Hired Guns

Published — May 15, 2003 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

How the Feds stack up

Not good. Federal lobby disclosure law is substantially weaker than most states’

Introduction

Though federal laws are often considered more stringent than state laws, this is not the case with the federal lobby disclosure law. The Center for Public Integrity survey shows that only three states—New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wyoming—have lobby disclosure rules that are as weak as or weaker than those applying to the hired guns registered to lobby Congress. See Federal Lobby Disclosure Report Card below.

More than 25,500 lobbyists spent at least $1.6 billion lobbying Congress in 2002, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a Washington, D.C., research and consulting organization. That is 48 lobbyists and more than $3 million per legislator. With 4,269 bills and resolutions introduced and 241 public laws enacted last year, the power lobbyists have in helping to interpret—and thereby enact—legislation cannot be overestimated.

The Center survey included 48 questions with weighted points totaling 100. It focused on eight areas of lobby disclosure regulation: definition of lobbyist; individual registration; individual spending disclosure; employer spending disclosure; electronic filing; public access; enforcement; and revolving door provision. The federal laws received 36 points.

On the whole, federal law demands much less than state law because it lacks many basic elements that most states possess:

  • A federal lobbyist is not required to register until 45 days after they begin performing activities that constitute lobbying or have been contracted to perform lobbying activities. Lobbyists in 20 states are required to register before performing any activities constituting lobbying; in another 17 states lobbyists must register within one to 5 days of lobbying.
  • A federal lobbyist files spending reports only twice a year. Lobbyists in 12 states file monthly spending reports.
  • The spending report does not require aggregate totals categorized by type of spending, unlike the spending reports in 31 states that do sum up expenses by gifts, postage, meals, entertainment, etc.
  • The spending report does not require any detailed itemization of spending, unlike the spending reports in 37 states which require some individual information for each expense.
  • Though there is a $100 cap limiting lobbyists’ gifts to public officials, none of the gifts below that amount is required to be reported. Twenty-two states limit lobbyists’ gift giving and require disclosure of what is spent.
  • Unlike 34 states, the agency overseeing federal lobbyists lacks the authority to audit filings.

Federal Lobby Disclosure Report Card:

Federal Government

Score: 36

State Lobby Disclosure Report Card:

Section Section Score Maximum Section Score
Definition of Lobbyist 3 7
Individual Registration 7 19
Individual Spending Disclosure 10 29
Employer Spending Disclosure 0 5
Electronic Filing 2 3
Public Access 8 20
Enforcement 4 15
Revolving Door Provision 2 2
Total 36 100
Question Answer Point Value of Answer
Definition of Lobbyist
1 In addition to legislative lobbyists, does the definiton recognize executive branch lobbyists? Yes 3
2 How much does an individual have to make/spend to qualify as a lobbyist or to prompt registration as a lobbyist, according to the definition? Qualification threshold: Above $500 made/spent 0
Individual Registration
3 Is a lobbyist required to file a registration form? Yes 3
4 How many days can lobbying take place before registration is required? 16 or more days 0
5 Is subject matter or bill number to be addressed by a lobbyist required on registration forms? Bill number required 3
6 How often is registration by a lobbyist required? One time only 0
7 Within how many days must a lobbyist notify the oversight agency of changes in registration? 16 or more days 0
8 Is a lobbyist required to submit a photograph with registration? No 0
9 Is a lobbyist required to identify by name each of employer on the registration form? Yes 1
10 Is a lobbyist required to clearly identify on the registration form any additional information about the type of their lobbying work (ie, compensated or non-compensated/contract or salaried)? No 0
Individual Spending Disclosure
11 Is a lobbyist required to file a spending report? Yes 3
12 How often during each two-year cycle is a lobbyist required to report spending? 4 to 6 filings within two years 1
13 Is compensation/salary required to be reported by a lobbyist on spending reports? Yes 2
14 Are summaries (totals) of spending classified by category types (ie, gifts, entertainment, postage, etc.)? No 0
15 What spending must be itemized? No spending required to be itemized 0
16 Is the lobbyist employer/principal on whose behalf the itemized expenditure was made required to be identified? N/A 0
17 Is the recipient of the itemized expenditure required to be identified? N/A 0
18 Is the date of the itemized expenditure required to be reported? N/A 0
19 Is a description of the itemized expenditure required to be reported? N/A 0
20 Is subject matter or bill number to be addressed by a lobbyist required on spending reports? Bill number required 3
21 Is spending on household members of public officials by a lobbyist required to be reported? No 0
22 Is a lobbyist required to disclose direct business associations with public officials, candidates or members of their households? No 0
23 What is the statutory provision for a lobbyist giving/reporting gifts? Gifts are not reported 0
24 What is the statutory provision for a lobbyist giving/reporting campaign contributions? Campaign contributions allowed and not required to be disclosed on spending report/allowed during session 0
25 Is a lobbyist who has done no spending during a filing period required to make a report of no activity? Yes 1
Employer Spending Disclosure
26 Is an employer/principal of a lobbyist required to file a spending report? No 0
27 Is compensation/salary required to be reported on employer/principal spending reports? No 0
Electronic Filing
28 Does the oversight agency provide lobbyists/employers with electronic/online registration? No 0
29 Does the oversight agency provide lobbyists/employers with electronic/online spending reporting? Yes 1
30 Does the oversight agency provide training about how to file registrations/spending reports electronically? Yes 1
Public Access
31 Location/format of registration or active lobbyist directory: Searchable database on the Web 3
32 Location/format of spending reports: PDF or image files on the Web 2
33 Cost of copies: Less than 25 cents per page 1
34 Are sample registration forms/spending reports available the Web? Yes 1
35 Does the agency provide an overall lobbying spending total by year? No 0
36 Does the agency provide an overall lobbying spending total by spending report deadlines? No 0
37 Does the agency provide an overall lobbying spending total by industries lobbyists represent? No 0
38 How often are lobby lists updated? Semi-annually or less often 1
Enforcement
39 Does the agency have statutory auditing authority? No 0
40 Does the agency conduct mandatory reviews or audits? No 0
41 Is there a statutory penalty for late filing of lobby registration form? Yes 1
42 Is there a statutory penalty for late filing of lobby spending report? Yes 1
43 When was a penalty for late filing of a lobby spending report last levied? N/A 0
44 Is there a statutory penalty for incomplete filing of a lobby registration form? Yes 1
45 Is there a statutory penalty for incomplete filing of a lobby spending report? Yes 1
46 When was a penalty for incomplete filing of a lobby spending report last levied? N/A or never 0
47 Does the state publish a list of delinquent filers either on the Web or in a printed document? No 0
Revolving Door Provision
48 Is there a “cooling off” period required before legislators can register as lobbyists? Yes 2

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