- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008

Congressional efforts to rein in lobbyists are helping to create a cottage industry in Washington: businesses that help them comply with a raft of new regulations.

As the required reports to Congress on lobbying activities become more complex, lobbyists are contracting out more of their report preparation to outside firms.

At least two of them have started operating in Washington since the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 imposed more recordkeeping on lobbyists, beginning Jan. 1.

“It’s similar to why you would go to a tax counselor to prepare your IRS forms,” said Roseanna Haley, owner of Capitol Filings, a lobbying form-preparation service that opened March 24 at 101 Constitution Ave. NW. “It’s an administrative burden.”

Until this year, lobbyists were required to file to the House and Senate semiannual reports that described how much they are paid, their clients and the issues on which they lobbied.

As of Jan. 1, lobbyists are required to file six reports per year and list more information about their clients.

Four of the reports must be filed quarterly to report lobbying activities. Two additional reports must be filed semi-annually to report their donations to political campaigns, charities controlled by members of Congress and political action committees.

Lobbyists must file one report for each client, which can reach into the hundreds for some firms.

Support firms say they typically charge half as much as law firms that prepare quarterly reports. Prices from the support firms can range from as little as about $100 to several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the report.

The lobbying firm where Mrs. Haley worked previously has “upward of 280 clients, so each quarter more than 280 of these reports have to be filed,” she said.

The new requirements are a response by Congress to a scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to fraud and conspiring to bribe public officials.

Abramoff is serving six years in a Maryland prison for his involvement in a Florida casino deal. He has not yet been sentenced in an influence-peddling case in which he was hired to lobby against a bill that would place Guam’s territorial trial court under the authority of the Guam Supreme Court.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 gave Mark Ward the incentive he needed to open his business Feb. 1, handling the paperwork lobbyists shun.

“We are signing one to two clients a week and we get calls daily,” said Mr. Ward, a partner in the new lobbyist support firm Ward and Lawless. “It’s been a good thing for us.”

More than 16,000 active lobbyists are registered with Congress. Their first filing deadline under the new law is April 21.

Mr. Ward used to work for a large Washington law firm, where he handled administrative duties related to election law.

His new clients tell him “their time is better spent in the corridors of Congress than filling out these forms,” Mr. Ward said.

Lobbyists could suffer stiff penalties for overlooking the new reporting requirements.

Fines range up to $200,000 for violations, up from a $50,000 maximum under the old ethics laws. They also could be imprisoned for up to five years.

Potential liabilities in the law are compelling more lobbyists to contract out their form preparation to law firms.

“We actually are seeing a major uptick in companies and lobbying operations coming in and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve reached our tipping point,’ ” said Rich Gold, head of the public policy group at the Washington law firm of Holland & Knight LLP. “If you’re a five-person or 10-person lobby shop, you just had a major headache foisted on you.”

Scott Thomas, an attorney for the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro LLP, does consulting work with lobbyists to teach them how to comply with the new law.

“I would say my own work now compared to a year ago has probably tripled,” Mr. Thomas said.

Tougher penalties for violating the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 have “gotten a lot of people’s attention,” Mr. Thomas said.

The law is scheduled to face its first court test this month before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The National Association of Manufacturers filed a lawsuit challenging a provision that would require trade associations that lobby Congress to reveal their membership lists.

The trade group says the provision, Section 207, violates their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association and redress of grievances.

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