The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia today announced two new civil enforcement actions against lobbying firms for failure to file required federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”) reports. Two Virginia-based lobbying firms entered into civil settlement agreements with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. One firm — Lussier, Gregor, Vienna & Associates — agreed to pay a $50,000 fine. Another firm, the Da Vinci Group, agreed to pay a $30,000 fine. Both firms were charged with repeatedly failing to file reports required under their LDA registrations, after the firms had registered under the LDA. They had been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office by the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate.
Although enforcement of the LDA by the U.S. Department of Justice has been extremely rare since the LDA was enacted in 1995, these two new cases come on the heels of an earlier civil enforcement action that was announced late last year. This is beginning to look like a trend, and we would now predict that additional enforcement actions are likely to follow as the U.S. Attorney for D.C., Ron Machen, continues to devote resources to demonstrating his office’s interest in LDA enforcement. The LDA is an unusual statute in that it commits nationwide enforcement — both civil and criminal — exclusively to the U.S. Attorney for D.C. To date, there has never been a criminal enforcement action under the LDA, at least none that are public yet.
In a statement today, U.S. Attorney Machen said that “if you are a repeat offender who fails to take your reporting obligations seriously, we will seek to hold you accountable in order to protect the public’s right to know who is seeking to influence policy on Capitol Hill.” Mr. Machen’s emphasis on “repeat offender[s]” might be read to imply that his office is focused on those who are warned about their failure to timely file a report, and then ignore the warning or warnings. The tougher question for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is whether and when they will investigate firms and companies for failing to file LDA registrations in the first place. In other words, it appears that the USAO’s focus currently is on the repeated failure by firms that are already registered to file required quarterly and semiannual disclosure reports. But there has never been an enforcement action of any kind (so far as the public record reveals) brought under the LDA against a person who engaged in registrable federal lobbying but intentionally failed to register. On the one hand, such cases are much harder to identify and investigate. On the other hand, such cases are arguably far more serious than a failure to file a disclosure report timely because the failure to file a disclosure report timely is a matter of public record that all the world can see.
Stay tuned. This story isn’t over.