The public has a right to: meaningful disclosure concerning all individuals and organizations lobbying their elected officials; a government free from wealthy special interests placing their own loyal personnel into government posts; and a government free from former government officials exploiting their networks within government for personal gain.
- The Problem
- Recommendations for Action on Day One
- Recommendations for Short-term Action (First 100 Days)
- Recommendations for Long-term Action
- Recommendations for Legislative Action
The revolving door between government and business or special interests means that business groups may have outsized influence in government when their personnel are appointed to key government posts, while the movement of public officials to lucrative private sector positions, including but not limited to lobbying, can result in an unfair benefit in matters of federal procurement, enforcement or regulatory policy. To begin to reverse the trend of unfair special access and influence, the president should immediately establish a Lobbying Reform Task Force to make recommendations that will improve lobbying disclosures and require reporting by currently unregistered lobbyists. He should require senior government officials to pledge to legally binding revolving door prohibitions and he should prohibit making appointments to individuals who receive special compensation from their employers specifically because they are going to serve in a senior government position.
- Publicize visitor logs.
Visitor logs are a critical tool for the public to assess whether officials are giving outsized access to particular interests. The next administration should require all agencies to publicly release visitor logs and calendars, including meeting attendees and meeting subject matter, for agency heads and deputy heads (and their direct reports) for all meetings and calls involving registered lobbyists and individuals or corporations seeking contracts from or subject to the regulation of the agency. Visitor logs should include all official meetings regardless of location, including virtual meetings. Please see Appendix 1.2, Visitor Logs.
- Connect contributions to contracts.
It is often assumed that well-connected campaign contributors expect to receive benefits for their donations. The next administration should take steps to prove or disprove that assumption by requiring federal contractors and other federal awardees to disclose campaign contributions and independent expenditures.
- Clearly state in the inaugural address that the administration will champion reform of the antiquated lobbying laws, providing the public with transparency and accountability they expect.
The president should acknowledge that part of the reason the public is losing trust in the government is the perception that high-priced and high-powered lobbyists influence lawmaking to benefit the limited few. Reforming the lobbying law to expose details of lobbying activity will enable voters to identify undue influence of special interests and hold their elected officials accountable.
- Sign an Executive Order establishing a Lobbying Reform Task Force to create a report within the first 100 days that identifies the flaws with the current law and recommends corrective actions.
The focus of the task force should include determining the extent of the problem of unregistered lobbyists who are able to avoid detection of non-compliance with disclosure requirements by simply declining to register in the first instance. The task force should also address the need for timely, complete and electronically searchable disclosure via a well-maintained database, and enforcement mechanisms. The task force should be composed of knowledgeable yet unconflicted stakeholders, including former government officials, former lobbyists, non-profit organizations advocating for public interest. See Appendix 2.2 for lobbying reforms.
- Ensure that the ethics pledge for his appointees includes a revolving door prohibition, banning former appointees from lobbying anyone in the administration on behalf of a paying client for two years after leaving public service.
“Lobbying” for purposes of the ethics pledge should include behind-the-scenes work and support of lobbying efforts of others as a consultant. Senior officials who are not political appointees would be barred from lobbying their own agency for two years after leaving public service.
- Require all senior executive branch officials to sign an ethics pledge under oath that addresses both the conflicts of interest of the “reverse revolving door” upon entering government and the regular “revolving door” upon leaving government.
Incoming government officials will pledge not to take official actions that disproportionately benefit themselves or immediate family, employers, or clients within at least the previous two years of public service (“reverse revolving door”).1 Senior government officials will also pledge not to conduct any lobbying activities or make lobbying contacts for compensation before their former agencies for at least two years after leaving public service, and very senior officials pledge not to conduct any lobbying activities or make lobbying contacts for compensation before any agency of the executive branch, including the White House, for at least two years after leaving public service. Signed under oath of law, the ethics pledge shall be considered legally binding for the revolving door restrictions on both incoming and outgoing officials.2
- Procurement officers and their supervisors should pledge not to accept employment with a company to which they awarded a government contract.
Upon leaving government service, procurement officers and those who supervised procurement officers shall pledge not to accept employment with any division of any company to which they had awarded a government contract in the previous two years.
- Federal examiners and auditors should pledge not to accept employment with those whom they audited.
Upon leaving government service, federal examiners and auditors and those who supervised the examiners and auditors shall pledge not to accept employment with any division of a company that they had audited within the last two years.
- Senior government officials should disclose employment negotiations.
Senior government officials preparing to leave public service should pledge to publicly disclose employment negotiations within two weeks of such negotiations. Negotiations for private-sector employment shall be considered to have begun when there is two-way communication about employment prospects between the official and the potential employer. Specifically, negotiations for employmentmeans discussion or communication with another person, or such person’s agent or intermediary, mutually conducted with a view toward reaching an agreement regarding possible employment with that person. The term is not limited to discussions of specific terms and conditions of employment in a specific position. However, the employee has not begun seeking employment if that communication was for the sole purpose of requesting a job application or for the purpose of submitting a resume or other employment proposal. Such negotiations shall be published on the Office of Government Ethics website.
- Waivers from the revolving door restrictions may be granted.
