THE LATEST EDITION of The Nation has as its cover story a detailed expose of what it calls “the shadow lobbying complex,” an issue explored at great length in this blog. While reading the article and delighting in its infographics, this blogger decided that a brief timeline of modern disclosure laws would make for an interesting post.
And so I began with the summer of 1935, when Rep. Denis Driscoll (D-Pa.) received 816 telegrams from constituents pleading him to oppose a measure that would break up the utility trust companies, which were then being run by a handful of remarkably wealthy men. The telegrams would have made for an impressive case study in lobbying from the bottom up, or “grassroots lobbying,” except for one important detail: the constituents behind the telegrams were completely fabricated. The whole thing was a sham, conjured together and funded by the utility companies.
This incident and the broader debate surrounding the Wheeler-Rayburn Utility Holding Company Act set the gears in motion for modern disclosure law, which today is ridiculed as an utter failure. Were I actually to have posted a timeline of lobbying disclosure, I might have used just five dates:
- 1946: The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act is passed as a late response to the utility company debate
- 1991: the GAO exposes the law’s shortcomings
- 1999: The Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) is passed as a second try
- 2006: Jack Abramoff reports to prison, proving LDA a failure
- 2007: The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) is passed as a third try, a significant amendment to LDA that adds criminal sanctions and stricter reporting requirements
Yet this would appear a very lopsided timeline, with nearly half a century separating the first two dates. Did nothing relevant transpire between the passage of The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act and the GAO report that deemed it a failure?
In fact, something did. In 1977, a book was published that would become the basis for the GAO’s report. According to The Nation, the report found that “10,000 lobbyists listed in an industry guidebook had failed to register. Of those who had, as many as 94 percent failed to complete their registration forms as required by law.” This “industry guidebook” just happens to be Washington Representatives, a Lobbyists.info publication entering its 37th year. If one accepts The Nation’s claim that the GAO report was the “impetus” for LDA, and former Rep. Charles Canady’s (R-Fla.) assertion that the Washington Representative’s finding “underscored” the need for LDA, then to a significant extent Washington Representatives is responsible for LDA. The innumerable ironies that come packed with this are too rich and detailed for this blog. Needless to say it’s a fascinating discovery.