Report recommends changes to federal lobbying laws

A Task Force on Federal Lobbying Laws, organized by the American Bar Association's Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice, is recommending changes to federal lobbying laws that would broaden disclosure required by those involved in lobbying campaigns, address fundraising participation by lobbyists and strengthen enforcement of current law. The report, "Lobbying Law in the Spotlight: Challenges and Proposed Improvements," represents the position of the task force, but does not reflect the views of the Section, the American Bar Association, its Board of Governors or House of Delegates.

In 2009, the Obama administration introduced several initiatives to limit the influence of lobbyists; those efforts, along with public debate focused on the role of lobbyists in government, led to the formation of a task force to examine current laws and determine whether they adequately address the ways lobbyists do business. In their review of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, task force members determined the laws do not adequately require disclosure of lobbying activity, particularly when lobbyists retain additional outside firms to do portions of the advocacy work. Currently, lobbying firms are required only to report their own activities, not those of the firms it has retained. In addition, current law does not require lobbyists to identify specific legislative or executive offices they plan to contact. The report recommends more transparency in these areas.

In addition, the report recommends that lobbyists who advocate a position before a member of Congress not be permitted to fundraise for that member for a two-year period; similarly, fundraisers for a member would not be permitted to lobby that member for a two-year period. The report also recommends restrictions on lobbyists who seek earmarks or other narrow financial benefits from Congress, including a ban on contingent fees.

Finally, the report suggests that lobbying enforcement be handled by a regulatory body such as the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, and that that body be given appropriate administrative powers.

The bipartisan task force is comprised of lawyers, lobbyists, academics and public interest organization representatives. Recommendations based on the report are expected to go before the ABA House of Delegates at its Annual Meeting in August 2011.

Published: Mon, Jan 17, 2011