Updated at 10:18 a.m.
The number of active federal lobbyists has fallen during the past six years with many of them likely entering the murky world of unregistered policy influencing, according to a report a Washington-based government watchdog released on Wednesday.
In "Lobbyists 2012: Out of the Game or Under the Radar?," the Center for Responsive Politics reported that the firms with the 100 highest revenues from traditional lobbying had from 2007 to 2012 a 25 percent drop in lobbyists who were registered with Congress to advocate for at least one client. The decline came as lobbying clients in almost all sectors increased spending and the government affairs firms' traditional advocacy revenues decreased by 6 percent. And the report notes that 46 percent of the lobbyists who were active in 2011 but not in 2012 still have the same employers.
Add those figures together, the report concludes, and it's clear that something fishy is going on in the world of D.C. lobbying.
"[T]here is clearly a reduction in disclosure that is not justified by the comparably smaller decline in spending," says the report, authored by Center for Responsive Politics senior researcher Dan Auble. "In short, the public is now being provided less information about which organizations are hiring which people to influence federal policy and how much they are truly spending (or earning) to do so."
The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which came in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal, increased reporting requirements for lobbyists and created more restrictive "cooling-off" periods before former members of Congress and senior congressional staffers can descend on Capitol Hill on behalf of lobbying shops. And Obama has put in place polices that include a prohibition on lobbyists joining his administration and a ban on them serving on federal advisory committees.
But the lobbying rules and regulations only apply if an individual spends at least 20 percent of his or her time during a quarterly period lobbying the federal government on behalf of a client.
The American Leagues of Lobbyists (ALL), the leading trade group for the lobbying industry, is pushing for lobbying reforms that include lowering the 20 percent requirement and requiring ethics training for lobbyists.
"First, we recognize that in a tough economy lobbyists are not immune," ALL President Monte Ward said during a Center for Responsive Politics web chat on Wednesday. "Second, we are very concerned with those lobbyists that are flying under the radar and not registering."