When is a lobbyist not a lobbyist

Many years ago, a well-known attorney and I had meetings with several Members of Congress over a period of time.  When a congressman called him a lobbyist, he threatened to sue the congressman.  He, too, didn't meet the 20% test.  The unspoken truth is that many lobbyists don't meet that threshold because lobbying today is done much differently than when the LDA was enacted in 1995.  Today's lobbying often involves the use of polling; ads that appear in print, on TV, and online; the use of commissioned studies; and much more.  Each of these can be an effective component of a lobbying campaign, but even registered lobbyists don't need to disclose them.  The LDA has other major defects such as its three different sets of definitions and 19 exceptions covering lobbying activities. 

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Unlike Gingrich, several thousand of my professional colleagues aren't ashamed of the lobbying we do. We help business, labor, schools, hospitals and others get their message communicated effectively to the right people and at the right time.  Many of us don't niggle over percentages, but rather take the approach that over-reporting is a more prudent way to go. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good reasons to stay away from registering and reporting altogether. The reports take time to prepare. They enable the media to name you in what passes these days as investigative journalism. The President won't meet with you, take your political donations, or let you serve on a federal Advisory Committee. All of these restrictions apply only to registered lobbyists. Why not call yourself a consultant, advisor, attorney or even an historian and avoid all of these negatives and the public stigma as well?

This brings us back to Gingrich and the thousands of others who legally do not register as lobbyists but who reasonable people would say are engaged in lobbying. The law needs to be changed so that all of us who are paid to influence public policy are required to register and report on our activities. Since lobbyists don't have a vote in Congress, we need to continue to work with elected officials to close the loopholes and make lobbying more transparent. Most of all, we need to make sure that everyone who lobbies is called a lobbyist and required to register and report our activities.   

Marlowe is President of the American League of Lobbyists


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