Taxpayer-funded lobbying disclosure

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Under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, a 501(c)(3) organization is required to register and file semiannual reports concerning its lobbying activities if:[1]

(1) the organization has at least one employee who is a lobbyist" (makes at least one "lobbying contact" and devotes at least 20 percent of his or her time to "lobbying activities")
(2) the organization expects to incur expenditures on lobbying activities of $20,500 or more in a six-month period (January-June, July-December).

For outside lobbyists hired to lobby on behalf of a 501(c)(3) or other organization, the semiannual expenditure threshold is $5,000 rather than $20,500.

Obstacles to tracking lobbying

There are many obstacles to tracking government sector lobbying. Available data is not coded to reflect whether entities are public, and many non-profit organizations that hire lobbyists receive taxpayer funding.[2][3]

Information that is coded does not always represent the entirety of taxpayer funded lobbying. A 2010 study by the Pacific Research Institute attempted to analyze the amount of government sector lobbying in the state of California.[4] Researchers found the figure for lobbying reported as "government" of $92.6 million in 2007 and 2008 as inaccurate, with $131.4 million being a more accurate representation. That is a difference of $38.8 million not properly categorized as government sector lobbying because of the way the funds were disclosed.

Reporting includes only lobbying expenditures that are subject to disclosure, which means anything falling under the threshold for reporting does not count. However, while private lobbyists have a limit of $50 for gifts to the Senate (and the practice is banned in the House), public entities are exempt and can gift without any limit or disclosure. Therefore, these activities are impossible to measure.[2]

Is it lobbying?

Many governments do not consider their membership in government sector lobbying associations as lobbying. Because these groups usually serve other functions, as mentioned in the Purpose section, this is natural. For example, Rock Island County in Illinois stated it does not lobby, but has membership in lobbying organizations.[5] Membership to these organizations is paid for by governments, and these funds go at least in part towards funding lobbying activities.

Transparency concerns

In Texas, the House of Representatives produced a report on ethical matters and government sector lobbying in 2006. The report found that there were glaring flaws in the disclosure and tracking of the spending of taxpayer funds. While not coming out explicitly against such activities, the House Committees recommended open, full, and consistent disclosure of lobbying expenditures to be strictly enforced in order to fix the obvious inadequacies in the system. See Disclosure concerns in Texas

In New Jersey, county legislators in three counties (Morris County, Sussex County, and Warren) decided to withhold dues, in once case $10,000, until the New Jersey Association of Counties completes an audit.[6] This is in response to concerns that the association was not being transparent about its spending.

State disclosure

A report by the Pacific Research Institute showed that 34 out of the 50 states provide historical lobbying data on their website, while only 17 of them provide this data in a downloadable format.[4]