Regulating Lobbyists: Law, Ethics, and Public Policy

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Regulating Lobbyists: Law, Ethics, and Public Policy
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Regulating Lobbyists: Law, Ethics, and Public Policy

Vincent R. Johnson

16 Cornell J.L & Pub. Pol’y 1 (2006).

Though lobbyists have an ancient lineage and constitutional pedigree arising out of the constitutional right to petition government and to hire surrogates to do so, some types of lobbying can have detrimental effects on the performance of public duties, diminishing public confidence in government and weakening our democracy. However, in remediating these problems, we can look to tools already in existence and employed across the nation, rather than developing radically innovative solutions. The debate over how to regulate lobbyists is politically charged and bewildering; however, by augmenting present rules, the goal of greater lobbyist regulation can be achieved without reinventing the wheel.

There are two essential tools for regulating lobbyists: prohibitions and disclosure requirements (“sunshine laws”). While both have their advantages, because disclosure requirements do not have the ethical clarity and efficacy of simple prohibitions, prohibitions are better and, in determining how to shape modern regulatory prohibitions, we can look to existing rules that prohibit false statements; limit gifts to public officials or employees; restrict the scope or frequency of revolving-door employment; bar lobbyists from collecting contingent fees or exacting economic reprisals against legislators. The existing regulations governing lobbyists are rife with weakness; however, in remediating their weakness, we can look to existing prohibitory regulations to strengthen our lobbyist regulation scheme rather than re-conceptualizing the field, thus developing radically innovative solutions.

Keywords: Lobbyist, right to petition, petition government, public service, public servant, corruption, Anti-SLAPP, public confidence, sunshine laws, reciprocal favors, revolving-door, contingent-fee, reciprocal favors, make-work. 

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