Business & Lobbying

Warren proposes new restrictions, taxes on lobbying

Greg Nash

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday proposed new restrictions on lobbying as part of a broader plan to end what she called “Washington corruption.”

Her proposal, which goes after lobbyists more aggressively than plans put forth by other White House hopefuls, calls for a new tax on any entity that spends over $500,000 annually on lobbying. Her plan also would expand the legal definition of what constitutes a lobbyist, while banning private lobbying for foreign governments, foreign individuals and foreign companies.

{mosads}”The fundamental promise of our democracy is that every voice matters. But when lobbyists and big corporations can buy influence from politicians, that promise is broken,” Warren said in her proposal. “The first thing to do to fix it is to end lobbying as we know it.”

The definition of lobbyist should be revamped, Warren said, so that it replaces the portion of the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act that says a person must register to lobby if such activities constitute at least 20 percent of their time working for a client. Her plan would require registration by anyone who lobbies.

She also would end lobbying for foreign entities, a practice that’s currently legal through the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Abuses of that law were thrust into the spotlight during and after former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Her proposed tax on any entity that spends more than $500,000 a year on lobbying would hit some of the biggest trade associations in Washington. She noted in her proposal that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $95 million on lobbying in 2018, the National Association of Realtors spent $73 million and the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent $28 million.

Warren’s proposal also would ban lobbyists from making political contributions, bundling donations or hosting fundraisers for candidates. The majority of White House hopefuls have vowed not to accept campaign contributions from registered lobbyists but have had fundraisers held for them by lobbyists.

Warren and others have previously taken aim at the lobbying world by proposing a lifetime ban on lawmakers making the move to K Street, and lawmakers have called for revamping the registration process and closing loopholes that can allow lobbyists to disclose less information.

Her plan would require lobbyists to report all meetings with congressional offices or public officials, the documents they provide to those individuals and all government actions they want to influence.

The overall proposal expands on a bill she introduced last year, which focused on a lifetime ban on lobbying by former lawmakers, prohibiting lobbyists from making campaign contributions, prosecuting companies that mislead government agencies and tackling pay issues for congressional staffers.

In Monday’s proposal, Warren called for increasing congressional staffers’ pay as a way to recruit more talent and increase the odds of staffers staying on Capitol Hill so that lawmakers don’t have to rely on lobbyists for policy expertise.

Fellow top-tier 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been another vocal critic of former lobbyists in the Trump administration and wants to increase enforcement of FARA.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the crowded Democratic field in most national polls, has not detailed any policies that focus on lobbying.

Tags 2020 Democratic primary Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Lobbying Michael Bennet Robert Mueller
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