Political Law Compliance: Lobbying
Lobbyists who seek to influence federal legislation and the acts of federal government officials and employees are subject to a host of laws and regulations. As Congress continues to tighten its reins on lobbyists, compliance is taking on heightened importance for lobbyists in all industries.
From registration and disclosure requirements to restrictions on gifts and specific lobbying activities, lobbyists who ply their trade in Congress and in offices of the executive branch are subject to a host of obligations and prohibitions. As violating any of the numerous laws, regulations, and rules that apply to federal lobbying can have severe consequences, lobbyists and lobbying organizations need to make compliance a top priority.
Today, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA) are the two primary statutes that govern federal lobbying activities. The LDA established new requirements for lobbyists that were intended to promote transparency while discouraging unethical conduct, while HLOGA further strengthened the LDA’s oversight and the consequences of enforcement. However, there are other laws and rules that apply as well, and lobbyists and lobbying organizations must establish and maintain complete compliance in order to avoid loss of registration, fines, and other penalties.
Oberheiden P.C. | Federal Political Law Compliance Attorneys for Lobbyists
At Oberheiden P.C., we represent lobbyists and lobbying organizations in all aspects of federal compliance. We help our clients obtain and maintain their registrations, and we develop comprehensive and custom-tailored policies and procedures that are designed to avoid miscues and unwanted scrutiny. We represent many of our clients on an ongoing basis, and our attorneys make themselves available as needed to ensure that our clients know exactly what they need to do in order to comply with the law.
Our lawyers have extensive experience in the areas of federal compliance and defense for lobbyists, lobbying firms, and other political entities. Additionally, as former government attorneys, including former prosecutors appointed by President Obama and President Trump, many of our attorneys have first-hand experience on the government’s side of federal compliance and law enforcement matters. Collectively, our attorneys bring centuries of combined experience to helping lobbyists and lobbying firms make informed decisions about compliance, and we are also able to represent our clients in federal investigations involving alleged violations of the LDA and HLOGA as and when necessary.
Federal Lobbying Compliance: What Do You Need to Know?
Whether you are a lobbyist, you own a lobbying firm, or you are an executive or in-house counsel at a business that engages in lobbying activities, there is a lot you need to know when it comes to federal compliance. Here is a brief introduction to some of the primary areas in which we provide advice and representation for our clients:
When is Lobbyist Registration Required?
The first question that needs to be answered when it comes to lobbying compliance is: When is someone considered a lobbyist for purposes of the LDA and HLOGA? If an individual qualifies as a lobbyist under these statutes, then registration is required, and the lobbyist’s employer must ensure strict compliance with the LDA, HLOGA, and the House and Senate gift rules, among other sources of federal authority. An individual is considered a federal lobbyist if:
- He or she makes more than one “lobbying contact” with a member of Congress or an executive official;
- He or she spends at least 20% of his or her time engaged in “lobbying activity” within any three-month period; and,
- The employer’s expenses for lobbying activity in any calendar quarter are expected to exceed $13,000 (if the employer is a corporation), or the employer’s income from lobbying activities is expected to exceed $3,000 in any calendar quarter (if the employer is a lobbying firm).
What are Lobbyists’ Main Compliance Obligations Under Federal Law?
While lobbyists have numerous compliance obligations under federal law, the primary obligations can be broken down into five main categories. These are:
- Registration – If a lobbyist is subject to registration, then registration is required as a precondition to conducting lobbying activity at the Capitol, in any other federal executive or legislative offices, or in any other location. Registration is required at the entity level, even for lobbyists who operate independently.
- Reporting – Registered lobbyists are required to submit quarterly reports (LD-2) and semiannual contribution reports (LD-203) for all periods in which lobbying activities are conducted, and registered lobbyists are subject to various other disclosure requirements as well.
- Gifts and Travel – The LDA and the lobbying rules of both the House and the Senate prohibit lobbyists from making gifts to members of Congress. Other laws similarly prohibit gifts to officials and employees in all three branches of the federal government. Lobbyists are also subject to specific restrictions regarding travel with Members of Congress.
