Q: I am a former staffer now working as a lobbyist for a lobbying firm with a question regarding ethics training. When I was on the Hill, I remember that, ever since the big ethics act bill in 2007, we were all required to receive formal ethics training on an annual basis. Now that I am working for a lobbying firm, I presumed that there would be similar requirement for lobbyists. The gift rules apply to lobbyists, too, so I figured lobbyists would also need education regarding the rules. But, my firm tells me this not the case. Is this right? Is there really no ethics training requirement for lobbyists?
A: The “big ethics bill” I presume that you are referring to is the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. When it was passed in the fall of 2007, it brought about many changes in the world of Congressional ethics. It was the biggest ethics bill in years.
It imposed tougher restrictions on giving gifts to Members and staffers. It exposed people outside of Congress to liability for violations of the Congressional gift rules — most significantly lobbyists and the organizations that employ them. And, as you note, it required that Senate and House staffers receive formal ethics training. In the Senate, the act requires new Members and staff to receive a one-time ethics training session after joining the Senate. In the House, there is an annual ethics training requirement for Members and staff.
Your question is whether the act includes similar training requirements for lobbyists. Technically, the answer is no. But, that is not the end of the story. Although the law imposes no formal legal requirement that lobbyists receive ethics training, it does include other provisions that could make training a good idea.
One thing the law requires lobbyists to do twice a year is certify that they have read and are familiar with the House and Senate gift rules. Specifically, lobbyists must sign their name to the following statement: “I certify that I have read and am familiar with the provisions of the Standing Rules of the Senate and the Standing rules of the House of Representatives relating to the provision of gifts and travel. ...”
This requirement applies not only to lobbyists but also to organizations that employ lobbyists. So, twice a year, your firm, along with all other businesses employing lobbyists, must certify that the firm has read and is familiar with the House and Senate gift rules.
What does this have to do with training? Consider the fact that these biannual certifications must be true under penalty of law. False certifications are considered false statements to the government and could plausibly result in criminal penalties, including jail time.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.