Research Proposal: Federal Lobbying Reform

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Federal Lobbying Reform

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"The purpose of our lobbying laws is to tell the public who is being paid how much to lobby whom on what. That purpose is not being served under the status quo as we now see it."

Sen. Carl Levin, criticizing the prior Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act (1992)

What is it?

"The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) regulates federal lobbyists and organizations that lobby. The law defines and specifies the following:

Who is a Lobbyist?

Any person who:

Receives compensation of $5,000 or more per six-month period, or makes expenditures of $20,000 or more per six-month period, for lobbying;

Makes more than one lobbying contact; and Spends 20% or more of his or her time over a six-month period on lobbying activities for an organization or a particular client"

(Public Citizen, 2005, para. 1)

Lobbying is understood to mean an attempt to influence public policy via written or verbal means with members of the legislative or executive branches of the government. Included in the definition of influencing public policy are any effort to affect the formulation, modification or adoption of policy or legislation.

Lobbying reform consists of a compilation of policies and laws passed over the years to establish stricter reporting requirements of lobbyists' expenditures in Washington D.C., and to provide protections against conflict of interest situations for members of Congress. In most cases, the bills also expand the information given to the public about communications between lobbyists and their senators and members of Congress. And they name names as far as those who give large contributions to Congressional reelection campaigns (Chaddock, 2007).

Current Laws

On September 14, 2007, President George W. Bush signed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA). That act placed even more restrictions and reporting requirements on lobbyists and their employers. It also established new penalties for violations.

Examples of these new rules: (Urwitz, 2007, para. 1-9)

Meals, gifts, and travel are prohibited or severely restricted. Lobbyists may no longer provide meals, gifts or travel reimbursement to any legislative branch official except IAW House and Senate rules.

Requires lobbyists to certify that they have read the House and Senate gift and travel rules and have not provided gifts or travel in violation of the rules. Companies have to disclose if a lobbyist has worked in the Executive or Legislative Branch of government within 20 years of becoming a lobbyist. Civil and criminal penalties were put in force.

Lobbyists must file semiannual disclosures with the House and Senate describing, in detail, contributions over $200 to any candidate for federal government, PAC or political party committee.

Lobbying reports must be filed four times each year rather than semiannually.

The value of tickets to entertainment or sports events is the face value of that ticket.

Former senators cannot lobby Congress for two years after they leave office. House members must refrain for at least one year.

Criminal penalties can now be applies to violations including heavy fines and imprisonment.

(Urwitz, 2007)

Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, Etc.

LDA, which we touched on at the beginning of this paper, brought together the many piecemeal policies, legislation and loopholes in existence prior to its passage -- including the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA), the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946 (FRLA), and the 1989 Byrd Amendment. This bill had its own loopholes and problems, later cleaned up by the 2007 HLOGA (Public Citizen (2), 2005).

The 1938 FARA had been the first attempt to reform lobbying from the perspective of foreign agent influence on congressional legislation and legislators. The belief was that Hitler was helping to finance the Nazi movement in the U.S. And that movement could influence U.S. policy. This was also a result of the McCormack committee investigating "un-American activities" in this country. FARA focused only on lobbying disclosure, not lobbying conduct. It was amended a number of times in the 1950s and 1960s, the most significant being in 1966 when Congress altered its focus to regulating grassroots lobbying as well as foreign agents (Public Citizen (2), 2005).

The 1946 FRLA had generally been recognized as a failure regarding public disclosure of lobbyists and their financial activities. It was widely believed to be poorly drafted and ineffective. Though it was the first attempt at a comprehensive lobbying disclosure law, it did not apply to congressional staff or anyone in the Executive branch of government, and it did not require any disclosure of total expenditures by lobbyists or for what policies the money was spent. It was also vague as to who had to register as a lobbyist, and enforcement seemed to be something no one was interested in doing.

The 1995 LDA made some important improvements to the patchwork regulations that existed before it:

It further defined what a lobbyist and lobbying activities consisted of.

It presented a specific parameter for when lobbyists had to register and required bi-annual financial reports

Reporting requirements for lobbyists representing foreign interests were modified.

(Public Citizen (2), 2005)

LDA also had its own shortfalls:

Disclosure was inadequate. Public access to the paper reporting forms was minimal at best. The system needed to be electronic and capable of search, sort, and download.

Inadequate enforcement. No individual agency has enforcement authority, nor is any agency interested in ensuring that the lobbyists' filings are accurate or even complete.

Poor regulation of conduct. Former public officials and family members of legislators served as lobbyists, and gifts and contributions were given by lobbyists to federal officeholders (Public Citizen (2), 2005).

As we have seen with the 2007 HLOGA, these shortcomings were corrected, at least in theory. It is too soon to tell how well the legislation will work in practice long-term.

Abuses

June 23, 2009. "House GOP asks Justice to investigate GM and Chrysler for illegal lobbying on climate" (Milloy, 2009).

August 17, 2009. "Citizens Consulting Inc. (CCI), the shadowy financial nerve center of the embattled radical activist group ACORN, has filed false lobbying disclosure reports with Congress..." (Vadum, 2009).

September 3, 2009. "The nation's two largest health insurers -- WellPoint and United Healthcare -- have been presuring employees to lobby against healthcare reform in Congress in violation of a California law against coerced political activity..." (Williams, 2009).

May 15, 2008. "Government documents recently obtained by the Humane Society of the United States reveal that the American Egg Board (AEB) is involved in an illegal scheme to divert $3 million of federal legislative check-off funds to lobby voters against an anti-cruelty ballot initiative..." (HSUS, 2008).

Except for the last abuse listed, all the cases above occurred in the past four months of this year. And all of these abuses took place since the 2007 HLOGA. This is not a complete list by any means, but a concise picture of the lengths companies and organizations will go to in order to achieve their own goals. It is why lobby reform is crucial to the objective, fair functioning of our legislative process.

Illegal acts and unethical behavior run rampant because no matter what legislation is passed, there are ways to bypass the regulations. In many states, one popular tactic in the past has been Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions to legislators' campaigns. Laws passed to prohibit lobbyists from contributing to those campaigns did not eliminate donations to or from PACs. In addition, PACs connected to lobbyists are prohibited from contributing to lawmakers during a legislative session, so the day before the legislature opens, guess what happens? Parties are organized by Republicans and Democrats, and lobbyists make the rounds, donating to the PACs or to the political party itself, which is legal. Now, let's guess in whose pocket the money ends up (Johnson, 2007).

Even under HLOGA, which included PACs among those who now have to report contributions, the regulations do not require disclosure of individuals and groups that are not federally-registered lobbyists. In a practice called "bundling," an "individual" collects contributions from others and then directs the money to a particular candidate. Lobbyists do double duty as bundlers due to their vast network in Washington D.C. For fundraising. (Bogardus, 2009)

New bundling disclosure rules were passed by Congress in 2007. However, due to the recent passage, not all the bundlers are being reported and enforcement has been somewhat lax.

One prolific bundler is listed as a bundler for four different campaigns but was observed at ten fundraising events during the congressional reporting period in 2009. Only four reports were filed. and, if husband and wife are acting as co-hosts for political campaigns, campaigns can split the sum raised between them, or any other number of co-hosts, so that no one host (spell that lobbyist) will exceed the $16,000 reporting requirement (Bogardus, 2009). In other words, the new bundling requirements have produced little disclosure.

Charitable contributions have also entered the picture as a lobbyist tool to disguise contributions to legislators. Federal law does limit the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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