The 2020 annual report from the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) provides new details regarding the state of Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”) compliance and enforcement. By statute, the GAO is charged with conducting random audits of LDA compliance and submitting reports reflecting the results to Congress. This year’s audit reviewed approximately 100 quarterly “LD-2” reports filed by lobbyist employers and lobbying firms and about 160 semi-annual “LD-203” reports that disclose political contributions and politically-related contributions.
Many takeaways from this year’s review were consistent with past reports. Lobbying registrants still often neglect to round their lobbying expenses and lobbying income to the nearest $10,000. Many registrants also fail to disclose the prior covered government positions held by newly-registered lobbyists. And many LDA reports continue to be amended after a registrant learns of the audit — a fact that GAO believes “suggests that our contact may spur some lobbyists to more closely scrutinize their reports than they would have without our review.”
But the 55-page report does include some interesting new nuggets:
- Missing Political Contributions. Almost half (45%) of audited registrants failed to report political contributions on their semi-annual LD-203 political contribution reports. GAO described this as a “statistically significant” increase over prior years. This is a preventable error. Prior to filing, registrants should consider cross-checking the LD-203 reports versus Federal Election Commission reports to ensure there are no missing contributions.
- JACK Act Certifications. Pursuant to a new statute, the JACK Act, lobbyists are now required to certify they have not been convicted of certain crimes. This year, GAO audited the accuracy of these reports, including by conducting criminal background checks on names listed in the reports. While it found no errors, GAO’s background checks underscore the importance of conducting due diligence to confirm the accuracy of these representations.
- Naming and Shaming. The report singles out, by name, two lobbying firms that “declined to meet with us following our initial letters.” The failure to meet led to GAO reporting the names of these firms to Congress.
- Low Enforcement Levels. While there has only been a trickle of LDA civil enforcement cases in the last decade, the trickle has begun to dry in recent years. Only one civil attorney now handles LDA enforcement part-time (down from two in 2017). Moreover, GAO announced that “no suits have been initiated or cases settled since our 2018 lobbying report.” Those prior cases, GAO emphasized, have all involved “chronic offenders.”