Congressional panel calls for lobbying disclosure reforms

Congressional panel calls for lobbying disclosure reforms
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan select committee is sending Congress a proposal on how to modernize the lobbying disclosure system.

On Thursday, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress voted on recommendations they said would improve transparency for lobbyists, part of a larger package of congressional reforms the panel approved.

The recommendations will be drafted into legislation and sent to the appropriate committees.

The committee, new to the 116th Congress, is chaired by Rep. Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerHouse extends Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress for another year Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions MORE (D-Wash.), vice chaired by Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Republican Tom Graves announces retirement from House Lawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms MORE (R-Ga.), and includes ten other lawmakers, equally split between both parties.

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The recommendation on lobbying disclosures seeks “to make it easier to know who’s lobbying Congress and what they’re lobbying for,” Kilmer told reporters after the meeting.

Primarily it seeks to standardize how the disclosure system files and tracks the names of lobbyists, by giving each lobbyist a unique identifier.

In addition, the House Clerk's office would clarify and simplify the lobbying registration and disclosure process, to make filing the required paperwork easier. 

“That’s very complicated and confusing right now in part because you could have Mike Jones as a registered lobbyist and Michael Jones as a registered lobbyist and it may or may not be the same person," Kilmer explained. "And so, for the American public, having a unique identifier for everyone who’s lobbying to make it easier to sort of track."

Kilmer said some state legislatures have similar identification systems.

There have long been concerns about issues with the lobbying disclosure system.

Nineteen percent of recent lobbying disclosure forms, known as LD-2 reports, didn’t disclose all of the lobbyist’s previous jobs in the government, including work for Congress or federal agencies, according to a GAO report released in March. Reporting that data is a requirement.

The lawmaker also said it was too early to say if the panel would propose other lobbying reforms.

“We haven’t sort of checked the box on transparency yet. I think there’s an appetite on the committee for doing some more on that front,” Kilmer said.

He added that the committee has not discussed another floated proposal, having lobbyists disclose which lawmakers they lobby. But he said it is an area where the committee could look to the states to determine best practices.

Other recommendations the committee voted on Thursday involved streamlining the process for drafting and editing legislation, allowing for real-time tracking of how a bill is progressing, making it easier to access agency and program reauthorization dates; and having a centralized data center to house all committee votes.

Kilmer and Graves added that after Memorial Day, they will tackle staffing issues, including recruitment, retention and diversity. 

“This is something that I think members are pretty engaged in, in part because there’s such substantial turnover among staff in the House,” Kilmer said. “And, I think that there’s an acknowledgment that in the absence of institutional capacity, what fills the void is the executive branch and lobbyists and that doesn’t serve the interests of the American people.”