Previous posts have noted that many people in the government affairs world do not have to register as federal lobbyists. And some of these "stealth lobbyists" are former lawmakers such as Newt Gingrich and Anthony Weiner.
Cases like these motivate pundits to write opinion pieces condemning the revolving door and shadow lobbyists by pointing out what is often referred to as the “Daschle Loophole” in the LDA. They can elude the law’s registration requirement by simply interpreting the strict statutory definition of “lobbyist” as not applying to them. That is, so long as they are not spending 20% of their time—think one full day in a normal work week—on behalf of any single client for an entire quarter, then they do not need to register or report their lobbying activities. Think about that: do you ever spend one full day per week for three months straight working on any one project at work? As law professor William V. Luneberg, Jr. notes, “You can do a hell of a lot of lobbying for somebody when you’re only doing 19 percent of your time for the client.”
So the LDA loophole is not new. In fact, OpenSecrets.org has shown that under-the-radar lobbyists are on the rise. But stealth lobbying and the revolving door tend to get the media’s attention only with high profile cases like Gingrich and Weiner. When it does, the reporting tends to beg two key questions: how common is it for lobbyists to have gone through the revolving door? And just how many unregistered lobbyists are there in the “influence industry?” My co-author Herschel (Trey) Thomas and I have some relevant (hopefully not too relevant) research on this here and here.
Based on our sample of about 1,600 registered lobbyists, we find that 52% had once worked in the federal government, mostly in Congress. These revolving door lobbyists tend to have a more diverse clientele and to work on a much wider range of issues than others, suggesting that they are more likely selling “access” to former employers in government than they are using highly specialized policy expertise (which would instead lead them to attract clients from one or a few economic sectors, and to work on a single policy area). Only about 1% of them are former members of Congress (though, it’s likely that one in two former lawmakers become lobbyists after leaving office).
Our second study is based on a random sample of “policy advocates” drawn from Lobbyists.info, the leading commercial directory of government affairs professionals. This sample includes both registered and unregistered (shadow) lobbyists. We find that shadow lobbyists actually outnumbered registered lobbyists in 2012. That is, there are now more stealth lobbyists—roughly 13,000 by our conservative estimate—than there are those who register under the LDA. Registered or not, still only about 1% served in Congress. So, though Gingrich, Daschle, and Weiner tend to be the most notable examples of what’s wrong with lobbying transparency, they are far from alone.