Yesterday evening, John reacted to President Obama’s SOTU speech in which the President proposed a ban on lobbyists acting as bundlers. He criticized the proposal as “unlikely to pass Congress, and unlikely to pass muster with the courts.” It’s true that Congress is unlikely to do much of anything for the remainder of this session, although my bet is that the courts would uphold a bundling ban if it were structured properly. Regardless, focusing on banning lobbyist bundlers is to ignore the elephant in the room: we need to fix who is required to register as a lobbyist in the first place .
Were Congress to act in 2012, the best thing it could do is to tighten the requirement of who must register as a lobbyist so that the Newt Gingriches, Tom Daschles, and other hidden influencers will be brought into the sunlight. There’s no doubt that they both have lobbied, at least under the common-sense definition of “influenc[ing] politicians or public officials on a particular issue.” The legal definition says essentially the same thing, but it allows lobbyists to evade registration so long as they avoid either spending 20% of their time lobbying or directly contacting more than 1 covered official. This is incredibly easy to do, and creates loopholes that just about everyone agrees should be closed.
So if we’re going to talk about lobbying reform — and a Pew Charitable Trust survey released Monday says 40% of Americans believe that addressing lobbyist influence is a top priority for 2012 — the best place to start is with fixing the lobbyist registration and disclosure requirements. President Obama has addressed lobbying reform in the past, most visibly in his 2010 State of the Union speech, and his administration’s actions have shown sensitivity to the importance of this issue. But he seems to have gotten sidetracked.
A good place to start is with the Lobbying Disclosure Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. Quigley, which directly takes on the lobbying disclosure loopholes, as well as Sunlight’s recommendations on this issue and the ABA Lobbying Task Force’s report. For a primer, watch the Advisory Committee on Transparency’s event “Washington’s Lobbying Fix,” which discusses all of these proposals.