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What is a Washington, D.C., Lobbyist?

In 1995, Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), which remains on the books in Washington, D.C. today. (It was the first effort to regulate lobbying since 1946.) According to the LDA, a lobbyist is defined as someone:

  • Who is either employed or retained for financial or other compensation;

  • Whose services include more than one lobbying contact on behalf of the same client or employer;

  • And whose lobbying activities constitute 20 percent or more of his or her working time on behalf of that client or employer during any three-month period.

A lobbying contact is any oral, written, or electronic communication to a covered official that is made on behalf of a client or employer and relates to certain subjects, which are enumerated in the U.S. Code at 2 U.S.C. §1602(8)(A).

These “certain subjects” include the formulation, modification, or adoption of legislation, regulations, executive orders, programs, policies, and positions of the federal government. Communications regarding the execution of a program or policy (like the award of a contract) and the nomination or confirmation of officials by the Senate are also considered lobbying contacts.

Lobbying contacts do not include requests for meetings or status reports that don’t attempt to influence a legislative or executive official. They also don’t include testimony before a congressional panel, information provided in writing at the request of a government official, or communications made in response to government notices requesting comment from the public.

In defining a lobbying contact, the phrase covered official is often used. Covered officials include:

  • Members of Congress

  • Congressional staff

  • The President

  • The Vice President

  • Officers and employees of the Executive Office of the President

  • Any official serving in an Executive Level I position (such as Secretary of State) through an Executive Level V position (such as the Director of the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior)

  • Any member of the uniformed services serving at grade O-7 or above (meaning a Brigadier General and above in the case of the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, and a Rear Admiral, lower half, in the case of the Navy and Coast Guard)

  • Schedule C Employees (whose positions are listed in The United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions, known as the Plum Book)

Under LDA, lobbying firms and individual lobbyists must register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House and must file quarterly disclosure reports. Organizations employing in-house lobbyists file a single registration.

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