Federal Lobbying Reform

Today the problem of establishing of lobbying as a political and legal institution of the civil society is in the sphere of careful attention of journalists, political scientists, lawyers, citizens and politicians. The world practice of regulating lobbying activities is rather limited. Despite this, in countries with rich democratic tradition and developed system of parliamentarism, such as the USA, lobbying is an important and indispensable institution, providing connection between society and state.

Nowadays lobbying is understood as the pressure on the authority, which is regulated by law and conducted through personal or written address or by other means, aiming to achieve acceptance or rejection of a bill. It should be understood that in today’s definition of “lobbying” the key phrase is “regulated by law”, i.e. lobbying today is not only a socio-political phenomenon, but, primarily, a legal concept (Graziano 12).

The main feature of lobbying in the U.S. is that it is a core of the American political system. Its legislative regulation is put on stream, both at federal and state level. In the United States, lobbying is carried out in accordance with the First Amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1789, which guarantees, inter alia, the right of citizens to appeal to the authorities with complaints. Since that time the legislative regulation of lobbying has done a long way (The Constitution of the United States of America).

The law on compulsory registration of lobbyists was adopted in 1876. For a long time lobbyism in the US was understood as lobbying of certain foreign interests, and this meaning was embedded in the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 (FARA), requiring agents to register and report their activities. This law was adopted as a measure to prevent Nazi and Communist propaganda in the United States; only in 1966 it was amended to shift the focus from propaganda to the political and economic activities (Smith 317).

In 1946 Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act was adopted, being applied to lobbyists operating in the U.S. Congress. According to this law, lobbyists should register at the Secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives, informing about areas of their interests (Wolpe 241). Later lobbying was powerfully attacked in the 1970s. In 1971 the Act on federal election campaigns came into force, which guaranteed the state funding of presidential candidates from the two major parties. Law is aimed at limiting the influence of pressure groups wishing to bring their president to power (Wolpe 295).

In 1974 an amendment was accepted limiting the amount of contributions of individuals and political action committees, through which the money of lobbyists passed. According to the plan, political action committees were supposed to accumulate the assets of citizens, groups, associations and introduce some uniformity to the fundraising for elections to the Congress. But the effect of the amendment did not lead to desired results, since in practice large corporations don’t have a single Political Action Committee (Graziano 105-6).

In 1995 Bill Clinton signed Lobbying Disclosure Act, which is applied not only to the Congress, but also to the executive branch. The law has introduced many new terms, and listed 19 types of actions, which are not treated as “lobbying” (Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995). The law included new provisions concerning registration of foreign agents, which happened in connection with globalization of business, resulting in the increased degree of influence of foreign lobbies in the United States. The need to adopt a new law was also due to the fact that only 1 out of 5 lobbyists was registered, and others preferred not to publicize their activities and identified themselves as experts, consultants, informants, etc. (Jordan 76).

Introduction of compulsory registration of lobbying firms by the Act of 1995, and simultaneous simplification of registration procedure resulted, according to American analysts of the end of the 1990s, in the increase of the quantity of lobbying firms (Smith 506-8). The circle of persons considered as the objects of lobbying has significantly expanded and has greatly changed the priorities in lobbying activities.

Public use of former officials of different levels as lobbyists has become a new phenomenon in the American lobbyism. Regarding officials as experts in a particular subject, corporations engage them to the process of promoting their interests, which, in general, has significantly increased the effectiveness of lobbying in the United States (De Figueiredo 49-53). In addition, any lobbyist working individually can register a lobbying firm. Besides, using wives of influential politicians as lobbyists has also become an innovation in Washington (Mencimer B1). A distinctive feature of “new lobbyists” is that they tend to lobby the sphere of activity they used to supervise while in public service (Goldstein 115).

Thus, the corporation General Electric, using such lobbyists (former U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury on Taxation, the former Chief Adviser on Taxation and Finance Committee of Congress, former director of the Personnel Committee on Taxation and the Accounting Chamber of Congress), while lobbying for the corporate tax bill, achieved a significant reduction in taxes (Birnbaum B05). Relying on lobbyists, GE paid for the conduct of the scientific research “International Tax Policy of the 21st century” (Garvey 25).

A similar situation existed with former Congressman Bob Livingston, who succeeded to earn 1,14 million dollars on lobbying his former colleagues in a year after leaving political arena (Sheridan 1034). After this, the attempts were made to amend the Act of 1995, prohibiting former public servants to open lobbying firms and register as lobbyists for 5 years, but they all failed (Milligan Z2).

Today lobbying reports for the second quarter of 2009 show the increase in lobbying budgets of corporations (especially in pharmaceutical sphere and energetics), comparing with the first quarter. For example, while the public debate on health reform is growing, pharmaceutical companies are intensifying their lobbying budgets (Zeleny, B3).

