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Government Ethics

Justice Department cuts back monitoring of lobbying industry

The number of Justice Department staffers investigating whether lobbyists and lobbying firms are skirting federal disclosure laws is shrinking.

In 2016, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia employed six part-time attorneys and one full-time paralegal to review and enforce compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act. But the LDA compliance office staff dwindled over the next two years, closing 2018 with three people: one part-time attorney and two paralegals — one full-time, one part-time. The office also has personnel "available as needed," according to a March report by the Government Accountability Office.


The staffing decline may help explain a slew of unresolved complaints under review: From 2009 to 2018, the House and the Senate referred 3,800 cases to the LDA compliance office regarding a lobbyist or firm that had failed to comply with federal reporting requirements. About 59 percent of those 3,800 referrals are still "pending," according to the GAO report.

The staffing decline also corresponds with a dip in newly opened cases against so-called "chronic offenders." These investigations occasionally result in hefty fines against noncomplying firms. At least two new cases were opened in each of the three years preceding 2017, when staffing levels first dipped, according to The Firewall's review of GAO reports:

  • In 2014, officials opened two cases, levying one $30,000 fine against Alan Mauk & Alan Mauk Associates.
  • In 2015, the division investigated six cases, one of which resulted in a record $125,000 fine against Carmen Group.
  • In 2016, the DOJ opened four cases.

The office did not report any new chronic offender cases opened in 2017 or 2018.

"The GAO report is striking in that it reflects a continuing low-level enforcement activity of the LDA," Robert Kelner, a partner at the lobbying firm Covington & Burling, told Bloomberg Government.

The House Democrats' political overhaul bill, HR 1, proposes more oversight of the lobbying industry, such as giving increased enforcement power to the Office of Government Ethics and putting in stricter lobbying registration requirements. The bill moved through the House on a party-line vote but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear it's not going anywhere in his chamber.

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Congress
RepresentUs

RepresentUs acquired 8,000 signatures on a petition asking Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to keep working on a "revolving door" bill. Paula Barkan, Austin chapter leader of RepresentUs, handed the petition to Brandon Simon, Cruz's Central Texas regional director, on July 31.

Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez still discussing revolving door bill

Remember that tweet exchange in May between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one where they discussed bipartisan legislation to ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists?

To recap: Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support for legislation banning the practice in light of a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which found that nearly 60 percent of lawmakers who recently left Congress had found jobs with lobbying firms. Cruz tweeted back, extending an invitation to work on such a bill. Ocasio-Cortez responded, "Let's make a deal."

The news cycle being what it is, it's easy to forget how the media jumped on the idea of the Texas Republican and the New York Democrat finding common ground on a government ethics proposal. Since then, we've collectively moved on — but not everyone forgot.

The government reform group RepresentUs recently drafted a petition asking Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez to follow through on their idea, gathering more than 8,000 signatures.

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Adults of all ages agree: There's little confidence in elected leaders

But in general, young adults have a lot more trust issues than their elders

Sixty percent of young adults in the United States believe other people "can't be trusted," according to a recent Pew Research survey, which found that younger Americans were far more likely than older adults to distrust both institutions and other people. But adults of all ages did agree on one thing: They all lack confidence in elected leaders.

While united in a lack of confidence, the cohorts disagreed on whether that's a major problem. The study found that young adults (ages 18-29) were less likely than older Americans to believe that poor confidence in the federal government, the inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together, and the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups were "very big problems."

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