Influence Peddling Laws

Several federal laws and regulations either restrict lobbyists’ activities or mandate disclosure of their activities. Some of the laws, such as the Lobbying Disclosure Act, are written specifically for lobbyists. Others, such as the House and Senate rules on contributions to legal defense funds, include provisions that affect lobbyists.


Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)

Passed in 1995, the LDA requires lobbying firms to file semi-annual reports chronicling their lobbying expenditures, the issues upon which they lobbied, the houses of Congress and federal agencies they contacted, and the lobbyists employed to work in each general issue area.

Gift Rules

Specific regulations restrict the gifts that can be given to employees of Congress and the executive branch. The term “gift” covers any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. In general, members of Congress and their staffs may not accept gifts amounting in value to $50 or more at any one time or amounting to $100 or more from a single source per year. For the executive branch, the limits are $20 and $50, respectively.

Travel Rules

Officers and employees of both Congress and the executive branch are subject to restrictions on the nature of “official” travel, paid for by the government, and privately sponsored travel, paid for by corporations, unions, non-profit groups or other outside sources. Lobbying organizations and those that hire lobbyists are severely restricted in the type and length of travel they may provide to members of Congress. Lobbyists and foreign nationals are generally prohibited from financing privately sponsored travel.

Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

Passed in 1938 to combat German propaganda, FARA requires lobbyists acting on behalf of foreign countries to file detailed reports of their lobbying activities, including disclosure of the names and dates of their contacts with federal officials. The required level of reporting detail is far greater for FARA than for the LDA.

Legal Defense Funds

Legal defense funds for congressional office holders and candidates are governed by House and Senate ethics rules, which impose contribution limits and disclosure requirements. As long as a legal challenge arises in connection with an individual’s candidacy for federal office, or the individual’s official duties or position in Congress, the individual may establish a “legal expense trust fund” that is separate from all other accounts. Contributions to the funds are limited to $5,000 per year in the House from any single source and $10,000 per year in the Senate. Lobbyists are prohibited from making contributions to House and Senate members’ legal defense funds, but House rules permit corporate and union contributions while they are not permitted under Senate rules.

State Laws

These influence-peddling laws also have precedent on the state level. Currently, 29 states have some form of revolving door policy, and 28 states place limitations on when contributions can be made and who can make them. 13 of those states have specific laws regarding contributions from lobbyists.

Personal Financial Disclosures

The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 was passed in the wake of the Watergate scandals. Title I of the act requires that certain government officials file personal financial disclosure reports on an annual basis.