This indicates that the requirements of the Act of 1995 to tighten the control over the activities of legislators do not work in practice (Birnbaum E01). The Act of 1995 effectively operates only in respect of paid professional lobbyists (“A Different Perspective on Lobbyists” 1-2). Surely, the Act of 1995 is not perfect; in particular, the data indicated in the reports of lobbyists have large discrepancies with the data provided by their customers. Applying loopholes in the legislation, lobbying firms use their employees not working in Congress to pay for those who are in the public service (Jordan 77).

However, the law on lobbyism cannot cover all the areas in some way related to lobbying activities. It is complemented with a series of related legislation. At the federal level there are laws on state officials’ ethics, on federal election campaigns, etc. At the state level, in addition to laws copying federal ones, there are sometimes quite original acts; for example, in Florida there is a prohibition on contracting between the state and a person making contributions to the funds of candidates for elective positions.

In general, at the present stage of the development of the American legislation, the state is attempting to improve the quality of reporting, but so far no effective change is observed. However, on January 21, 2009 the newly elected president Barack Obama tightened the rules for lobbyists. He forbade the administration of the White House to accept gifts from them, and promised to introduce the most restrictive measures for lobbyists in the history of U.S. presidential administrations (Zeleny B3).

Barack Obama aims at limiting the influence of lobbyists on policy decisions. Under the new rules of the White House, the staff that left posts in the presidential administration is forbidden to lobby in it for at least 2 years, and those who received a post in the administration have no right to work on issues, which they once lobbied.

In addition, the proposed measures in the form of legislative amendments are currently under consideration in state assemblies of many states from New England to California. The amendments should eliminate private confidential funding; require disclosure of spending on lobbying, prohibition of gifts from individuals representing private interests and strengthening of monitoring schemes of hiring relatives of legislators as possible illegal ways to reward politicians.

After the FBI investigation which caught four legislators for bribery and corruption charges last year, a special session is currently held in Tennessee aiming to consider the proposed severe restrictions on lobbying activities. Georgia officials state that lawmakers have recently begun to work using new principles of ethical conduct, which are arranged in the form of law and were signed last year. Sonny Perdue said that the principles of behavior between lobbyists and lawmakers should be changed.

In Florida, new laws have also been enacted abolishing gifts from lobbyists and requiring detailed reports relating to the costs of professional lobbyists. New provisions have been legalized in Florida, when it revealed that three representatives of the state legislature took part in a jaunt, organized at the expense of the company, which was aiming to obtain licenses for one of the activities in the state. In New York and New Jersey, officials are taking measures to fill gaps in the legislation, which enabled to perform and finance lobbying activities violating the law, or enter into scandal contracts.

Adopted local laws can be quite different. For example, in some states, there are strict laws of behavior of legislators, in others there are truly independent commissions with broad powers, which may investigate lobbying activity, issue subpoenas and establish penalties. There are systems which require registered lobbyists to disclose detailed information about their activities, forbidding gifts and other rewards for lawmakers. However, finally the federal government should adopt some of these limitations for lobbying in order to eliminate corruption on federal level.

All the disadvantages associated with lobbying are well known. But lobbyists are often compared with a mosquito curling over the bull (Congress) and making it vigorously plow. It is not effective to prohibit lobbying or lobbyists or to put them into extremely strict frames, which is due to the positive potential, characteristic of lobbying (Ackley 7).

Surely, corruption has always existed in the American politics, although it has been held back within the certain limits of “checks and balances” system, ethical rules, and transparency. It should be noted, that in general lobbying is strictly regulated by U.S. law (Snyder 16-17). Besides, new legislative initiatives, tightening the rules of the game, will soon be implemented. So the key question is how these laws will be enforced.

In contemporary conditions the Committee on Ethics should be galvanized, together with the strict maintenance of Law on the professional ethics of the members of Congress. The rules applied both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, which establish ethical guidelines and rules of conduct for politicians and can seriously affect the activities and behaviour of lobbyists, should become professional standards. In this way a completely transparent system should be created. Moreover, it is important to remember that lobbyists play an important role in the American democracy. Therefore, the way to reform lobbying system should be reasonable in order to provide useful connections and relationships between lobbyists and legislators (Harden 53-60).

Thus, the existence of effective laws regulating lobbying activities is possible if the state contains the following features: democratic political system; political and ideological pluralism; ability of individuals and organizations to receive and impart information; existence of relatively independent branches of government providing effective control over the access to rights and freedoms; strong parliament and presence of other authorities and self-government; developed civil society; developed system of media and communications, which operates under the guaranteed freedom of expressing opinions (Zetter 72-4).

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