LOBBY ACT REFORM
ISSUE BRIEF NUMBER I B 7 5 0 3 4
S a c h s , Richard C.
T H E LIBRARY OF C O N G R E S S
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
MAJOR I S S U E S SYSTEM
DATE O R I G I N A T E D 0 4 / 1 0 / 7 5
DATE UPDATED 03/19/81
FOR ADDITIONAL I N F O R M A T I O N C A L L 287-5700
Fueled in part by abuses revealed during investigations into the Watergate
scandal and aissatisfaction with present l a w , the controversy over how to
achieve more effective accountability from lobbyists--groups and individuals
who seek to influence the governmental decision-making process--was
issue in the 96th Congress. Proposals included broadening
cover more fully those who lobby the Congress, to include for the first time
those who lobby the executive branch, and to
administration and enforcement in the General Accounting Office.
BACKGROUND AND POLICY ANALYSIS
Although the activities of pressure groups and individuals lobbying
Congress have been the subject of sporadic investigations since 1 9 1 3 , not
until the 1930s did Congress enact the first registration and reporting
requirements for lobbyists. Within a period
of 4 years, Congress passed
three measures--the Utilities Holding Company Act, the Merchant Marine Act,
and the Foreign Agents Registration Act-- requiring some form of registration
and periodic reporting for persons seeking to influence Congress and certain
agencies of the executive branch.
Further efforts to enact more comprehensive legislation on lobbying
resulted in the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, passed as part of the
Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. This Act, presently the only Federal
statute regarding lobbyists' activities on a broad scale, does not restrict
lobbying activities, but requires that individuals and groups seeking to
influence legislation in the Congress register with
the Secretary of the
Senate and the Clerk of the House, and file quarterly financial reports with
Critics of the Act have often faulted it for being
point out that the law requires registration only by persons
for someone else, and only by those whose principal purpose is lobbying.
Accordingly, some organizations avoid registering by contending that lobbying
is not their principal purpose.
Moreover, a 1 9 5 4 Supreme Court decision
interpreted the Act to mean that lobbying efforts are not covered by the Act
unless a lobbyist contacts a Member of Congress directly; thus, persons who
generate "grass rootsw pressure on Congress are not covered.
Critics also point out that the Act does not require the Secretary of the
Senate and the Clerk of the House to examine lobby registrations and
financial reports for their truthfulness, nor can they require individuals or
groups to register as lobbyists.
In addition, while the Justice Department
can prosecute Lobby Act violators, it does not investigate reports for
validity and completeness, and acts only when it receives a complaint. There
have been only four prosecutions since 1946.
Also, the Act covers only those persons who lobby Congress; there are no
registration or reporting requirements for persons who lobby the executive
An April, 1975, General Accounting Office ( G A O ) report concluded that
Act failed to provide accurate information on lobbyists and that
standards and the enforcement provisions were vague
difficult to administer.
I n its recommendations to the Senate Government
Operations Committee, the unit requesting
the study, GAO suggested three
areas which the commitcee might wish to pursue: (1) the lack of investigative
enforcement power to
authority; ( 2 ) the right to inspect records; and
determine whether the Act should be strengthened.
Soon after its passage, the constitutionality
of the 1946 Act was
challenged on the grounds that it violated First Amendment guarantees of free
speech, petition for redress of grievances, and freedom of assembly.
Harriss upheld the
1954, by a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court in U.S.
constitutionality of the Act but construed it so narrowly, critics argue, as
to negate reporting and registration requirements of the law as an effective
means of publicizing lobbying activities and preventing abuses.
Although there have been numerous congressional investigations of alleged
lobbying abuses since 1954, it was not until 1971 that a committee, the House
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, reported out a comprehensive
revision of the 1946 Act, the Legislative Activities
However, no floor action on the bill occurred in the House.
3ppOnentS of the bill stated that First Amendment
rights would be
jeoparaized by its passage.
