Stories on the Business of Compliance…Origins of Federal Lobbying Disclosure - State and Federal Communications

March 29, 2017  •  

Stories on the Business of Compliance…Origins of Federal Lobbying Disclosure

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Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act

One of the first formal federal regulations of lobbying in the United States was the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act that created a registration and financial disclosure system for lobbyists in 1946. The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act required lobbyists, anyone whose “principal purpose” was influencing the passage or defeat of a piece of legislation, to register with the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate. The act also required quarterly financial reports to be filed as well. The act was considered ineffective because of poor drafting.

The act was diminished in 1954 when it was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Harriss. The Court’s ruling narrowed the Act to only apply to “paid lobbyists” that “directly communicate” with Congress on “pending legislation.”

The United States v. Harriss ruling discounted the power and need for disclosure of those who lobby on general issues rather than a specific piece of legislation by not requiring them to disclose their efforts. The Supreme Court ruling also only required disclosure of in person meetings.

Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995

Another effort was made to regulate lobbying with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, following a scandal surrounding legislators lobbied by the Wendtel Corporation. The company failed to disclose its lobbying efforts and was bribing policy makers to win government contracts. This scandal motivated Congress to repeal the 1946 act, that had been basically untouched since its dismantling in the Supreme Court and original poor drafting.

In an attempt to make compliance of the law clearer, the new statute redefined lobbying and other related terms.  A lobbyist was now considered anyone who is paid by another to make ‘‘lobbying contacts,’’ other than an individual whose ‘‘lobbying activities’’ constitute less than twenty percent of the time spent on providing services to a particular client over a six-month period. If a paid representative of an organization spent less than $22,500 on lobbying within the six months of the reporting period, then the employee did not need to register as a lobbyist under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. This new, more intense regulation required a lobbyist to register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives within 45 days of their first lobbying contact on behalf of an organization. The 1995 lobbying regulation was much more stringent and clear than the 1946 act that had left a lot of loopholes.

Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007

The Lobbying Disclosure Act was modified by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act on September 14, 2007. This act furthered public disclosure requirements for lobbyists and placed more restrictions on the gifts members of Congress and staff members could accept. This law also extended the revolving door period for senior staffers of a member from lobbying them for two years. The 1995 act had a one-year restriction.


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GabrielleWashington D.C.-based Gabrielle Woodard is a student from Kent State University (KSU). She is writing articles looking at the history of lobbying and political contribution, the emergence of the compliance laws and regulations governing these activities, and other interesting topics. Look for these articles to appear every few weeks. We look forward to her research and insightful writing.

Gabrielle is a senior public relations major at KSU with a minor in political science. She served as president of Kent State’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America during 2015-2016. Gabrielle spent the spring of 2015 participating in the Washington Program in National Issues and interned in the Office of Legislative Affairs within the Federal Communications Commission. She then spent her last two summers in Baltimore as a communications intern for Northrop Grumman, an international defense contractor. Gabrielle is spending this semester in Washington, D.C. and pursuing a career in government relations.


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