Any person entering the government may receive a waiver from the reverse revolving door restrictions, if it can be reasonably demonstrated that the incoming official’s service is necessary to the operation of the government. Persons leaving public service may receive a waiver from the restrictions on employment applicable to procurement officials and auditors if such employment is with an accredited academic institution. The waiver shall be in writing and publicly available on the Office of Government Ethics website.
- All ethics agreements and waivers should be collected and posted on the Office of Government Ethics website.
The Office of Government Ethics should serve as the central repository of all ethics agreements and waivers, including those issued at the agency-level, and posted on the Office of Government Ethics website. [Discussed further in the section on disclosure.]
- Clearly state that our public deserves searchable electronic disclosure of all meaningful lobbying activities via a database that is well funded and maintained to provide the public with timely and meaningful disclosure of lobbying activities, defined broadly.
The president should affirm that failure to timely file lobbying disclosures will result in penalties, including public reprimands for failing to file timely disclosures, and financial penalties for repeated failures to file complete or timely disclosure.
- The newly established Lobbying Reform Task Force should publish its report on the flaws of the Lobbying Disclosure Act and recommendations for legislation and other solutions.
This report should highlight the problem of advocates who advertise publicly as performing lobbying activities (e.g., LinkedIn profiles), but who are not registered (e.g., heads of corporate government relations departments who are not registered). The report should also highlight the best path toward expanded electronic disclosure with enforcement for non-filing and failures to disclose.
- Request more funding for the U.S. Attorney’s Office currently responsible for enforcing the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
The current office does not have any full-time employee except a contract paralegal specialist. The office does not have a full-time attorney. In addition to full-time, dedicated personnel, the office needs a mandate to enforce the law against those who are not registered, such as those who fail to register or those who deregistered improperly.
- Designated Agency Ethics Officers charged with implementing and enforcing these revolving door restrictions should be trained by the Office of Government Ethics early in the administration about the revolving door and other ethics rules.
Such training shall be mandatory and managed by the Office of Government Ethics.
- Exit strategy memoranda should be public record for senior and very senior government officials.
Upon leaving public service, all employees should receive an exit strategy memorandum from the relevant agency’s Designated Agency Ethics Officer or other ethics officials that describes the on-going ethics requirements post-service, including the revolving door restrictions. Such exit strategy memoranda for senior and very senior officials should be made public record and posted on the Office of Government Ethics website.
- Publish revolving door information.
The next administration should create a government-wide database of senior officials who go through the so-called “revolving door” to lobby or work for entities with interests before their government employer. When senior officials leave government service, they should receive an ethics memorandum describing the limitations on their future conduct. These memoranda should be publicly available. This can be achieved through executive action; however, to ensure long-term compliance, the requirement could be included in legislation.3
- Expand statutory disclosure requirements.
Although the next administration can expand ethics disclosure requirements voluntarily, the public should not rely on good faith discretion as a long-term solution. The next administration should use its voluntary disclosure regime as a roadmap for legislative reform.
- Support legislation to establish a new office within the Department of Justice, Civil Division responsible for increasing enforcement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
As recommended by the American Bar Association, the office needs to have authority to conduct investigations and promulgate rules.
- Support legislation that removes the 20-percent threshold from the definition of lobbyist.
As recommended by the American Bar Association the 20-percent threshold should be removed to capture more lobbying activity.
- Support legislation that requires registered lobbyists to report lobbying support services, such as consultants and pollsters as proposed by the ABA Task Force on Lobby Reform.
Reports should include additional details including specific officials, offices, committees and subcommittees
- The Lobby Disclosure Act should be amended to include disclosure of Astroturf lobbying.
Astroturf lobbying means any paid attempt in support of lobbying contacts on behalf of a client to influence the general public or segments thereof to contact one or more covered legislative or executive branch officials (or Congress as a whole) to urge such officials to take specific action with respect to legislation or regulations, except that such term does not include any communications by an entity directed to its members, employees, officers, or shareholders. The public communication must be directed at 500 or more persons, and involve income or expenditures in the aggregate of $25,000 or more in a quarterly filing period. Required disclosures should include the source and amount of expenditures, source and amount of income received to make those expenditures, the date of the expenditures, and the issue being lobbied.
- 18 USC 208 should be amending to ensure that officials who have left government service remain legally bound to comply with the revolving door prohibitions agreed to in the ethics pledge.
The oath taken under law in the ethics pledge should be considered legally binding, but amending the conflict of interest code ensures so.
- Codify revolving door restrictions.
All the restrictions discussed above on the reverse revolving door and the regular revolving door should be codified into statute for future administrations.
Appendix 2.2: ABA Lobbying Reforms Many of the lobbying reforms outlined in this draft chapter draw on proposals contained in the American Bar Association’s 2011 report, “Lobbying Law in the Spotlight: Challenges and Proposed Improvements.”
1 This point is discussed more extensively in the section on conflicts of interest.
2 18 USC 208 should also be amended to ensure that outgoing officials are legally bound by the revolving door restrictions.
3 Precedent exists for mandatory “revolving door” legislation. Ten years ago, Congress required DoD to create a system for officials to obtain “a written opinion regarding the applicability of post-employment restrictions to activities that the official or former official may undertake on behalf of a contractor.” That law also required DoD to store those opinions in a database to ensure compliance.