At the 1971 hearings on the measure, the
National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce, while
criticizing the failure of the existing l a w , testified that the proposed bill
was of dubious constitutionality, went
"too far," and would
"needlessly detailed, burdensome, and overlappingw reporting requirements.
The so-called Watergate scandals, several aspects of which were associated
with apparent abuses by Washington lobbyists, have been seen as the impetus
for a renewed effort to reform the 1946 Act.
In December 1974, the Congress passed
Procedures Act ( S . 782 and H.R. 17063), which contained a section requiring
that a defendant filing for a proposed consent decree in an antitrust case
provide the court with logs of pertinent oral communications with Government
officials not directly involved in the judgment. The sponsors of the measure
stated that it was directly aimed at preventing
the type of abuses that
allegedly occurred in relation to antitrust actions brought against the
In 1973, while Elliot
International Telephone and Telegraph Company ( I T T ) .
Richardson was Attorney General, the Justice Department issued an agency
order which required the maintenance of meeting logs with persons outside the
agency regarding pending cases. This measure, too, was stated to be aimed at
preventing recurrences of the type of alleged abuses by lobbyists i n the ITT
In June 1974, California passed by initiative a wide-ranging election and
lobbying reform l a w , known generally as Proposition Nine, which placed tight
limitations on certain lobbyist activities.
Critics say the law
unconstitutional, but the State has announced its intention to enforce the
law while court tests are undertaken. Arizona, Minnesota, Kansas, and West
Virginia also passed new laws or regulations for lobbying disclosure in 1974.
Other States have proposals under consideration.
Also in 1974, the Justice Department announced its intention to bring suit
against the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties,
and the United States Conference of Mayors, charging that these groups were
lobbying organizations but had failed to register a s such.
In a declaratory
judgment issued in response to the associations' request for a preliminary
injunction, the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the
asSOCiatiOns' argument that its employees were acting "On the authorization
of a public official acting in his official capacity," were compensated
through public funds, and were therefore exempt from the 1946 Lobbying Act.
In the 94th Congress, the Senate Government Operations Committee held five
days of hearings on lobby reform proposals, and in March
1 9 7 6 reported a
bill, S. 2477. On June 15, the Senate passed S. 2477 by a vote of 8 2 to 9.
This marked the first time since the 1946 Act that the Senate had voted
favorably on a lobby reform bill.
2477, only an organization could become a lobbyist.
organization could become a lobbyist in any one of three ways:
retained a law firm or similar organization to lobby for it in Congress and
pays that organization at least $250 in a quarter; (2) i f , on its own behalf,
it engaged in 1 2 or more oral lobbying communications with
Congress in a
quarter; or (3) if it spent $5,000 or more a quarter in direct expenses on
lobbying solicitations, so-called "grass-rootsw lobbying campaigns.
covered lobbying of the executive branch only insofar as an executive branch
issue 2ertained to a measure
before the Congress.
administration was vested in the GAO, which was given certain rule-making and
investigative powers; however, all litigation in Federal court to enforce the
law was the responsibility of the Department of Justice.
In the House during the 94th Congress, most of the lobby bills were
jointly referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Standards of
Under new rules of the House, both committees must agree
In the first session
on a bill before it goes tc the floor for a final Vote.
of the 94th Congress, both committees held hearings, and on Aug.
the Judiciary reported a bill, H.R. 15. Under H.R. 1 5 , only a n organization
c o ~ l dqualify as a lobbyist.
Such an organization could qualify in one of
(1) it makes an expenditure in excess of $1,250 in any quarterly
filing period for the retention of another person to make oral or written
communications directed to a Federal officer, as defined in the bill, to
influence legislation and certain executive agency decisions; and
organization employs at least one individual who spends 20% of his time in a
quarterly filing period engaged on behalf of that organization in lobbying
The bill covered executive agency lobbying, but only those
officers in executive levels I through V , the highest ranking executive
officers in the Government. Like S. 2477, the bill gave administrative and
enforcement authority to the GAO.
