Here's How To Outlaw Lobbying. Let's Do It!
Updated: Jun 22, 2019
Lobbying is notoriously hard to regulate. It involves everything from completely ethical activity like individual constituents asking elected officials to take some sort of action to the nefarious like paying an official's cousin to tell them to take some sort of action so that their cousin can get rich. In order to dive into this we're going to show what types of lobbying exist, what types of lobbying are legitimate which are corrupt, how lobbying is conducted, and how to legally stop the corruption while allowing legitimate contact with officials. We know you're on board!... unless you're a corrupt asshole lol.
To understand the scope of lobbying here is a paragraph from the Wikipedia article on the topic: "Lobbying, persuasion, or interest representation is the act of attempting to influence the actions, policies, or decisions of officials in their daily life, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by many types of people, associations and organized groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or advocacy groups (interest groups). Lobbyists may be among a legislator's constituencies, meaning a voter or bloc of voters within their electoral district; they may engage in lobbying as a business. Professional lobbyists are people whose business is trying to influence legislation, regulation, or other government decisions, actions, or policies on behalf of a group or individual who hires them. Individuals and nonprofit organizations can also lobby as an act of volunteering or as a small part of their normal job. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying that has become influential."
That's a lot, which includes benign reasons for lobbying and some potentially corrupt ones. Any definition of lobbying should exclude all forms of free speech based lobbying, which falls under the First Amendment, and is generally benign, and forms that involve influence peddling and corruption, which the government can regulate under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
Corrupt lobbying includes registered lobbying, shadow lobbying, and the abuse of the revolving door. They use self dealing transactions that create a good ol' boys club where officials, former officials, and their close associates receive benefits. These include everything from donations to their political campaigns and causes, personal enrichment of their circle through various forms of (mostly legal) payoffs, and benefits like travel, entertainment, and luxurious conferences.
Legitimate lobbying includes the use of non-connected Public Relations professionals either inside an organization or professional firms that aren't involved in funneling money and benefits to politicians and their associates.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed a plan to ban foreign agents who are now required to register under FARA. FARA disclosures are more revealing than normal lobbying disclosures. Her plan, which includes other anti-corruption measures should be combined with the Executive Branch Reform Act, and the Lobbyist Disclosure Enhancement Act along with a few extras. Neither of these proposed acts have passed.
To end corrupt lobbying we need three things:
1. Increased transparency of legitimate lobbying- all such work should be disclosed under FARA and Lobbyist Disclosure Enhancement Act levels of transparency. Furthermore, all government officials must file contacts with lobbyists according to the Executive Branch Reform Act. This ensures Transparency.
2. To combat the revolving door, here are three easy rules- If you are a lobbyist, you get a 10 year ban from entering government if involved in lobbying as a business. If you were formerly a government official, you get a 10 year ban for working for any employer, that had business before your former government employer. You can't come from outside the government, and work for a part of the government, if you had business before that part in the last 10 years. All such people, will be required to submit financial disclosure forms, for these 10 year periods in order to ensure compliance. This stops revolving door activities
3.Corrupt lobbying is outlawed- Civil and criminal actions will be available. Qui-tam suits and whistleblower programs will be created. Treble damages will be available for these types of lawsuits. A new independent anti-corruption agency will be created that will handle enforcement of these laws along with the Justice Department.
Civil cases to enforce this law should allow for the seizure of three times the money involved (treble damages), plus people should be allowed to bring their own actions against corrupt lobbying, which would be modeled on the qui-tam system. There will also be whistleblower programs similar to those of the SEC and IRS where whistleblowers can get paid if the SEC and IRS get money from the lawbreakers they ratted out.
Criminal penalties should be substantial, but in certain cases there may be a grey area so the harshest of penalties might not be advisable and certain prosecutors could abuse this by targeting people for their political beliefs and activities.
There is one issue with criminalizing corrupt lobbying. It's impossible to simply define lobbying since every case is unique. It's the same with taxes and people trying to get out of them. The IRS has a Substance Over Form doctrine, which can be used for civil and criminal actions. Everyone who is an expert on taxes knows all about this. Therefore no one knows about this lol. Substance Over Form means that taxation ignores accounting tricks and focuses on what's happening in the real world with people and businesses. This should be applicable to lobbying. If it looks like legitimate lobbying, don't throw the book at it. If it looks like corruption, bribery, and payoffs then prosecute. Scams like these won't pass the smell test and will be shut down one way or another.
Under our new anti-corruption agency, filings and activities must be filed publicly and transparently. Lobbyists and officials in the revolving door may need to get prior approval for certain actions.
This is how you end the circle jerk in Washington and Drain The Swamp. Naturally, it will never pass.