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Street Talk: Unregistered Lobbyists Keep Business Humming

“The minute the president came on board and started to make those comments [about lobbyists], people started to see if they could deregister,” Miller said. “The LDA is written in such a way, you can find a loophole in anything.”

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, tracks the lobbying data. “My sense is the efforts to curtail K Street’s clout have led lobbyists to reconfigure their portfolio,” she said.

The CRP, for example, found that last year the number of registered lobbyists dipped to 12,374 — down from a high of almost 15,000 in the two years before Obama’s first term. Overall LDA revenue dipped in 2012 to $3.28 billion from its high of $3.52 billion in 2010.

The Sunlight Foundation, like the American League of Lobbyists, wants to close that 20 percent loophole, for starters, said Sunlight’s lobbyist Lisa Rosenberg.

Thurber noted that even in 2009 and 2010, when LDA revenue was still climbing — although perhaps not at the pace he expected to reflect the activity surrounding health care and financial services overhauls — the number of registered lobbyists was already ebbing.

“In 2009 and 2010, it was flat, and we had a hell of a lot of lobbying going on,” he said. The weak economy, he added, hasn’t stopped Congress from debating major issues. “Democracy continues,” he said.

So does the lobbying. It’s just hard to see it.

“If anyone believes that corporate America is spending less money and time to influence Washington, I’ve got a bridge to sell them,” one lobbyist said. “All of this money may have flowed into the darkest, deepest corners.”

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