- Submission to Random Audits – Registered lobbyists are subject to random audits conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). In the event of an audit, the corporation or lobbying firm must be prepared to provide copies of its compliance policies and procedures as well as documentation of its ongoing compliance efforts.
- Tax Compliance – Lobbying activity can raise a number of tax compliance concerns, including concerns regarding appropriate calculation of lobbying-related income and expenses and Section 501(c)(3) eligibility. While non-profit entities are permitted to engage in “issues of public policy,” lobbying is expressly prohibited.
Additional compliance obligations under the LDA, HLOGA, and the House and Senate gift rules include:
- Disclosure of the lobbyist’s client and of any foreign interests in the lobbying activity
- Appropriate rounding of lobbying-related income and expenses
- Affirmative confirmation that all submitted registration forms and reports have been received
- Ensuring registration and disclosure compliance with respect to contingency fees
- Ensuring registration and disclosure compliance with respect to subsidiaries and affiliates
- Appropriately accounting for lobbying services provided to associations, coalitions, and religious institutions
- Appropriately reporting the termination and delisting of lobbyists
What is Considered a “Gift,” and When are Gifts Permissible?
One of the areas where lobbyists most often run into trouble is giving gifts to Members of Congress, government officials, and executive and legislative branch employees. When it comes to gifts, the baseline is that gifts are prohibited, and then there are a number of exceptions for specific types of gifts that are permitted.
For purposes of lobbying compliance, a “gift” is anything of value. This includes (but is not limited to) monetary gifts, travel, tickets to events, meals, and even beverages. Not only are gifts prohibited under the LDA, HLOGA, and House and Senate rules, but giving gifts to legislators, officials, and employees can potentially result in criminal prosecution under the federal bribery statute.
With all of this in mind, when considering anything that might even remotely resemble a gift of any kind, it is essential to be cautious, and to only proceed if a specific relevant exception can be identified. Depending on the specific circumstances involved, gifts that may be permissible include:
- Benefits that are available to members of the general public
- Contributions to qualifying legal expense trust funds
- Gifts based on personal friendship
- Gifts of promotional and commemorative items
- Invitations to charitable fundraisers
- Informational materials (if sent to the legislator’s, officer’s, or employee’s office or provided at a permissible event)
- Invitations to receptions that do not involve meals
- Invitations to widely-attended gatherings
- Wedding gifts authorized pursuant to a waiver
What Does it Take to Be (or Employ) a Legally-Compliant Federal Lobbyist?
Given the volume and complexity of the restrictions imposed under federal law and the House and Senate rules, what does it take to engage in legally-compliant lobbying activities? At Oberheiden P.C., our compliance services for federal lobbyists and their employers include:
- Lobbyist Compliance Policies and Procedures – Our lawyers draft custom-tailored compliance policies and procedures for lobbying firms and companies that engage in lobbying activities. Our policies and procedures use clear and straightforward language, and we can provide compliance training if desired.
- Ongoing Documentation of Compliance – As with most aspects of federal compliance, documenting compliance with the LDA and HLOGA can be just as important as compliance itself. We assist our clients with generating the documentation necessary to prove compliance in the event of a GAO audit or a federal investigation.
- Registration Compliance – Our lawyers assist clients in determining when registration is necessary, with completing federal lobbyist registration applications, and with adhering to the requirements for registered lobbyists.
- Reporting and Disclosure Compliance – We assist our clients with meeting their quarterly and semiannual reporting obligations, and we advise our clients regarding when additional disclosures are required under the LDA and HLOGA.
- Gift and Travel Compliance – We provide detailed guidance regarding compliance with the gift and travel rules for federal lobbyists, and we assist with determining when exceptions are available.
- Internal Revenue Code and Other Statutory Compliance Issues – We also assist our clients with tax compliance and other federal statutory compliance matters.
Schedule a Complimentary Initial Consultation at Oberheiden P.C.
If you would like more information about our federal lobbying compliance services, we invite you to schedule a complimentary initial consultation with one of our senior attorneys. Call 888-680-1745 to speak with a member of our firm in confidence, or send us your contact information and we will be in touch shortly.