Lobbyists push Congress to toughen rules for their industry

Washington’s corps of registered lobbyists could swell under a long-awaited reform plan from the American League of Lobbyists (ALL).

The league’s board of directors unanimously approved a proposal on Monday that would overhaul the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), a law that determines who is and isn’t required to register as a lobbyist. 

Under LDA, individuals who spend 20 percent or more of their time on lobbying and contact at least two government officials are required to register. Those standards have been criticized as too lax, because registration can be avoided by simply limiting face-to-face lobbying work.  

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“We have a lot of compliance [with LDA] going on, but nevertheless, I think an unacceptable level of non-compliance going on as well. We want that to be changed,” said Howard Marlowe, the league’s president.

The league wants to toughen the registration requirements for in-house lobbyists by requiring them to register when they spend at least 10 percent of their time on lobbying and contact at least one government official.

The rules would be even more stringent for lobbyists at independent firms, who would be required to register for contacting just one government official.

“We would hope that anybody who is an advocate would in essence be brought in under our proposal,” said Marlowe, who is also the president of the firm Marlowe & Co.

The league is also pushing for better enforcement of lobbying law. The group says the responsibility for LDA should be moved from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia to the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Unit. That division already oversees lobby firms and public relations shops that advocate on behalf of foreign governments and political parties here in the United States.

The league is also calling for a shorter waiting period, from 45 to 20 calendar days, for lobbyists to report new clients; mandatory ethics training for lobbyists, required to be taken every five years; and ending exemptions that allow state and local governments, religious groups and federal employees to avoid registering.

A taskforce at the league has been toiling away at the reform plan since January of 2011. Marlowe said the proposal would be sent next week to congressional leaders and committees that have jurisdiction over lobbying law. 

“We're lobbyists. This is a lobbying effort on our part,” Marlowe said. “We're in this for the long haul.”

Marlowe said the league is also concerned about the state of the campaign finance system, but wasn’t able to come up with a specific recommendation for political contributions and fundraising by K Street. The group wants to revisit the issue at a later date, according to Marlowe. 

“We hope we can up with something that is constitutional and achievable,” he said.

Marlowe said the league’s proposal could help rebuild public trust in Washington, for lobbyist and non-lobbyist alike.  

“It seems to me rather than just spending our time defending, which is very important for us to do, we needed to come up with positive recommendations that we can work on with members of Congress. Whatever happens to us is also happening to members of Congress. Their opinion rating is not heck of a lot different, maybe a bit lower than ours,” Marlowe said. 

“If people don’t have confidence in their system of government, we’re in sad shape, and I think that has been one of the things that has been happening.”