The capital’s influence industry will be forced more into the open under a law President Clinton signed Tuesday requiring lobbyists to register and disclose their activities for the first time.
“At last!” exclaimed Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., at a White House ceremony. “We’ve waited 40 years to see genuine lobbying reform in Congress, and now it’s done.”
“Lobbyists in the back room, secretly rewriting laws and looking for loopholes, do not have a place in our democracy,” said Clinton, flanked by lawmakers who had pushed the bill to passage after decades of gridlock.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, broadens the definition of who is a lobbyist to include far more people than under the current, largely ineffective, statute. Just 6,500 lobbyists are now registered, while estimates of those involved in influencing federal policy run as high as ten times that number.
Lobbying itself would be redefined to include contacts with executive branch officials and congressional aides. And the law would require that lobbyists report how much they are paid, and the specific issues on which they are working.
Together with new rules banning or limiting most gifts to members of Congress, advocates said the lobby reform law would help lessen the influence of money on government policy. But they pointed ahead to a larger, more difficult reform hurdle: rewriting the laws governing the financing of political campaigns.
Clinton offered his strong support for a bipartisan campaign finance bill that has been gathering steam this year. That bill would curb campaign spending and further limit the amounts that can be given by political action committees, the political arms of specialinterest groups.
Lobbying reform advocates pointed to one shortcoming in the new law: failure to regulate grass-roots lobbying, the fastest growing area of the industry. Grass-roots practitioners use databases and advertising to find citizens sympathetic to their clients’ causes, then generate large volumes of telephone calls and letters to Congress in hopes of influencing legislation.