What is the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)?
The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, as amended (LDA), is a federal lobbying statute administered by Congress that applies to legislative and executive branch contacts. The LDA does not apply to state or local lobbying. The LDA requires registration and then disclosure of certain lobbying activities, including the issues lobbied, individual lobbyists, and lobbying costs. LDA violations are subject to fines of up to $200,000 per violation and, in some cases, up to 5 years in prison. The LDA is a companion statute to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended (FARA).
Under the LDA, a "lobbyist" is an individual who, for compensation, makes more than one "lobbying contact" and spends 20% or more of his or her time during a quarter on federal "lobbying activities." "Lobbyist," "lobbying contact," and "lobbying activities" are defined in the statute. Lobbying expenses are costs incurred in connection with lobbying activities. If an individual meets the definition of a lobbyist and the individual's employer has lobbying income or expenses that exceed a de minimis amount, the individual's employer must register under the LDA and list the individual as a lobbyist on the registration and subsequent LDA reports (if they continue to lobby), or terminate the lobbyist. Organizations employing in-house lobbyists submit one registration while lobbying firms submit a separate registration for each lobbying client.
Registration and Reporting Schedule
LDA registrations and quarterly reports are submitted by registered entities (i.e., employers) and not individual lobbyists (unless the lobbyist is a sole practitioner). LDA semi-annual reports and certifications are submitted by both registered entities and individual lobbyists. LDA registration must occur, using Form LD-1, within 45 days of an individual making more than one lobbying contact or being hired to make more than one lobbying contact - whichever comes first. Quarterly reports of lobbying activity must be filed, using Form LD-2, within 20 days after the end of the quarterly period. Semiannual political contribution reports and House and Senate gift and travel rule certifications must be filed, using Form LD-203, within 30 days after the end of the semiannual period. All LDA reports must be filed unless and until a termination report is filed.
The Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate administer the LDA and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia enforces the LDA. To date, the Secretary of the Senate has referred a total of 14,352 LDA violations to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia since 1995 and the House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) referred one LDA matter during 2014. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted an annual audit of LDA filings since 2007. In August of 2015, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced a settlement with a lobbying firm that includes a $125,000 fine for missing LDA reports. This case is the latest example of stepped up civil enforcement of the LDA. In February of 2015, the U.S. Attorney's Office entered into a settlement with a lobbyist that includes a $30,000 fine for missing LDA filings. December of 2013, the U.S. Attorney's Office secured a default judgment of $200,000 for LDA violations. Prior to securing this judgment, the U.S. Attorney's Office entered into negotiated settlements three times — twice in 2012 for $50,000 and $30,000 and once in 2011 for $45,000.