The House unanimously passed a bill this week to create a task force within the Justice Department to crack down on lobbyists who flake on disclosure laws.
"We wanted to put some teeth behind current law because there seem to be quite a few scofflaws out there on K Street," freshman congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), the bill's author, told HuffPost.
The Secretary of the Senate has referred 8,729 possible violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act to the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office since 1995; more than half of those occurred during the second half of 2009. And yet the feds have pursued only three enforcement actions in all that time and none since 2005.
Lobbyists are required to register with the Secretary of the Senate and to file quarterly reports detailing their clients, their fees, which branches of government they contacted, and which legislation they attempted to influence. If they fail to do so, the government politely asks them to fall in line. If they don't fall in line, apparently, not much happens.
Kilroy's legislation requires the Attorney General to create a task force to take over lobbyist investigations, and to collect and disseminate information about Lobbying Disclosure Act enforcement.
It's not clear if the bill would rein in the influence launderers who are widely considered lobbyists but who avoid the registration and disclosure process altogether, such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. At the very least, however, Kilroy's measure is a step toward doing so.
"I think frankly he should register," said Kilroy of Daschle. "He should err on the side of disclosure."
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced a very tough anti-lobbyist bill that would ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists in the first place. Bennet, like Kilroy, is in his first term and faces a tough re-election.
Republican Steve Stivers, Kilroy's opponent, is a former bank lobbyist -- something Kilroy loves to contrast with her support for Wall Street reform. "The day the president was signing that bill [Stevers] was here in Washington having a fundraiser with the banking lobby," she said. "I thought that was really kind of ironic, there. Here I am fighting for Wall Street reform... And he shows up to collect big checks from the banking lobby."
Though Kilroy is a K Street killjoy, lobbyists will probably be OK. Take it from Tony Podesta, superlobbyist: "Whatever they're gonna do, they'll do...They can ban lobbyists from having drivers licenses. We'll all get cars and drivers."
Correction: This story originally reported that the bill would impose fines on lobbyists who fail to file timely reports. The original version would; this one won't.
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