If the congressional officials in charge of administering the LDA hear of someone not reporting, they can refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “With a few exceptions, that becomes a black hole,” said Tom Susman, director of the American Bar Association’s governmental affairs office.
Susman has been pushing Congress to lower the 20 percent threshold, but even he isn’t sure what precisely is the magic number. Maybe 10 percent. “It’s arbitrary,” he conceded. An alternative, he suggested, could be to do away with the time percentage and make it based on fees as a way to rope into the system grass-roots, media affairs and strategic advisers.
Craig Holman, a registered lobbyist with Public Citizen, said he’d like a professional investigative agency that could audit unregistered Washington policy advisers such as Daschle, who works at DLA Piper.
“The solution to the problem is not to get rid of all these ethics requirements,” Holman said. “The solution is to create an enforcement agency to enforce the law.”
Registered lobbyists already must report to Congress their campaign donations including high-dollar bundling activities because of lobbying law changes after the Jack Abramoff scandal. But Susman sees the Obama effect as a major factor.
“I don’t think people would have such hesitation to register if not for the Obama administration’s having handicapped lobbyists for employment, meetings, advisory panels,” Susman said.
And who wouldn’t just rather skip all the paperwork of disclosure and the branding as a lobbyist?
It just happens to leave the public — voters — unaware of the pressures on officials.
The opacity isn’t likely to ebb as more Obama administration officials head through the revolving door for the private sector during the president’s remaining years in office.
Just this month, Bart Chilton, who left his gig as a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, joined Daschle’s firm, DLA Piper.
Will Chilton represent some of the companies he regulated at the CFTC?
We may never know. A spokeswoman for the firm said he has no plans to register as a lobbyist.