Bill Clinton famously tried to claim he hadn’t lied about his relationship Monica Lewinsky by saying, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Newt Gingrich similarly contorts the English language by claiming “I was never a lobbyist.” Perhaps Gingrich’s claim depends on what the meaning of the word “lobbyist” is. If it is the loophole ridden, easily evaded legal definition in the Lobbying Disclosure Act that allows power brokers to avoid registering as lobbyists if they spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying, then maybe, maybe, Gingrich can claim with a straight face that he was not a lobbyist. But if common sense and Miriam Webster are applied, to lobby means, “to conduct activities aimed at influencing public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation.” Under that definition, there can be no doubt that Gingrich was a lobbyist, even if he didn’t fill out the paperwork.
The New York Times today correctly notes that people of Gingrich’s stature never register as lobbyists. It’s time to change that. Former members of Congress who trade their political connections for paychecks must be required register and report as lobbyists so that the public knows who is paying them and what positions they are advocating. Sunlight has long supported legislation that would strengthen the definition of lobbyist by eliminating the 20 percent loophole. The law should be clear. Former members of Congress should not be able to call themselves “consultants,” “strategic advisors,” or “historians,” while taking money from corporate clients to advance their causes on Capitol Hill. They are lobbyists.
Anti-lobbyist barbs will continue to fly this election season because they win easy political points. But instead of accusations and denials, name calling and obfuscation, it’s time for real reform that will capture all who lobby and impose much needed accountability on the system.