Pledge to act on ethics is an opportunity for reform
WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders kicking off day one of the new administration. Missing from Monday’s action was an executive order banning top-level officials in the Trump administration from lobbying for five years after leaving the Executive Branch. In a video message issued two weeks after winning the November election, then President-elect Donald Trump declared that the lobbying ban would be a day one priority for his new administration.
“This November, voters sent an unequivocal message to our lawmakers: it’s time to crack down on special interest influence,” said Andre Delattre, Executive Director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “Now it’s up to our elected officials to act. That means beginning work on a full package of ethics reforms on day one, including measures that close lobbying loopholes and increase transparency in the influence industry. We have the tools and the public support to create a more accountable, more transparent, and more responsive government. It’s a window of opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.”
During the 2016 elections, Trump proposed a five-point ethics plan, including proposals that would expand the definition of “lobbyist” to close lobbying loopholes. While an executive order instituting a five-year lobbying ban for Executive Branch officials would represent a step towards fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises, the new ban would have little impact until additional lobbying reforms closing lobbying loopholes are signed into law.
Under current law, lobbyists are able to dodge registration under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) if they spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying, or if they lobby for multiple clients, spending no more than 20 percent of their time on a single client. Reports estimate that today’s lobbying industry is twice as large as official numbers suggest as a result of unregistered lobbying activity. Over the course of President Obama’s first year in office, when the administration enacted new policies targeting registered lobbyists, lobbying registrations dropped by 20 percent, reflecting an increase in undisclosed lobbying activity.
If Congress and the Trump administration do not strengthen the definition of lobbyist under the LDA, those in the influence industry will be able to dodge any new ethics reforms by taking advantage of loopholes to avoid lobbyist registration.
U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.