CRS Report on Lobbying Rules

Last week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report asserting that the Obama administration's rules covering federally registered lobbyists have "already changed the relationship between lobbyists and covered executive branch officials." The report titled, "Lobbying and the Executive Branch: Current Practices and Options for Change," did not explain how those relationships have changed.

The report goes through the laws covering registered lobbyists, and the administration's policies put in place over the past year. It also briefly addresses possible options to "further clarify lobbyists' relationships with executive branch officials." Among the options, the CRS report discussed the possibility of amending the Lobbying Disclosure Act to include "provisions similar to current executive branch lobbying restrictions."

The administration was pleased with this report, and used it to brag about its policies. Norm Eisen, counsel to the president on ethics and government reform wrote; "The president's historic restrictions on lobbying are having a significant impact in making sure that the government serves the public interest and not special interests."

However, the language used in the CRS reports is rather neutral. The report does not conclude that the administration's regulations have decreased influence or corruption, but only have changed the relationship between lobbyists and executive branch officials.

The Sunlight Foundation criticized the report, and stated in a blog post that, "[i]t reaches an unsupported conclusion about the effect of the administration's lobbying disclosure rules, and also contains several factual and analytical errors."

The CRS report did suggest the creation of a central database containing all information regarding lobbying of federal agencies on Recovery Act funding. As we have noted, there are a lot of inconsistencies among agencies. OMB Watch has a chart (updated Dec. 2) with all of the agencies reporting any contacts with lobbyists on the use of Recovery funds, and the number of communication reports disclosed.

The report also addresses criticism from outside groups who have argued that the policies violate their right to petition the government and instead have caused many to deregister, only resulting in less transparency. OMB Watch and the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) found that an unusually high number of lobbyists "deregistered" with Congress in the second quarter of 2009 (between April and June).

back to Blog