A Lobbyist by Any Other Name

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Where have all the lobbyists gone? A recent study of disclosure forms by OMB Watch and the Center for Responsive Politics finds that a larger-than-average number “deregistered” this year, removing themselves from the official ranks of influence peddlers. But they haven’t  gone very far. The groups say that these former lobbyists are now simply seeking to shape government policy in less transparent ways.

The study found that 1,418 federally registered lobbyists deregistered in the second quarter of 2009, between April and June (an average quarter would see a few hundred lobbyists terminate their active status.) The drop occurred shortly after Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13490, which put new restrictions on former lobbyists appointed to the executive branch.

The study observes that the “data does not provide enough context to provide a direct correlation to the executive order.” But it also argues the the mass deregistration is likely not coincidental—and it’s evidence of some of the larger flaws in lobbying disclosure rules. 

The report suggests that many of the lobbyists who lobbyists deregistered—possibly in the hope of getting a job in the executive branch some day—now have some other title that allows them to continue doing very similar work:

Another troubling issue highlighted by the organizations is that the thousands of lobbyists who appear to have left their line of work may not have actually done so. At the federal level, many people working in the lobbying industry are not registered lobbyists, instead adopting titles such as “senior advisor” or other executive monikers, thereby avoiding federal disclosure requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

In short, the deregistration doesn’t mean there are actually fewer people seeking to influence policy. They’re just doing so with less transparency, as they’re no longer legally obligated to disclose their activities. So when the White House announced in September that “it is our aspiration that federally-registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions,” it might have had the opposite effect from what the new administration intended.

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