The 124 instances of failing to file and the 41 instances of failing to remedy total 165 alleged violations, and the government alleges that “BBSI is subject to a civil penalty or fine of not more than $200,000 for each.” The maximum possible fine, then, for the alleged 165 violations is $33 million. In sum, the lawsuit states, “The Government alleges that BBSI knowingly failed to comply with the periodic reporting requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and to remedy delinquent filings after being notified.”
In response, BBSI has said that it no longer does any lobbying and has made no contributions. Indeed, in the time since the government filed its lawsuit, BBSI has filed some of the missing lobbying disclosure forms, reporting no lobbying activity or contributions in the periods covered by the forms.
But the lack of lobbying activity and contributions does not absolve BBSI of its obligation to file those forms. That obligation is triggered by registering as a lobbyist, which BBSI did many years ago. Once a lobbyist or organization registers, they must continue to file lobbying disclosure forms unless and until they file a termination of their lobbying registration.
Truth be told, BBSI may settle the suit against it for much less than $33 million. But the action against the firm is nevertheless a cautionary tale for lobbyists and organizations that employ them. Ignore the law at your own risk.
C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.