Nearly 2,100 federal lobbyists who were active in 2016 did not report undertaking lobbying activities in the first quarter of 2017. Of those, 58 percent or 1,200 of them continued to work for the same employer.
People change jobs all the time, of course, even within the same company. In the lobbying world it's not uncommon for individuals to refocus their work on state level or global issues, move to public relations or take a more managerial position that does not involve trudging the halls of Congress.
At the Center for Responsive Politics, however, we found that nearly a third of the former lobbyists who stayed at the same organization have titles that indicate they are still working on influencing U.S. federal policy. Thirty percent had job titles that included terms like public policy, legislative, government, lobbyist and the like. (We excluded those that also mention state or international responsibilities.)
It has always been clear that officially registered lobbyists comprise only a fraction of the people in D.C. working to influence Congress and the various regulatory agencies. A 2013 study estimated that the approximately 10,000 registered lobbyists are joined by at least that many who work behind the scenes and are often referred to as shadow lobbyists.
What has become more prevalent over the last decade are hordes of lobbyists deliberately moving into the shadows to avoid the consequences of registration. A number of factors contributed to a slowly declining number of registered lobbyists, led by President Obama restricting the ability of registered lobbyists to work in his administration. Trump chose to institute similar policies, though they differ in significant ways, especially enforcement.
The number of lobbyists who stop filing disclosure reports after the third quarter of an election year typically spikes compared to non-election years, as it did this year.
However, Trump's plans to "drain the swamp" of Washington do not seem to have contributed to more lobbyists exiting the rolls and far fewer did so than the high point of Obama's first year in office. A total of 767 individuals who lobbied in the third quarter of 2008 (the last reporting period before the election) did not report activity during the next two quarters, while 448 did the same in 2016.
Still, for the first time in five years, the amount of money spent by organizations that were already registered went up in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period the previous year.