After the Jack Abramoff scandal helped Democrats gain control of the House in 2006, Democrats in Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA).
In addition to a bunch of silly new rules about what kinds of food could and could not be served at Capitol Hill events hosted by interest groups, HLOGA also imposed burdensome new reporting requirements on lobbyists for every donation they made to federal candidates, officeholders, and their affiliated organizations. The new law also banned lawmakers and their staff from lobbying Congress for at least two years after they left the government.
So what did lobbyists do in response to the new law? They simply stopped calling themselves lobbyists. Following the passage of HLOGA in 2007, more than 3,400 lobbyists stopped reporting their activity all together. Does this mean they stopped lobbying? Not at all. Open Secrets released a study Tuesday reporting:
Many observers theorize that a lot of lobbying has simply gone underground and is being done by individuals who are able to avoid the federal threshold for disclosure. To test this theory, CRP looked at lobbyists who were active in 2011 but not in 2012 and determined where they worked as of early 2013. Our research found 1,732 lobbyists who “deactivated” in 2012.
In the first analysis of this kind, CRP finds that 46 percent of the active 2011 lobbyists who did not report any activity in 2012 are still working for the same employers for whom they lobbied in 2011 — supporting the theory that many previously registered lobbyists are not meeting the technical requirement to report or have altered their activities just enough to escape filing.
Some unlobbyists, like President Obama’s first nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle, simply never registered as lobbyists to begin with. Open Secrets reports:
One former Democratic Senator, Tom Daschle, has even prompted some political influence denizens to call this the “Daschle exemption.” After nearly twenty years serving in the House and Senate, including stints as Minority and Majority Leader of the Senate, Daschle went on to serve as a “special policy advisor” for law firm Alston & Bird, which, perhaps coincidentally, doubled its lobbying income during his first year at the firm.
So instead of cleaning up Washington, all the Democratic lobbying reforms really accomplished was to drive the federal government influence game further underground. But considering how many lobbyists have worked for Obama despite his so-called lobbyist ban, maybe that was the intention all along.