Legislation & policy analysis

Issue One applauds the introduction of the bipartisan Lobbying Disclosure Reform Act of 2020 to increase transparency

Today, Reps. Ben Cline (R-VA) and Dean Phillips (D-MN) introduced H.R. 8022, the Lobbying Disclosure Reform Act of 2020 (LDA). This is the first substantive update of the LDA in over a decade, and helps reflect what lobbying looks like in 2020. Significantly, it was crafted and introduced in a bipartisan manner. 

Since 2007, there has been a marked overall decline in registered lobbyists while the amount of spending on influence activity has continued at tremendous levels. Many in the lobbying industry simply circumvent the rules and avoid registration, leaving much of their work under-reported or unreported. This bill would update the arcane and outdated legal definition of “lobbying,” creating greater transparency around the billions of dollars corporations, labor unions, and other special interests spend on lobbying each year.

“I am on a mission to restore Americans’ faith in our government, which begins with reducing the corrupting influence of special interest money in our political system,” said Rep. Phillips. “Lobbyists spent nearly $3.5 billion to influence our elected leaders last year. As the Congress continues to grapple with the response to the COVID-19 crisis, spending trillions of taxpayer dollars in the process, our constituents deserve to know which interests are in the room.”

“At the core of this bipartisan bill is the public’s right to know,” said Rep. Cline. “Americans are dissatisfied with the way things get done in Washington, and updating the LDA with these commonsense provisions is a strong step to modernizing our lobbying laws and placing more power in the hands of the people rather than the lobbyists.”

No longer will those in the influence industry be able to skirt the rules and avoid registering as lobbyists while engaging in activities that help their clients navigate the halls of power,” said Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee. “This measure seeks to correct the obvious transparency deficit at work and give the American people a more accurate picture of the influence game in Washington, DC.” 

This bipartisan update of the Lobbying Disclosure Act includes key recommendations from the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Lobbying Reform, on which McGehee served. It updates the nation’s lobbying law by addressing the increased reliance on “strategic lobbying services” and outside communications, public relations, and polling firms.

The provisions would: 

  • Clarify reporting thresholds
  • Require registered lobbyists to report the identities of those providing strategic lobbying services
  • Move enforcement from U.S. attorney for DC to attorney general
  • Include various transparency-increasing measures

Supporting this bill are members of the LDA Reform Task Force of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus, co-chaired by former Reps. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Vic Fazio (D-CA), who got together in 2018 to jump-start efforts for bipartisan lobbying reform.

“The right to lobby the government is enshrined in the First Amendment. But, as the Supreme Court has made clear, ensuring that this process is transparent is both constitutional and good public policy,” said Rep. Davis. “The Lobbying Disclosure Reform Act of 2020 is a strong, bipartisan step to update and improve our nation’s lobbying disclosure law.”

“The modern-day influence industry looks very different from when I served in Congress,” said Rep. Fazio. “I’ve been a registered lobbyist for 22 years and am happy to play by the rules. But the current law falls short of giving a true picture of modern lobbying. Strategic advisors and outside polling and communications firms are routinely used in lobbying campaigns. It’s time the LDA provide the kind of transparency that allows the public to know who is behind the scenes working to influence public policy.”

Learn more about the bill here.