The 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) offers new details on the landscape of Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”) compliance and enforcement. The report is based on random audits of lobbyists’ filings and analysis of enforcement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (“USAO”).
The report included several trends GAO identified in previous years. For example, lobbying registrants still often fail to round their lobbying expenses and lobbying income to the nearest $10,000, a “recurring issue” from 2012 through 2021. Additionally, many LDA reports continue to be amended following a registrant’s knowledge of the audit, prompting the GAO to suggest its “contact may spur some lobbyists to more closely scrutinize their reports than they would have without our review.”
Below, we highlight other key takeaways.
- High Number of Pending Cases: The GAO reported that about 72 percent of the 3,473 cases referred to USAO from 2012 to 2021 were “pending further action” as of February 2022.
- Low Enforcement Levels: The United States Attorney brought criminal charges against only one lobbyist under the LDA in June 2020. The lobbyist was charged with one count under the LDA for failing to register as a lobbyist and later pled guilty. USAO officials stated that GAO continues to review its records to find “additional chronic offenders” for further action related to noncompliance.
- Former Government Positions: An estimated 35 percent of lobbyists may not have properly disclosed previously held covered positions in the executive or legislative branch. The report calls the trend “statistically significant,” compared with figures for 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017. The LDA requires a filer to disclose if a new lobbyist previously held positions in the executive or legislative branch, such as high-ranking officials and congressional staff, within the past twenty (20) years.
- LD-203 Reports: Seven percent of LD-203 reports were missing reportable political contributions.
- LD-2 Reports: Eight percent of lobbyists who filed new registrations did not file LD-2 reports for the quarter when they first registered, as the LDA requires.