Lobbying Reform Legislation Falls Short Confronting an election-year issue in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, Congress is moving to tighten federal control of lobbyists. At press time, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were ready to combine lobbying reform bills into one piece of legislation. But the movement to make bold reforms ... Policy Analysis
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Policy Analysis  |   June 01, 2006
Lobbying Reform Legislation Falls Short
Author Notes
  • Stefanie Reeves, is director of political advocacy. Contact her at 800-498-2071, ext. 4452, or by e-mail at sreeves@asha.org.
    Stefanie Reeves, is director of political advocacy. Contact her at 800-498-2071, ext. 4452, or by e-mail at sreeves@asha.org.×
Article Information
Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Policy Analysis
Policy Analysis   |   June 01, 2006
Lobbying Reform Legislation Falls Short
The ASHA Leader, June 2006, Vol. 11, 1-15. doi:10.1044/leader.PA1.11082006.1
The ASHA Leader, June 2006, Vol. 11, 1-15. doi:10.1044/leader.PA1.11082006.1
Confronting an election-year issue in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, Congress is moving to tighten federal control of lobbyists. At press time, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were ready to combine lobbying reform bills into one piece of legislation. But the movement to make bold reforms has faded and the legislation under consideration is far less sweeping than first envisioned.
Congressional focus on lobbying reform mushroomed after Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist who contributed to both Republican and Democratic campaigns, pleaded guilty on Jan. 3 to corruption, embezzlement, and bribery. He was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison, and ordered to pay restitution of more than $21 million.
In the aftermath of the scandal, members of the House and Senate called for tough new legislation during congressional hearings. But momentum slowed as opposition grew among rank-and-file lawmakers to the more restrictive proposals.
Far from the major reforms first envisioned, both the House and Senate bills increase the number of reports lobbyists file electronically from two to four. Both bills also require members of Congress to seek permission before taking any privately funded trips. The Senate bill bans gifts from lobbyists to members of Congress and staff unless the gift is from the lobbyist’s employer, but the House bill does not.
Spokesmen for government watchdog groups and several lawmakers who actively pushed ethics rule changes have expressed disappointment. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who promoted a lobbying and ethics plan in January that was hailed as a model, has called current legislation “extremely weak.”
State Action
According to a survey by the Center for Public Integrity, 47 states have stricter lobbying and ethics laws than current federal law. The following are examples of state action on lobbying reform:
  • Connecticut: The state legislature approved a measure that would prevent departing governors from accepting employment as a lobbyist for any company with a contract with the state. The measure also would prevent any state official from accepting a speaker or appearance fee.

  • Florida: The state legislature approved a gift ban and a requirement for lobbyists to disclose how much they are paid to lobby. The state’s lobbying association has filed suit to block the measure.

  • North Carolina: A House panel created in response to lobbying law violations recently proposed stricter ethics rules including gift bans and barring candidates from converting campaign money for personal use.

  • Tennessee: Recently passed legislation prohibits employers of lobbyists from making political contributions to the members of the General Assembly while in session. Individual lobbyists are also prohibited to contributing to the campaigns of governor and members of the legislature. Tennessee joined Connecticut, Kentucky, and South Carolina to become the only states with bans on contributions by lobbyists.

  • Wisconsin: The state assembly refused to act on a bill that would merge the State Elections and Ethics Boards. The combined boards would have had the power to investigate and prosecute cases of illegal campaign and lobbying activity. Opponents claimed that the state already has tough ethic laws on the books and the combined board would have too much power.

Lobbyists-As Advocates, They’re Not All Alike

Lobbyists like Jack Abramoff represent a very small percentage of the profession. Generally, lobbyists are charged with protecting the interest of their clients-whether these are nonprofits, corporations, or individuals-by influencing legislation that may help or harm them. Some are professional lobbyists hired for their knowledge of the legislative process. Others are regular constituents.

If you have ever called, written a letter, or sent an e-mail to ask your local, state, or federal legislator to vote for or against a particular issue, you have lobbied. You have exercised your First Amendment constitutional right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

While the act of lobbying has been around since before the early days of Congress, the term lobbyist was said to be coined during the Ulysses S. Grant presidency. The term was used to describe businessmen who asked President Grant for political favors in the lobby of the Willard Hotel near the White House.

ASHA’s Lobbyists

ASHA employs professional lobbyists to advocate for their issues not only on Capitol Hill, but in states and regulatory agencies. In addition, many of our state associations employ lobbyists to direct advocacy efforts.

Like other organizations, ASHA takes a multi-pronged approach in its advocacy efforts. Its professional lobbyists are responsible for introducing and educating congressional and regulatory staff about ASHA’s issues. However, the Association also depends on its political action committee, ASHA-PAC, and on grassroots lobbying from the membership.

Grassroots lobbying or advocacy involves asking specific constituencies to contact their representatives about a particular issue. Over the last few years, ASHA members have sent thousands of messages by phone, fax, or e-mail in support of ASHA’s issues. ASHA members also have made thousands of visits to their state and federal legislators to educate them about how our issues affect them, their colleagues, and the clients they serve.

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June 2006
Volume 11, Issue 8