'Why Fill Out the Forms?'


The New York Times reports that strict rules imposed by the New Direction Congress® and a president who vowed to "change the way business is done in Washington" have already reduced the number of D.C.-based lobbyists—by encouraging them to stop calling themselves lobbyists:

The law required lobbyists to report four times a year instead of two, and to detail any campaign contributions and certain meetings with public officials. The law also made it a crime for registered lobbyists to provide gifts or meals to lawmakers or their aides….

"All the increasing restrictions on lobbyists are a disincentive to be a lobbyist, and those who think they can deregister are eagerly doing so," said Jan Baran, a veteran political lawyer who has been fielding questions from clients hoping to escape registration….

But for all its penalties, the law left the definition of a lobbyist fairly elastic. The criteria included getting paid to lobby, contacting public officials about a client's interests at least twice in a quarter and working at least 20 percent of the time on lobbying-related activities for the client.

Enforcement is also light. Lobbyists suspected of failing to file receive at least one official letter offering a chance to rectify their status before any legal action is taken.

After the rules changed, private companies and nonprofit groups immediately began to rethink their registration.

The rethinkers include Ellen Miller, co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, a big booster of transparency in government (and lobbying):

"I have never spent much time on Capitol Hill," Ms. Miller said, explaining that she only supervises those who press lawmakers directly. "I am not lobbying, so why fill out the forms?"