Congress was granted
disapprove regulations issued pursuant to the Act by the Comptroller General.
On Sept. 2 0 , 1976, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct,
acting under its jurisdiction granted by the joint referral of lobby bills in
the House, adopted a n amendment i n the nature of a substitute to H.R. 15.
The Standards Committee substitute to H.R. 1 5 structurally
Judiciary Committee's version, but contained some notable differences that
gave the measure a somewhat broader
The Standards Committee
version contained, like S. 2477, a separate threshold for groups that only
conduct so-called wgrass-rootsw lobbying efforts.
The bill also eliminated
the quarterly registration and reporting provision and substituted
filing provision with a requirement that registrations be
up-dated when necessary. Certain additional registration information was
also required and a provision was adopted that
identification of certain officials of interest groups, whether paid or not,
who exerted a prominent role in the decision-making
The Standards bill also changed the 20% threshold test found
in the Judiciary Committee's version with a threshold test that called for an
organization to register as a lobbyist if it employed at least one individual
who lobbied on all or part of six or more calendar days in a half-year filing
Administration, enforcement, and civil and criminal sanctions were
essentially similar to the Judiciary version of H.R. 1 5 , as amended.
The full House took up the two lobby bills on Sept. 28, 1976. By a roll
call vote of 291 to 74, the Standards Committee amendment in the nature of a
substitute was defeated. Early in the morning of Sept. 29, after 1 4 hours of
1 5 , with
debate, the House passed the Judiciary Committee's version of H.R.
additional amendments, by a roll call vote of 307 to 34.
The bill, H.R. 1 5 , was then sent to the Senate where it was referred to
the Cornnittee on Government Operations.
Because of the Senate's intention to
shortly adjourn sine die, the parliamentary situation was such that the bill
could be brought from the Committee to the floor for a vote only by unanimous
consent of the Senate.
Such unanimous consent was not forthcoming and
Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.), Chairman of the Committee, said the bill
was "apparently dead for this year."
In the 95th Congress, hearings were held by
Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations, now chaired by
Rep. George Danielson (D-Calif.), and the Senate Committee on Governmental
On Feb. 24, 1978, the House Judiciary Committee reported H.R. 8494.
On Apr. 26, 1978, H.R. 8494 passed the House, as amended, by a vote of 259 to
Testimony in the House focused on the 1976 House-passed
a somewhat modified
this year a s H.R. 1180 by Rep. Peter Rodino
version of H.R. 1180 introduced by Reps. Railsback and Kastenmeier, H.R.
5795; a measure introduced by Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.),
5 5 7 8 , that
had received the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); and a
proposal that would create separate registration and reporting criteria, one
for smaller, less-active organizations, and another for larger lobbying
Appearing on behalf of the Carter Administration; Deputy Attorney
General Peter F. Flaherty stated that the White House would
enactment of a lobbying bill which would be comprehensive, evenhanded, easily
enforceable, and which would
effectively open to the public
instances in which the congressional process is influenced by
efforts of outside groups."
On July 20, 1977, after meeting 1 7 times to consider lobbying legislation,
the House subcommittee ordered reported H.R. 1180, reintroduced on July 22 as
H.R. 8494. Under this bill, organizations were required to register and make
quarterly reports if they (1) spend $2,500 in any quarterly period to retain
persons or firms to make oral or written lobbying communications on their
behalf or "for the express purpose of preparing and/or
communications; or ( 2 ) spend $2,500 or more making
and employ one or more individuals who
(in the aggregate) make lobbying
communications on 13 or more days per quarter.
Certain activities were
specifically excluded from the
responsibility for implementing the Act and the authority to promulgate rules
and regulations, Which were subject to congressional veto.
criminal sanctions could be imposed for violations of the Act.
