL then want to complete the circle of disclosure and add to that database the names of the people actually being lobbied?

Mr. Marlowe goes on to complain that President Obama’s staff uses a nearby coffee shop to meet with lobbyists, so that their presence isn’t disclosed when White House visitor logs are released. The visitor logs are a security system retooled as a disclosure system, and aren’t a replacement for a complete overhaul of the lobbying laws. If lobbyists were required to report their meetings, it would be irrelevant whether the meetings took place in the West Wing or Starbucks. Again, if Mr. Marlow is so concerned that the White House is skirting its own disclosure rules, he should be endorsing greater transparency measures.

As disappointing as Mr. Marlowe’s stance on stronger lobbyist reporting is, we agree that the 20 percent loophole should be closed so that anyone who is paid to lobby must register and report. This is another component of the LDEA.

Lobbyists engage in constitutionally protected activities and should have nothing to hide. The profession would go a long way in assuaging negative assumptions about it if lobbyists break their code silence and loudly cheer greater disclosure.