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Lobbyists group backs disclosure reforms

A trade group that represents the lobbying and public affairs industry is pushing Congress to pass tougher disclosure requirements for K Street.

Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Co.) plans to introduce legislation requiring more disclosure of lobbying activities in response to warnings from watchdog groups that the industry is increasingly going underground.

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Bennett’s bill is one of a handful of congressional attempts to reform lobbying rules. While the Association of Government Relations Professionals (AGRP) says it does not agree with the provisions in all of the bills, the group said it is committed on working toward a solution.

“The American people have a right to know who is lobbying their members of Congress and for what purpose in a timely manner and in a way that does not infringe on anyone’s First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” Monte Ward, the leader of the AGRP, said in a statement.

“AGRP developed several recommendations three years ago and we are pleased to see that many of these ideas have made their way into the proposed bills in Congress. We look forward to working with the appropriate offices to see these recommendations are enacted into law.”

To increase transparency about lobbyists and their work, the AGRP has recommended that Congress close what the organization calls “loopholes” in who must register as a lobbyist by sweeping in outside consultants who do similar work, among other new policies.

Currently, a person must register as a lobbyist if “lobbying activities constitute 20 percent or more of his or her services’ time on behalf of that client during any three-month period,” according to federal regulations.

The AGRP has recommended a new rule that specifies anyone working inside a corporation or organization should register if they spend more than 10 percent of their time advocating on policy issues and make more than one lobbying contact. The group says there should be an exception for people who attend meetings with registered lobbyists only to provide specific expertise.

The AGRP, which used to be called the American League of Lobbyists, would also like to eliminate the registration threshold entirely for outside consultants.

“Rather than penalizing individuals who are required to register as lobbyists and unintentionally encouraging those individuals to avoid registration, the system of laws and regulations should encourage accurate registration and reporting,” the group says. “Current rules that impose restrictions solely on registered lobbyists should either be removed or be rewritten to apply equally to all citizens, companies, associations, and other organizations, whether registered or unregistered as lobbyists.”

The organization would also like to require all lobbyists to receive training in ethics laws that govern “gift rules, campaign-finance rules and ethical issues that arise in the business of lobbying,” it says. The AGRP offers its own certificate program, which provides courses in a variety of subjects such as legislative drafting, media and communications and ethics rules and regulations.