Lobbying Reforms

Subject: Political
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1309
Topics: Political Science, Barack Obama, Democracy, Government

Several reforms have been envisaged over the years, vis-à-vis lobbying activities. One of these is the Lobbying Disclosure Act 1995 (LDA), which includes a comprehensive disclosure and reporting mechanism for lobbyists. The Federal government can be lobbied by non-profit organizations and other entities that are in receipt of Federal awards. However, lobbying efforts, without exception, have to be financed with non-Federal funds. In addition, the law restricts the proportion of money that an organization can allocate towards lobbying (Grants.Gov n.d.). 

Registration under the LDA is mandatory for organizations that intend to engage in lobbying activities, for any quarter of the year, and where the expenditure incurred on lobbying is $10,000 or more. However, the Internal Revenue Code’s provisions can be utilized for determining the quantum of such expenditure and establishing that such expenditure is less than $10,000. The Government Accountability Office’s report of 1999 on federal lobbying has indicated that there is no data relating to the number of entities that have benefitted from this dual definition. Therefore, it becomes impossible to determine whether this lacuna has enabled lobbyists to circumvent registration (United States Government Accountability Office 2017). 

The anti-lobbying initiative of Barack Obama was strongly resisted by reformers and liberal groups. In fact, the liberal environmental and human rights entities had vehemently claimed that their personnel had been deprived of administration jobs, as they had registered as lobbyists for the purpose of complying with the extant law. In addition, business interests litigated in the courts against Obama’s policy of eliminating registered lobbyists from Federal advisory panels. In fact, the Federal courts reviewed these lawsuits and opined that the prohibition resulting from this policy seemed to infringe the First Amendment to the US Constitution. As a consequence, the Federal judges suggested that there was no justification for preventing lobbyists from becoming members of government boards, when such facility was being extended to the corporate executives (Gerstein 2015). 

Effectiveness of the Lobbying Reforms

The LDA tends to define lobbyists in a restricted manner that fails to accord this status to every individual in the advocacy industry of Washington. A more realistic definition of advocacy would incorporate all means of affecting public policy decisions, including personal interaction with policy makers, grassroots lobbying, public hearings testimony, strategic and legal advice on policy and political issues, coalition building, political strategy development and submissions to administrative rulemakings (Straus 2015). 

There were in excess of 14,216 Federal registered lobbyists in America, as of 1 January 2009. This decreased to 12,488 during the first two years of Obama’s Presidency. Nevertheless, the number of individuals in Washington, who are associated with the advocacy industry, including the registered and unregistered advocates, as well as the supporting institutions, has been assessed as much more than 100,000. In 1999, the expenditure incurred by registered lobbyists was $1.56 billion, which increased to $3.49 billion by 2009. Obama had vowed to alter the manner in which lobbyists affected national politics. However, this proved to be onerous due to the adaptability, size and near-indispensability of such activity in the US. It has been reliably estimated that the lobbying industry comes next only to government and tourism, in vastness and influence (Thurber 2011, 363). Thus, during the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review it is possible for significant substantive policy change to transpire. As such, the officials of the OMB function as the representative of the US President during the rule review process (Percival 2011, 2487).

In addition, consensus in lobbying messages conveyed to the OMB could be a significant promoter of the influence exerted by interest groups. This is especially true when lobbying is conducted solely by business interests. A bias towards business in lobbying, can be clearly discerned during the notice and comment stage of rulemaking. Thus, US Presidents and the OMB employ interest group lobbying as a signaling system. This relies upon the contentiousness of consensus of the concerned signal (Haeder and Yackee 2015, 518). It has the possibility of furnishing the President with an opportunity to bestow concessions or policy benefits upon actively engaged organized interests.

Moreover, such exercise makes it evident that the extant research overlooks the degree to which presidential control strategies incorporate policy and political considerations, including focus upon interest group lobbying (Haeder and Yackee 2015, 518). Review of the rules during the presidencies of George W Bush and Barack Obama, lead to the conclusion that business interests influence Democratic, as well as Republican administrators. 

Several scholars, including Kagan and Nathan, had consistently contended that attaching importance to the deployment of administrative tools by the US President was central to the process of comprehending the might of contemporary presidency (Kagan 2001, 2276). In this context, Moe had declared that presidents frequently undertook a dual strategy of politicizing the bureaucracy and centralizing decision making. All the same, it is indispensable to review the presumptions inherent in administrative presidency literature (Galvin and Shogan 2004, 481). 

Reduction in the Perceived Corruption in Lobbying Activities 

To some extent, these initiatives had diminished corruption. All the same, it has become clearly evident that corruption cannot be rooted out completely. The new rules impose fines or imprisonment upon the lobbyists who infringe them. This will deter corrupt lobbying activities to an appreciable extent. Upon being prosecuted for such infringement, lobbyists would attract considerable adverse publicity that would certainly destroy their career. The Lobbying policy’s reforms and acts constitute an unprecedented move towards reducing corruption in the governmental system of the US. Moreover, the associated reports are subject to public inspection (Reed 2015). This will play a major role in fumigating the political mess emerging from corrupt lobbying practices.

In addition, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 was welcomed by the Democrats, as well as the Republicans. It was expected to hinder the transition of lawmakers and top staff from Federal jobs to the private sector, thereby reforming lobbying and ethics rules. However, it proved to be a fiasco, and nine years later, its outcomes were virtually the converse of what had been promised to the people of the US. Instead of hindering the transfer of lawmakers and top staff, it served to generate a class of professional influencers who functioned away from the public gaze, and devoid of accountability. This law was implemented in January 2008, and out of the 352 individuals who left Congress alive, subsequently, around 47% had become active influencers. For instance, 84 had become registered lobbyists, while 80 had become other influencers, including, policy advisers, strategic consultants, and trade association chiefs (Arnsdorf 2016).

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  1. 104th United States Congress. 1995. “Lobbying Disclosure Act 2 USC § 1601.” Washington DC, December 19.
  2. Arnsdorf, Isaac. 2016. “The lobbying reform that enriched Congress.” Politico. March 7. 
  3. Galvin, Daniel, and Colleen Shogan. 2004. “Presidential Politicization and Centralization across the Modern-Traditional Divide.” Polity 36 (3): 477-504.
  4. Gerstein, Josh. 2015. “How Obama failed to shut Washington’s revolving door.” Politico. December 31. 
  5. Grants.Gov. n.d. Grant Policies. Lobbying Disclosure Act (1995).
  6. Haeder, Simon F, and Susan Webb Yackee. 2015. “Influence and the Administrative Process: Lobbying the U.S. President’s Office of Management and Budget.” American Political Science Review 109 (3): 507-522.
  7. Kagan, Elena. 2001. “Presidential Administration.” Harvard Law Review 114: 2245-2385.
  8. Percival, Robert V. 2011. “Who’s In Charge? Does the President Have Directive Authority Over Agency Regulatory Decisions?” Fordham Law Review 79 (6): 2487-2540.
  9. Reed, Melissa. 2015. “Lobbying Reform: Can it Reduce Corruption in Lobbying Activities?” The Pennsylvania State University. May 6. 
  10. Straus, Jacob R. 2015. The Lobbying Disclosure Act at 20: Analysis and Issues for Congress. Washington, DC, USA: Congressional Research Service.
  11. Thurber, James A. 2011. “Changing the Way Washington Works? Assessing President Obama’s Battle with Lobbyists.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 41 (2): 358-374.
  12. United States Government Accountability Office. 2017. “2016 Lobbying Disclosure Observations on Lobbyists’ Compliance with.” Washington, DC, USA.
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