“Focus on Fundamentals.” This often-used athletic admonition also applies well in executing an effective lobbying strategy. So right alongside decisions about which lobbying activities should be undertaken, and which candidates should be supported financially, should be the understanding that reporting those activities and donations is required under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”)2 U.S.C. § 1605. While that may seem obvious, a recent complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia shows that not everyone gets it. A copy of United States of America v. Biassi Business Services, Inc., C.A. No. 13-0853 (D.D.C., filed June 7, 2013, is attached here (“Complaint”).
The 2010 appointment of Ronald Machen Jr. as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia has seen a definite uptick in enforcement of LDA requirements, with more to come. The $33 million theoretically due under the Complaint seems to signal a further new enforcement resolve.
Given this, here is a reminder of two of the key requirements of the LDA:
Once you register as a lobbyist, you have to report your lobbying activities on a quarterly basis. The Complaint, for example, alleges that defendant Biassi Business Services, Inc. (“BBSI”) registered as a lobbying firm first in September 2001, and then in an amended registration in May 2009. Under the LDA, any lobbying registrant shall file a Lobbying Activity Report (also known as the “LD-2”) “[n]o later than 20 days after the end of the quarterly period beginning on the first day of January, April, July, and October of each year in which a registrant is registered.” 2 U.S.C. § 1604(a). The Complaint further alleges that BBSI repeatedly ignored this requirement, even after being made aware of its first delinquency by the Secretary of the Senate in May 2009. In fact, subsequent to the May 2009 letter from the Secretary, BBSI “knowingly failed to file Twenty-Eight Quarterly LD-2 Reports on a timely basis.” Complaint, II.A., at 5. Further, “BBSI failed to file LD-2 reports within 60 days of receiving delinquency notices from the House and Senate” a total of 13 times. Id., Para. 29, at 7.
Once you register as a lobbyist, you have to report whether any contributions were made to candidates for federal office. The LDA also requires lobbyists and those that employ them to file semi-annual reports detailing the campaign contributions made to candidates and campaigns for federal office. 2 U.S.C. § 1604(d). This semi-annual report (also known as the LD-203) must be filed even if no contributions were made. In the case of BBSI, the Complaint alleges that BBSI “failed to file timely LD 203 reports for eight (8) semiannual periods, totaling ninety-six (96) delinquent reports” to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Complaint, Para. 31, at 8. Further, “BBSI failed to file LD-203 reports within 60 days of receiving delinquency notices from the House and Senate on the following occasions, totaling twenty-eight (28) reports BBSI failed to file within 60 days of notice.” Id., Para. 33, at 10.
The Complaint states that while some of these reports were filed after notice from the Clerk of the House or Secretary of the Senate, some remain delinquent to this day.
The cost of non-compliance with the Lobbyist Disclosure Act? $33 million. Civil penalties under the LDA of $200,000 per violation can be assessed on anyone “who knowingly fails to”
- remedy a defective filing within 60 days after notice of such a defect by the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House of Representatives; or
- comply with any other provision of this chapter.
The Complaint lists a total of 165 allegedly delinquent filings of the LD-2 and LD-203. Multiplied by $200,000 per violation brings a total of $33 million in penalties.
All for not filing paperwork that, when done properly, can require no more than 15 minutes to complete.