WASHINGTON, Sept 13 As of June, there were
12,553 federal lobbyists registered in Washington, down from
14,800 at the end of 2008, and well below a record 15,137 in
2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a
nonprofit group that tracks such activities.
Experts say the total number of people engaged in
non-covered lobbying activities such as grassroots initiatives
and advertising may be seven times that high.
Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, which was
amended in 2007, individuals must register as lobbyists if they
make two or more contacts with covered officials and spend more
than 20 percent of their time trying to influence legislation.
Those reports are due every six months.
Those rules clearly leave a huge gray area for people who
are seeking to influence federal policy, said James Thurber,
who heads the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies
at American University in Washington.
Current law requires registered lobbyists to file quarterly
reports about any contacts with lawmakers or government
officials. But lobbyists do not have to report a contact if the
meeting was initiated by someone else, not them.
Company chief executives also generally do not register as
lobbyists, but often meet with lawmakers and government
officials and clearly have a strong interest in affecting
federal policy, he said.
The same is true for state and local government officials.
Thurber says the Lobbying Disclosure Act does not capture
massive marketing efforts undertaken by special interest groups
and corporations, grassroots initiatives, survey research or
even the publication of magazines by groups such as the
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
"It's a much bigger industry than the federal registry of
lobbyists shows," said Thurber, who estimates that a much
better count of the people engaged in lobbying in Washington
would be around 90,000 -- not including support staff.
Industry executives, congressional aides and lobbyists say
some companies and special interest groups have terminated the
lobbyist status of people on their staffs in the wake of
tighter ethics rules imposed by the Obama administration.
But it is difficult to get good data, since congressional
offices do not keep a running count of terminations.
Lee Mason, director of nonprofit speech rights at OMBWatch,
said his own review of the congressional lobbyist database
showed 1,836 terminations in the fourth quarter of 2008, before
Obama took office, but when it was already clear he planned to
crack down on lobbying, 1,662 terminations in the first quarter
of 2009, and 1,207 terminations in the second quarter.
Mason said it was not clear if those data reflected a true
count of individuals who had stopped lobbying, and noted that
the data also gave no indication about their motivation.
He said the database should be revamped to allow easier
tracking of any terminations. "If transparency is the intent of
the order, then this search engine ought to be made more
functional," he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Diane Craft)