Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995
Who is a lobbyist?
The Act defines a "lobbyist" as an employee who makes more than one lobbying contact and spends at least 20 percent total time lobbying. Organizations whose employees lobby on the organization's behalf and whose lobbying expenses are less than $22,500 in the six-month reporting period need not register. This is relevant for government sector lobbying associations that do not have registered lobbyists.
Associations are not themselves considered "lobbyists," but they must register on behalf of their employees that lobby. Contract lobbyists have their own independent obligation to register and report as to their lobbying on behalf of their clients.
Lobbying activities and lobbying contacts
Lobbying activity encompasses any action taken in support of a lobbying contact. A "lobbying contact" is any oral or written communication to a legislative or executive branch official regarding:
- Federal legislation, including legislative proposals, and executive branch policies
- The administration of a federal program or policy
- The nomination or confirmation of any person who requires Senate confirmation
The Act's definition of "lobbying activities" for the purpose of calculating lobbying expenditures includes amounts expended for all activities in support of lobbying, not merely the amount expended for making a direct lobbying contact. Grassroots lobbying, where the advocacy is directed at the general public to influence policy decisions, is not covered by the act.
Within 45 days of the lobbyist making his or her first lobbying contact for the organization, the organization must register the lobbyist(s) with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Each registration must include the name and address of the registrant (the organization, its lobbyists, and a description of the registrants past and expected lobbying priorities. Registration also must include information for any other organization that contributes more than $10,000 in the six-month reporting period toward the registrant's lobbying activities and in whole or major part controls those activities.
In addition to the initial registration, every organization that employs lobbyists must file semi-annual reports with the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House.
Each report must contain:
- The names of the organization's lobbyists (e.g., employees),
- Any changes to the information in the lobbying registration,
- Certain information about each general issue area in which lobbying occurred during the reporting period, and
- A good-faith estimate of the organization's total lobbying expenditures.
- See also: Taxpayer-funded lobbying disclosure
Many tax-exempt organizations are able to estimate lobbying expenses through use of alternative approaches. Specifically, 501(c)(6), 501(c)(5) and 501(c)(4) organizations subject to the lobbying tax law may use the same lobbying definitions and expense estimates used for those purposes for their reports filed pursuant to the Act.
Section 501(c)(3) organizations that have elected the percentage test for allowable lobbying (the "501(h) election") may use the definitions of lobbying and expense totals used for those purposes for their reports filed pursuant to the Act.
Any person or organization who fails to remedy a defective filing within 60 days after notice from the Secretary of the Senate or Clerk of the House, or who fails to comply with any other provision of the Act, is subject to a civil fine of up to $50,000.
Public access to information
The Act requires the Secretary and Clerk to maintain a publicly-available list of all registered lobbyists, lobbying firms and lobbying clients. The offices also need to make registrations and reports available for public inspection and copying and retain those registrations and reports for six years.
The Act contains a number of miscellaneous provisions concerning required oral disclosures by lobbyists, required disclosure by covered officials, a prohibition on federal funding (including grants) to any 501(c)(4) organization that lobbies, an exemption from foreign agent registration for those who register under the new law, and an alteration to the so-called "Byrd Amendment."