Washington’s Influence Business is “Booming” Though Fewer Register as Lobbyists

(p. A1) WASHINGTON — Ellen Miller, co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation, has spent years arguing for rules to force more disclosure of how lobbyists and private interests shape public policy. Until recently, she herself registered as a lobbyist, too, publicly reporting her role in the group’s advocacy of even more reporting. Not anymore.

In light of strict new regulations imposed by Congress over the last two years, Ms. Miller joined a wave of policy advocates who are choosing not to declare themselves as lobbyists.
“I have never spent much time on Capitol Hill,” Ms. Miller said, explaining that she only supervises those who press lawmakers directly. “I am not lobbying, so why fill out the forms?”
Her frankness makes Ms. Miller a standout among hundreds of others who are making the same decision. Though Washington’s influence business is by all accounts booming, a growing number of its practitioners are taking a similar course to avoid the spotlight of public disclosure.
“All the increasing restrictions on lobbyists are a disincentive to be a lobbyist, and those who think they can deregister are eagerly doing so,” said Jan Baran, a veteran political lawyer who has been fielding questions from clients hoping to escape registration. “It is creating some apparent contradictions.”
. . .
(p. A12) But for all its penalties, the law left the definition of a lobbyist fairly elastic. The criteria included getting paid to lobby, contacting public officials about a client’s interests at least twice in a quarter and working at least 20 percent of the time on lobbying-related activities for the client.
Enforcement is also light. Lobbyists suspected of failing to file receive at least one official letter offering a chance to rectify their status before any legal action is taken.
After the rules changed, private companies and nonprofit groups immediately began to rethink their registration.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates on arms control, energy policy and environmental issues, had previously registered almost anyone who went to Capitol Hill on its behalf, said Stephen Young, a senior analyst for the group. That changed after the new law.
“We thought: ‘Hmm, this is now not such an easy thing. Let’s see if we are required to do it. We are not? Let’s take them off,’ ” he said. The group terminated the registrations of “virtually all” its former lobbyists, he said.

For the full story, see:

DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK. “Law to Curb Lobbying Sends It Underground.” The New York Times (Mon., JANUARY 18, 2010): A1 & A12.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 17, 2010.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

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