On Feb. 2 4 , 1978, the House Judiciary Committee reported H.R.
major changes were made in the subcommittee bill: the section that Called for
disclosure of information relating to grassroots lobbying efforts was
eliminated, and virtually all enforcement authority was placed with
Attorney General rather than the Comptroller
General was left with certain administrative and rule-making functions.
On Apr. 2 6 , 1 9 7 8 , the House, by a roll-cail vote of 259 to 1 4 0 , passed
H.R. 8494. Three major changes were made through floor amendments:
amendment offered by Rep. Flowers that restored the reporting requirements
relating to solicitations and grass-roots lobbying efforts; (2) an amendment
offered by Rep. Railsback that required a reporting organization to identify
its chief executive, whether paid or unpaid, and the issues on which he
lobbied; and (3) an amendment by Rep. Railsback that required any lobbying
organization that spent more than 1% of its total budget
on lobbying to
report the names of organizations from which it received more than $3,000 a
year in dues or contributions.
On Feb. 7 , 1978, the Senate completed three days of hearings on two
disclosure bills, S. 1785 and S. 2026.
On May 1 0 and 1 1 , 1978, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee met to
mark-up S. 2971, a so-called
compromise bill which, with
modifications, closely resembled S. 1785. The committee's only action was
adoption of an amendment to establish a completely new threshold, replacing
the "two-tier" threshold found in both S. 1785 and S. 2971.
provided that a group engaging in direct lobbying would have to register if
it either (1) has one paid employee "making two oral communications a day on
each of 1 0 days in a calendar quarter, or two paid employees making two oral
communications on each of five days in a calendar quarter," or
"$1,750 in a quarter retaining an outside lobbyist."
Two exemptions were
included in the direct lobbying threshold.
The law would not apply to a
"all of its oral lobbying communications are made only during a
period of six consecutive working days in a calendar year," or (2) "it is a
locally oriented organization that has a total annual budget of less than
$75,000, and is not located in the Washington, D.C.
Metropolitan Statistical Area , and is not a controlled affiliate of any
On Aug. 1 7 , 1978, the Committee approved two amendments, one that would
exempt from coverage any organization composed of State, county or local
officials, and one that would delete coverage of a lobbying organization's
"grass-roots" activities. The Committee narrowly defeated an amendment to
remove from the bill a provision requiring lobbying organizations to identify
other groups making large financial contributions.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee failed to complete action on the
bill before the end of the 95th Congress.
Despite reports that supporters
would try to attach a lobby reform measure to an unrelated bill set for
Senate floor action, or request that the House-passed
brought directly to the Senate floor, the Senate failed to pass a disclosure
In the 96th Congress, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative
Law and Governmental Relations held six days of hearings in February and
1979, reported a clean
March. of 1 9 7 9 and after meeting seven times in May
bill, H.R. 4395, in lieu of H.R. 8 1 , a measure identical to the House-passed
H.R. 8494 of the 95th Congress.
On Oct. 1 6 , 1979, the Judiciary Committee reporced H.R.
4395 in a more
narrow version than the bill approved by the subcommittee.
Judiciary Committee's bill, organizations were required to register and make
quarterly reports of their activities if (1) they make expenditures of $5000
or more in a quarterly filing period to retain one or more individuals to
conduct lobbying activiites, or to prepare or draft lobbying communications;
or (2) if the organization employs at least one individual who, on all or
part of each of 23 days in a quarterly filing period, or two or more
individuals each of whom, on all or any part of each of seven days or more,
conducts lobbying activities on behalf of the organization, and if the
organization spends more than $5000 for such activities. Certain activities
were specifically excluded from the bill.
In contrast to other measures,
H.R. 4395 did not call for either disclosure of significant contributions to
the lobbying organization or disclosure of "grass-roots" lobbying activities.
Unlike previous measures, administrative responsibility was placed with
Clerk of the House rather than the Comptroller General.
Department was responsible for enforcing the measure.
