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WASHINGTON, DC – On Saturday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning appointees from his administration from lobbying the agency they worked under for a five-year period following their departure. The executive order also institutes a lifetime ban on top-level Trump administration officials lobbying on behalf of foreign entities. While the executive order expands on the Obama administration’s two-year cooling-off period, the lobbying ban will have little impact until additional lobbying reforms are signed into law. Specifically, loopholes used by Washington insiders to dodge lobbying registration threaten the efficacy of the new executive order and transparency in the lobbying industry.
“This past election, American voters demanded a government accountable to the people, not wealthy interests and not lobbyists,” said Andre Delattre, Executive Director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “If our elected officials want to pass lobbying and ethics reform, the single most important action they can take is to stop shadow lobbyists from dodging lobbyist registration. Today’s lobbying loopholes are large enough to drive a truck through. If we don’t close them, any other ethics reforms we pass are rendered toothless.”
Under current law, lobbyists are able to dodge registration under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) if they spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying, or if they lobby for multiple clients, spending no more than 20 percent of their time on a single client. Reports estimate that today’s lobbying industry is twice as large as official numbers suggest as a result of unregistered lobbying activity. Over the course of President Obama’s first year in office, when the administration enacted new policies targeting registered lobbyists, lobbying registrations dropped by 20 percent, reflecting an increase in undisclosed lobbying activity.
During the 2016 elections, Trump proposed a five-point ethics plan, re-instituting a five-year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government, creating the same ban for former members of Congress and their staffs, expanding the definition of “lobbyist” to close lobbying loopholes, issuing a lifetime ban against executive branch officials lobbying for a foreign government, and prohibiting foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections.
If Congress does not strengthen the definition of lobbyist under the LDA, those in the influence industry will be able to dodge any new ethics reforms by taking advantage of loopholes to avoid lobbyist registration.
U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
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