03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lobbyists Dodge Regulations Through Reinvention

So, if you happen to have read a recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics and OMB Watch entitled "Lobbyists Terminating Their Federal Registrations at Accelerated Rate", you might be under the impression that finally, lobbyists are being run out of town, in droves. WOO-HAH, BARACK OBAMA'S GOT YOU ALL IN CHECK, maybe? And also, according to the Wall Street Journal, there's this thing called "the recession," which is bringing down lobbyist firms at a slightly slower rate than its bringing everybody else down. Yeah, uhm...woo!

But, as the report points out, it's best not to get ahead of ourselves and form cheering crowds on the sidewalk as your beloved K Street whores scuttle away. That's because lobbyists are reinventing themselves under new names, and sticking around to stick up for various well-monied interests. Back when we reported on this study, our own Jenna Staul noted:

The decline in registered lobbyists, however, doesn't necessarily translate into fewer people working to influence policy. At the federal level, many lobbyists avert disclosure requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act by working under titles such as "senior adviser."

Over at TAPPED, Suzy Khimm gets confirmation that this is happening:

As OMB Watch and CRP note, many lobbyists who appear to have left have come back as unregistered lobbyists with executive titles like "senior adviser" or "consultant" to avoid having to comply with federal lobbying restrictions. One lobbyist I contacted confirmed this trend in an e-mail today:

For people wanting to reenter government, or who interact with "covered officials" not having to register as a lobbyist makes a job more attractive. At our firm we have brought attorneys who are not registered and used them to meet with officials who refuse to see lobbyists... I don't think many people have left the profession, in fact I'd bet the business of influencing government has actually grown over the last year - registrations not withstanding.

If the Obama administration really wanted to crack down on the influence of lobbying, it could force anyone who met with officials "covered" under the current lobbying restrictions to register -- and cut down on the legislative earmarks that still abound. Moreover, OMB Watch's Lee Mason told me, the White House (as well as Congress) could decide to disclose the meetings and communications it has with all the lobbyists and advocates it courts.

Ahh, but if they did that, the White House would have to caveat all of the great advice on healthcare it receives from vital "resource" Tom Daschle!

Khimm's anonymous lobbyist concludes that this current oversight arrangement "basically disadvantages the people who play by the rules while creating a whole new underground influence game that flouts a law that can't be enforced." So, hey, yeah, pop Cristal!

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