Lobbying FAQ

What is permissible? Out of bounds? Punishable?

By

 Updated:

Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions and misconceptions about federal lobbying.

What is lobbying?

Federal statute defines lobbying as any communication made on behalf of a client to members of Congress, congressional staffers, the president, White House staff and high-level employees of nearly 200 agencies, regarding the formulation, modification, or adoption of legislation.

Who is a lobbyist?

A lobbyist is a person hired directly by an organization or through a firm for services that include making more than one "lobbying contact" on behalf of a client, and who spends at least 20 percent of his or her time during a six-month period engaged in lobbying activity.

  • According to the Center for Public Integrity more than 22,000 companies and organizations have employed 3,500 lobbying firms and more than 27,000 lobbyists since 1998.

Who lobbies?

Corporations, organizations, much of the Fortune 500, universities, environmental and non-profit groups, and even churches lobby the federal government.

  • According to the Center for Public Integrity, the most commonly lobbied issue is budget and appropriations.

Who regulates lobbying?

The Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives oversee federal lobbying. According to the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, those offices are charged with providing guidance on lobbying disclosure, ensuring the timeliness and accuracy of required reports, and making those reports available to the public.

  • According to a Center for Public Integrity report, nearly 14,000 documents that should have been filed periodically with the Senate Office of Public Records are missing.
  • Forty-nine out of the top 50 lobbying firms failed to file required forms during the last six years.

Who must register to lobby with the federal government?

Organizations that employ lobbyists in house must register with Congress if their lobbying expenditures exceed $24,500 during a six-month period. Lobbying firms must file a separate registration – at least 45 days after first contact – for each client whose lobbying billings exceed $6,000 for a six-month period.

  • According to a Center for Public Integrity report, nearly 300 individuals and entities lobbied without filing proper registration forms.
  • In addition, more than 2,000 initial registrations were filed after the 45-day time frame.

What information must organizations lobbying disclose to the federal government?

Organizations must disclose on a semiannual basis: (1) the issues lobbied during that period, including specific bills and regulations; (2) the names of lobbyists employed by the client; and (3) the federal agencies contacted. Lobbying firms filing on behalf of a client must disclose an estimate of the total lobbying-related income earned from the client during the period. Organizations employing their own lobbyists must disclose an estimate of total lobbying-related expenditures for that period.

What are the penalties for non-compliance with lobbying disclosure laws?

  • A lobbyist who knowingly fails to comply with any provision of the law may be subjected to a civil fine, the maximum of which can be $50,000.
  • The House and Senate office must refer such alleged non-compliers to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, the principal prosecutor for federal criminal and civil offenses committed in Washington, D.C.

Can a former member of Congress, legislative staff or senior executive branch staff lobby on the Hill (revolving door)?

Government ethics law prohibits former members of Congress, senior legislative staff and senior executive branch staff from lobbying their former department or agency for one year after leaving government. These officials must report their past positions on their lobbying registration forms for the first two years after leaving government.

  • Former members of Congress retain access to the members-only dining facilities, gymnasiums, cloakrooms and the chamber floors—areas not accessible to others.
  • According to a Center for Public Integrity report, more than 2,200 former federal employees, including 273 former White House staffers, and nearly 250 former members of Congress and agency heads have registered as federal lobbyists between 1998 and 2004.

Can relatives of members of Congress work as lobbyists?

Relatives of members of Congress can and do register to lobby. According to the Senate Ethics Manual,

"the decision on whether a spouse may lobby the Senate is generally a decision for the Senator and his or her spouse, giving due regard to the potential reflection upon the Senate."
  • Relatives of Congress members who have registered to lobby include the wife of Rep. Roy Blunt R-Mo., the wife of former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D and the son of Sen. Harry Reid D-Nev.

Can lobbyists pay for travel for members of Congress?

According to House and Senate Ethics Rules:

  • Lawmakers and their employees cannot accept payment for travel from lobbyists or lobbying firms, even if a non-lobbyist client promises later reimbursement.

Can lobbyists arrange travel for members of Congress?

Lobbyists may set up, book, and travel with members of Congress on vacations, as long as they do not use personal or lobbying firm funds to pay for the trip.

Can lobbyists give gifts to members of Congress?

Lobbyists can give gifts (from meals to clothing to rounds of golf) to members of Congress that are less than $50 in value. The total value of gifts given to one member cannot exceed $100 in a year.

  • Lobbyists may not contribute to the legal expense funds of members of Congress or the charities controlled by a member of Congress.

Can lobbyists make political donations?

Lobbyists may make political donations under the same guidelines as other Americans. Lobbyists cannot give more than $5,000 to any political action committee per calendar year. They can, however, work on campaigns and serve as the treasurers of political action committees.

  • According to a Center for Public Integrity report, federally registered lobbyists served as the treasurers of at least 800 political action committees since 1998.
  • These lobbyist led committees have spent more than $525 million to influence the political process since 1998.
  • At least 79 members of Congress have appointed lobbyists to head their campaign committees or leadership PACs since 1998.

Can lobbyists write legislation?

Lobbyists can and at times do write legislation, sometimes at the behest of a member of Congress or their staff. Often, lobbyists will submit language to a member who has a working relationship with the industry which the lobbyist represents.