In the Senate, the Governmental Affairs Committee held
two days of
hearings, Sept. 25 and 26, 1979, on S. 1564, introduced by
Under S. 1564, an organization was required to register and file
quarterly reports if it either (1) Spends more than $500 during a quarterly
filing period either on retaining one or more outside agents to make lobbying
c o m m u n i c a ~ i o n s ,or for the benefit of a Federal officer or employee; or
employs one person who, on all or part of each of 13 days or more (or two or
more persons each of whom on all or part of seven days or more) i n a quarter,
makes lobbying communications and spends more than $500 during the quarter
for lobbying purposes.
Certain activities were specifically
The bill included both a contributor's disclosure and a
"grass-roots" reporting provision.
The Comptroller General was
administrative authority and the Attorney General was responsible for
enforcement. The bill prescrided only civil penalties for violations.
Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary.
Administrative Law and Governmental Relations.
Congress, 1st session, on H.R. 15. Sept. 1 1 , 1 2 , 1 8 , 1 9 , and
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1975.
Hearings, 95th Congress, 1st session, on H.R. 1180, H.R.
and H.R. 5795 and companion bills.
Apr. 4 and 6 , 1977.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1977. 556 p.
Hearings, 96th Congress, 1st session, on H.R. 81.
Feb. 2 8 , Mar. 7 , 14, 2 1 , 2 2 , and 2 8 , 1979.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1979.
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Lobbying Activities Disclosure Act.
Hearing, 92d Congress,
1st session, on H.R. 5259. March 1 6 , 24, 1971. Washington,
U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1971. 145 p.
U P D A T E - O ~ / ~ ~ /
Lobbying -- efforts to influence governmental actions. Hearings,
94th Congress, 1st session, on H.R. 15 and related bills.
1975. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1975. 278 p.
Regulation of lobbying and management of campaign money.
Hearings, 91st Congress, 2d session, on H - R e s . 1031. Dec. 1 ,
8-9, 1 5 , 1970. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1971.
Regulation of lobbying. Hearings, 91st Congress, 2d session,
on H.Res. 1031. Oct. 1 , 7-8, 1970. Washington, U.S. Govt.
Print. Off., 1971. 1 3 4 p.
Committee on Government Operations.
Hearings, 94th Congress, 1st session, on S. 774, S. 8 1 5 ,
S. 2068, S. 2167, S. 2477. Apr. 2 2 , May 1 4 , 1 5 , Nov. 4 , 5 ,
6 , 1975. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1975.
REPORTS AND CONGRESSIONAL DOCUMENTS
Committee on the Judiciary. Antitrust
Procedures and Penalties Act; report together with additional
views to accompany H.R. 17063. Washington, U.S. Govt.
Print. Off., Oct. 1 1 , 1974.
(93d Congress, 2d session.
House. Report no. 93-1463)
Public Disclosure of Lobbying Act of 1978; report,
together With additional and dissenting views, to accompany
H.R. 8494, 95th Congress, 2d session. Mar. 2 4 , 1978.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1978. 9 7 p.
Congress, 2d session.
House. Report no. 95-1003)
Public Disclosure of Lobbying Act of 1979; report to accompany
H.R. 4395, 96th Congress, 1st session.
Nov. 5 , 1979.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1979. 78 p.
Congress, 1st session.
House. Report no. 96-590)
Regulating lobbying and related activities; report together with
dissenting views to accompany H.R. 1 5 , 94th Congress, 2d session.
8 7 p.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
Sept. 2, 1976.
Congress, 2d session.
House. Report no. 94-1474, Part 1)
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Legislative Activities Disclosure Act; report to accompany
H.R. 11453, 92d Congress, 2d session. Washington, U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., Dec. 1 0 , 1971.
5 6 p.
2d session. House. Report no. 92-741)
Committee on Government Operations.
Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1976; report to accompany S. 2477,
94th Congress, 1st session.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
1976. 71 p.
(94th Congress, 2d session. Senate.
Committee on the Judiciary. Antitrust
laws amendments; report to accompany S. 782, 93d Congress,
1st session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1973.
