EVERY YEAR THE Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that most lobbyists are doing what they’re legally bound to do: register and disclose. Despite some shortcomings – such as failing to round expenses to the nearest $10,000 and neglecting to report formerly held covered positions – lobbyists are a law abiding and diligent bunch. (Registered lobbyists, of course. Many lobbyists are in fact operating beyond the current legal framework).
But this rosy picture does little to deter those tempted to quit compliance all together. Some are asking: why comply? Nobody is getting more than a slap on the wrist for their negligence, so why bother?
An identical question was posed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. against Biassi Business Services Inc., which failed to submit 124 compliance forms and now faces up to $33 million in fines. The oft-repeated criticism that the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) “lack teeth” was met brusquely by Davidson: “Does a $33 million penalty count as teeth?”
Some may still think not. $33 million is a hefty fine, yes, but 124 repeated offences exceeds negligence and borders on willful disobedience. In fact, this latest case may do very little by way of a warning to lobbyists. If it’s only the “chronic offenders” facing costs for noncompliance, then skipping a disclosure deadline or two will still maintain its appeal. Though compliance is the safest route, people make a good point just by asking “why comply?”