This week, Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) joined together to introduce the Curtailing Lobbyists and Empowering Americans for a New Politics Act (CLEAN Act). This legislation seeks to expand the scope of activity covered by the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) while also prohibiting members of Congress from soliciting contributions from lobbyists while in session.
Paul Miller, President of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics (NILE) says the bill misses the mark. “This bill misses the mark on real reform. Like most legislation on this topic, it looks to vilify the lobbying profession (as the title of the bill points out) and blames us for the inability of Congress to pass legislation that benefits the American people,” stated Miller.
The legislation calls for an end to the 20% lobbying threshold, which triggers when a person needs to register as a lobbyist under the LDA. “I applaud the members for looking at this issue. This is the number one issue facing our profession and would urge Congress to address it. The problem is, this legislation has unintended consequences and would require all those who come to Washington to take part in their national trade associations annual fly-in, to register as lobbyists. This is not what we want. We want citizens to come to Washington and petition their government. This bill would put an end to that practice and further insulate Congress from meeting with constituents,” added Miller.
NILE has a proposal that would address this issue in a way that would promote citizen activism, while also requiring those currently flying under the radar to register as a lobbyist and report their activities in a transparent way.
NILE has proposed deleting the requirement that 20% of the individual’s time working for a client or employer must involve “lobbying activities” and the “lobbying contact” requirement, while retaining that the individual must receive financial or other compensation and adding three additional criteria: (a) the lobbying activities must involve 10 or more hours of services by the individual in a 3-month period (calendar quarter); (b) the individual must be employed or retained by a lobbying firm which has received or expects to receive compensation of $5,000 or more for the individual’s services and related expenses involving the lobbying activities in a 3- month period; or (c) the individual must be employed by a lobbying organization which has expended or expects to expend $5,000 or more for the individual’s services and related expenses involving the lobbying activities in a 3-month period.
The Sarbanes-Bennet legislation also limits the ability of those in the lobbying profession to contribute to a candidate’s campaign. It further limits a member’s ability to solicit campaign contributions from lobbyists while Congress is in session. “This is great in theory, but practical reality is, Congress isn’t going to limit their ability to raise money for their campaigns,” Miller stated. “This legislation again misses the mark. This legislation doesn’t cover any contributions from state lobbyists, Political Action Committees, union’s or non-lobbyists. A lot of these people can have and do have as much interest in issues and sway with members as registered lobbyists do,” added Miller.
“NILE has been urging Congress to reform the LDA for over a year and we’ve heard crickets. We have long been concerned about the “shadow” lobbying community that continues to grow. We have been concerned that we would find ourselves in another Abramoff type situation, which we are with the likes of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn and others and yet Congress has yet been willing to sit down with us to reform a system in desperate need of changes to keep pace with a profession that has changed dramatically,” concluded Miller
The National Institute For Lobbying & Ethics is the national professional trade association for those in the lobbying and government affairs profession.