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Lobbyist group lobbies White House for guidance on lobbying loophole

According to the American Lobbyist League, some regulations enacted by the Obama administration to create government transparency have actually had the opposite of their intended effect. Now the organization, a Washington-based trade group, is asking president for guidance in creating a more open system, reports this post at BLT: The Blog of the Legal Times.

ALL president Howard Marlowe has written to President Obama saying that one rule in particular has resulted in something of a free-for-all on Capitol Hill. The administration has specified that individuals who spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying do not currently have to register with Congress as lobbyists.

For Lisa Rosenberg of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to government transparency, this is a problem.

“The twenty-percent rule is certainly the most obvious loophole,” she said, in that it allows some of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington to work without registering and to operate entirely unmonitored. Also, it’s left up to the lobbyists themselves to police whether or not they adhere to the twenty percent limitation on their time.

“There’s no enforcement mechanism whatsoever,” she said, “So if Tom Daschle says he’s lobbying less than twenty percent of his time, it’s less than twenty percent. If Newt Gingrich says he’s lobbying less than twenty percent of the time, then it’s less than twenty percent.”

She said that while clarification of the twenty percent rule is a laudable goal, an equally important reform would be a change in how lobbyists report who they are conducting business with. Currently they are only required to indicate whether they met with individuals in the House, Senate or Executive Brach. Having to cite the specific individuals they meet with, she said, would go a long way toward exposing abuses of the system.

The Lobbyist League’s Marlowe told the Legal Times that his organization has been working on a list of recommendations to the government that, if enacted, will “ensure that those who are paid to engage in federal lobbying activities are registered, have a solid understanding of the registration and campaign finance laws, and how to comply with them.”

Rosenberg calls the ALL request “a reasonable first step,” but suggests that reforms need to go much further to make a real difference. Under current laws, the concept of who is and is not a lobbyist has become a fairly elastic one.

She said that she and her organization will be watching with particular interest to see how the White House responds the request and whether or not the administration is willing to revisit, and possibly rewrite, the policy.

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