Though there has been a requirement to disclose those contributions since January 1, 2008, over the past 18-month period, ending June 30, 2009, over $56 million has been given to organizations and events that honor lawmakers and administration officials (Roth & Knott, 2009). Many of the donations are questionable.
In 2008, Boeing donated $9.2 million, including support for the Johnstown Symphony concert honoring democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who happens to be Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Boeing won more than $24 billion in federal contracts in FY 2007. The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is reviewing Murtha's ties to the lobbying firm PMA which made the contribution and which secures defense earmarks from lawmakers (Roth & Knott, 2009, para. 2, 5-6).
Though many in Congress will point to the 2009 prosecution and conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff for fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials as an example of the strict enforcement of lobbying regulations, many experts disagree.
Jim Thurber, head of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, along with other experts attending a symposium discussing lobbying transparency, said this: "Lack of enforcement muddles full disclosure, as well as other lobbying rules. The reforms the Abramoff scandal spurred were largely unnecessary -- what Abramoff did was already illegal. Instead of more rules, the government needed to enforce those laws that already existed" (Matthias, 2009, para. 7).
An example of the ambivalence of both congressional and executive branch towards the multi-billion dollar D.C. lobbying efforts is President Obama's Executive Order 13490, issued his first day in office. He had his administration officials sign a pledge to refuse lobbyists'
gifts and refuse to join a lobbying firm after leaving office. Obama also, in a 60-day trial period banned any contact with lobbyists regarding stimulus funds -- but has since changed that regulation (Matthias, 2009).
What happens, though, when lobbyists are cut off from their contacts is that they tend to "deregister" as lobbyists. and, of course, the result of that is it makes for less transparency and enforcement of the lobbying industry.
Congress must police itself. That is the response from many experts who have studied lobbying and its relationship with our elected officials. If they do not, there is really no hope of ever gaining a trustworthy relationship with the public, whose perception of lobbyists is just above that of used car salesmen. Bipartisan action is necessary, and the legislation that is passed must be enforced. Legislation that is not enforced, is worthless ink on paper.
If Congress does not step up, then it becomes a criminal problem for the Department of Justice. Thus we now have an ugly situation where the Executive Branch is policing the Legislative Branch of the U.S. government.
Trevor Potter, president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, and a former commissioner and chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC):
"As a former Chair of the Federal Election Commission, I can tell you that reform will only succeed in changing norms if it is enforced. Much of the current scandal involves activity that is already illegal or in violation of House/Senate rules - what has been lacking is the will and the process to enforce the current rules... Any new rules will likewise fail without an independent Congressional enforcement office an Office of Public Integrity, or an equivalent office in the Congress, independent of whichever party happens to be in the leadership at any moment" (Potter, 2006, para. 6).
And what has come of HLOGA? Through various new regulations and disclosure laws, it was supposed to reveal the ties between lobbyists and Congress through a whole new level of transparency.
In early 2009 Lobbyists.info surveyed those impacted by HLOGA to see what the actual results had been. Overall, reports Craig Holman of Public Citizen, "besides increasing the use of recordkeeping systems and training, the law did not have much impact on a lobbyist's job."
A majority of the lobbyists said that they were still participating at about the same rate in all of the usual lobbyist activities. However, they did report that hosting events with the attendance of a congressperson or administration official was a significantly rarer occurrence.
Almost 60% reported either the same amount or an increase in political contributions, perhaps due to the new tracking, bundling and reporting requirements which set a specific limit so that those who had not met the minimum before could actually contribute more.
Overall, according to the survey, most lobbyists have become accustomed to the changes imposed by the legislation and are working to comply with it (Lobbyists.info, 2009).
According to a compilation of expert opinion, new laws and regulations are not needed. With the latest additions over the past few years, most of the rules are in place. The real solution, as we have discussed before, is enforcing what exists. Here are a few recommendations gathered from various of our sources:
Establish a separate office in Congress to monitor financial disclosure and lobbying reports. Advise and train, on a frequent basis, members of Congress, staff, and lobbyists on rules compliance. Ensure adequate resources to fund and operate that office.
This office should also ensure enforcement of the rules. Potential ethics violations should be reported to the congressional Ethics Committees. Lobbying law violations should be reported to the Justice Department.
Enforce the prohibition of all members of Congress from becoming a lobbyist or conducting lobbyist activities for two years after leaving.
Enforce the requirement for all lobbying reports and financial disclosure reports to be filed electronically and made 100% searchable on the internet.
It would seem that, instead of piling rules upon regulations, the consensus from almost everywhere is that HLOGA's intent to create more public transparency into lobbying activities caused more pain than gain -- especially without maximum training and information for all involved, though some was offered and accepted by most lobbyists.
Particular hostility is being felt by lobbyists from the Obama administration due to campaign promises made to reduce the influence of lobbying in his administration.
Though the very public actions of creating and signing legislation looks good for public consumption, it would seem that, behind the scenes of Congress, there is little interest in actual compliance with the rules concerning lobbying. The congressional Office of Public Integrity, proposed in 2007, has yet to be passed and established as an effective enforcement body. The congressional Ethics Committees have a tendency to look the other way in many cases involving possible lobbying infractions by members of Congress.
Federal lobbying reform will only succeed if all three parties -- Congress, the Executive Branch, and lobbyists -- adhere to the same rules and enforcement is aggressive and fair.
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Matthias, J. (2009, September 15). Symposium panelists agree: More disclosure of federal lobbying needed. Retrieved October 6, 2009, from citizensforethics.org: http://www.citizensforethics.org/node/42407
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