Influence Peddling Laws
Several federal laws and regulations either restrict lobbyists’ activities or mandate disclosure of their activities. Some of the laws, such as the Lobbying Disclosure Act, are written specifically for lobbyists. Others, such as the House and Senate rules on contributions to legal defense funds, include provisions that affect lobbyists.
Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) – Passed in 1995, the LDA requires lobbying firms to file semi-annual reports chronicling their lobbying expenditures, the issues upon which they lobbied, the houses of Congress and federal agencies they contacted, and the lobbyists employed to work in each general issue area.
Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) – Passed in 1938 to combat German propaganda, FARA requires lobbyists acting on behalf of foreign countries to file detailed reports of their lobbying activities, including disclosure of the names and dates of their contacts with federal officials. The required level of reporting detail is far greater for FARA than for the LDA.
Revolving Door Rules – “Revolving door” is a term commonly used to describe individuals who transition from private sector jobs to the government and vice versa. Common examples of revolving door include private sector executives taking jobs in government regulating the industry of their former employer and government employees taking jobs as lobbyists. Various laws and rules regulate passage through the revolving door, especially from the government to lobbying.
Travel Rules – Officers and employees of both Congress and the executive branch are subject to restrictions on the nature of “official” travel, paid for by the government, and privately sponsored travel, paid for by corporations, unions, non-profit groups or other outside sources. Lobbyists and foreign nationals are generally prohibited from financing privately sponsored travel, though some have exploited loopholes to get around this prohibition.
Gift Rules – Specific regulations restrict the gifts that can be given to employees of Congress and the executive branch. The term “gift” covers any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. In general, members of Congress and their staffs may not accept gifts amounting in value to $50 or more at any one time or amounting to $100 or more from a single source per year. For the executive branch, the limits are $20 and $50, respectively.
Legal Defense Funds – Legal defense funds for congressional office holders and candidates are governed by House and Senate ethics rules, which impose contribution limits and disclosure requirements. As long as a legal challenge arises in connection with an individual’s candidacy for federal office, or the individual’s official duties or position in Congress, the individual may establish a “legal expense trust fund” that is separate from all other accounts. Contributions to the funds are limited to $5,000 per year in the House from any single source and $10,000 per year in the Senate. Lobbyists are prohibited from making contributions to House and Senate members’ legal defense funds, but House rules permit corporate and union contributions while they are not permitted under Senate rules.
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