But beyond what the law requires, what else should a lobbyist disclose? Only what a client would want the public to know. The law does not prohibit a registrant from reporting more than it requires. So, for example, at times a client may want to disclose its efforts in more detail. This could be to let Congress know of its deep interest in the matter. It could also be to show legislative opponents that it is fully engaged in the issue. After all, industry competitors scrutinize their competitors’ public filings just as the public interest community often does.
But there are also times when a client would like to have as little information as possible disclosed about its activities. In the examples just cited, there could be equally compelling reasons to say no more than needed. Again, as long as the information provided is accurate and adequately informs the public of the issue area, it needs to go no further.
Recent reporting about the lobbying disclosures filed by several lobbyists registered for a client that is the subject of congressional interest puts this issue in focus. Ordinarily, few would ever have noticed them given the thousands of registrations and reports that are filed each quarter. But in an investigation, as is this instance, many otherwise unnoticed things come to light. One lobbying firm indicated that it was working to identify decision makers and to assist with the client’s loan application. On its face, it would appear that these activities do not even rise to reportable activities or even require registration in the first place. Another firm indicated that they were involved in the introduction of the company to members of a congressional committee. If introductions were the only activity, again, this does not appear to require registration or subsequent reporting. But if the introductions involved discussions related to legislation or to an issue on which the client was seeking congressional action, more should have been reported to inform the public of the purpose of the introductions. Why use the word “introductions” anyway? Another listed numerous instances of “monitoring”. Monitoring could be reportable lobbying activities if, at the time it is being conducted, future lobbying contacts are contemplated. If such future contacts are not envisioned, the monitoring does not have to be reported.
The purpose of highlighting these statements is not to criticize them, nor is it to suggest that lobbyists should conceal activities that otherwise should be disclosed. The filing of LDA forms must be viewed through a dual lens that takes into account both the law and the client’s overall strategic goals. Lobbyists should pay careful attention to the message that they are sending about their clients. Clients should ask their lobbyists to submit to them in advance any LDA forms to ensure that the two are aligned in the information that is being disclosed.
Thomas J. Spulak is a King & Spalding partner and chair of the firm’s Government Advocacy and Public Policy Practice Group. He served as Democratic staff director and general counsel of the House Committee on Rules, and as general counsel to the House.