Congress Regulates Lobbying Through Public Disclosure & Expenditure Limits

Lobbyist must also register and comply with federal government regulations dictated by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate for legislative lobbyists.  For federal lobbying, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, which governs federal lobbying, defines lobbying activities as any oral, written or electronic communication made to an executive or legislative branch official on behalf of a client with regard to: 

  • the formulation, modification or adoption of federal legislation; 
  • the formulation, modification or adoption of a rule, regulation, executive order or any other program; 
  • the administration or execution of a federal program or policy; and 
  • the nomination of a person subject to confirmation by the Senate. 

Any preparation or planning activities and research that is intended to be used in lobbying activities is also included in the definition. 

The federal Lobbyist Disclosure Act defines a lobbyist as any individual who is either employed or retained for financial or other compensation whose services include more than one lobbying contact and whose lobbying contact constitutes more than 20% of their service for the client over a three month period.   

A lobbying firm whose total income for matters related to lobbying activities on behalf of a client does not exceed or is not expected to exceed $3,000 in the quarterly period during which the registration would be made is not required to be registered with respect to such client.xxxiv  An organization employing in-house lobbyists whose total expenses in connection with lobbying activities do not exceed and are not expected to exceed $13,000 in the quarterly period during which the registration would be made is not required to be registered.xxxv  Section 4(a)(3) of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), as amended, provides that the registration threshold dollar amounts be adjusted every four years based upon changes in the Consumer Price Index, and the last adjustment was made on January 1, 2017. The next adjustment will be made on January 1, 2021.xxxvi  As of September 30, 2018, there were 4,543 registrants representing 17,574 clients. The total number of individual lobbyists disclosed on FY 2018 registrations and reports was 13,848. The total number of lobbying registrations and reports processed was 115,922.xxxvii 

Registered federal lobbyists are required to file quarterly reports related to their lobbying activity.  Unlike the state of Ohio rules, federal lobbyist may work on a contingent fee basis but must register immediately upon their work.  Also, unlike most local and state lobbying registration requirements, federal lobbying registration requires a listing of a good faith estimate of income and expenditures gained from clients as well as a listing of what issues and legislation the lobbyist is engaged with on behalf of clients.   

Congressional Lobbying Public Disclosure Report Deadlines 

 Date Reports Due 
January 21, 2020* 4th Quarter report (Oct 1 – Dec 31, 2019) 
January 30, 2020 LD 203 (Year End) Contributions Report (Jul 1 – Dec 31, 2019) 
April 20, 2020 1st Quarter report (Jan 1 – Mar 31, 2020) 
July 20, 2020 2nd Quarter report (Apr 1 – Jun 30, 2020) 
July 30, 2020 LD 203 (Mid Year) Contributions Report (Jan 1 – Jun 30, 2020) 
October 20, 2020 3rd Quarter report (Jul 1 – Sep 30, 2020) 
January 20, 2021 4th Quarter report (Oct 1 – Dec 31, 2020) 
February 1, 2021* LD 203 (Year End) Contributions Report (Jul 1 – Dec 31, 2020) 

Source: U.S. Senate Clerk 

Congressional ethics rules prevent House and Senate members and staff from accepting gifts from lobbyists, foreign agents or organizations that retain lobbyists unless the gift meets a very narrow set of criteria.xxxviii In addition, members and staff are strictly limited in terms of the travel and hospitality they may accept from the public, and the ethics rules are generally interpreted to allow members and their staff to accept free attendance at receptions and events widely open to the public.xxxix The Congressional ethics committees approve attendance at ‘widely attended events’ if it fits the following criteria: 

  • there is a reasonable expectation that at least 25 people will attend the event; 
  • the event is open to individuals throughout a given industry of professionals or those who represent a range of individuals interested in a given matter; 
  • the invitation came from the sponsor of the event; and 
  • the attendance of the member of their staff is related to his or her official duties.xl 

For the executive branch, the Office of Government Ethics also establishes standards of conduct for the executive employees.xli