(93d Congress, 2d session. Senate. Report no. 93-298)
General Accounting Office. The Federal Regulation of
Lobbying Act--Difficulties in enforcement and administration;
Report to the Committee on Government Operations, United States
Senate. Washington, 1975.
(GGD-75-79, Apr. 2 , 1975) 1 4 p.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
In his 1979 State of the Union message, President
Carcer called for a "sound" lobby disclosure law:
"The American people have a right to know what
significant influences affect their national
legislature. The proliferation of well financed,
organizational lobbying activities during recent
years has demonstrated the need for reform of the
outdated and ineffective lobby disclosure law now
This year my Administration will
continue to work with Congress to pass a sound
one that respects the
lobby law reform bill
First Amendment right of all Americans and minimizes
paperwork burdens, yet allows meaningful disclosures."
In his message accompanying the State of the Union
address, President Carter stated that "The Administration
will press for legislation requiring registration of
lobbyists and thorough public disclosure of their
This long overdue legislation
will help reestablish confidence and trust in
Included in a package of major legislation that will
be proposed by the Carter Administration is a lobby
disclosure proposal requiring Federal officials to
maintain a public log of their contacts with lobbyists.
General Accounting Office investigation revealed that a
sample of reports and registrations filed in accordance
with the 1946 Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act was
incomplete, and that administration and enforcement
provisions of the Act are inadequate in preventing
abuses of the law.
The House Republican Task Force on Reform, chaired by
Rep. William Frenzel of Minnesota, recommended
strengthening of existing lobby disclosure requirements.
Common Cause was denied standing in its court suit to
have the Federal lobby law enforced against the National
Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
Common Cause has
appealed the court's decision.
The President signed into law S. 782, the Antitrust
Penalties and Procedures Act (P.L. 93-528).
declaratory judgment was issued in response to a request
by the National League of Cities, the National Association
of Counties, and the United States Conference of Mayors
for a preliminary injunction to halt further action by
the Department of Justice. The United States District
Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the
associations were exempt from registration under the
Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act because the associations'
employees were acting "on the authorization of a public
official acting in his official capacity" and were paid
by public funds from the localities the association
The National League of Cicies, the National Association
of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors filed a
countersuit against Attorney General William B. Saxbe,
who had announced his intention to enforce he 1946
Regulation of Lobbying Act against these groups.
The associations claimed that their Washington activities
were essential to the governments of the localities they
represented and that they acted as extensions of those
local governments and were, therefore, exempt from the
Act under the section that excludes "any public official
acting in his official capacity."
Congressional Quarterly reported that in 1973 organizations
reported spending $9.7 million on congressional lobbying,
the largest annual reported total since 1950.
Common Cause filed suit against the National Association
of Manufacturers for failure to register as a lobbying
Common Cause Chairman John Gardner called for more
effective lobby disclosure laws in testimony before the
Subcommittee on Reorganization, Research, and International
Organizations of the Senate Government Operations Committee.
California voters approved Proposition Nine, a wide-ranging
political reform initiative placed on the ballot by Common
Cause and other citizens' groups.
The measure, under
challenge in the courts, prohibits lobbyists from
contributing directly to political candidates and
strengthens the State's lobbyist reporting and registration
ADDITIONAL REFERENCE SOURCES
A constitutionally protected
Washington, American Enterprise Institute for
Public Policy Research 1977 35 p.
Institute for Public Policy Research.
Post-Watergate lobbying laws; tokenism v.
National civic review, v. 6 3 , October 1974:
The swarming lobbyists.
T i m e , Aug.
Library of Congress.
C o n g r e s s i o n a l Researcfi S e r v i c e .
Lobbying a n d interest groups:
a selected annotated
July 23, 1979.
1 6 0 p.
C R S Report 79-157 G
The Washington lobby.
q u a r t e r l y , 1974.
2 d ed.
1 3 8 p.