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GAO Seeking Info From Lobbyists

The Government Accountability Office has begun requesting information of various lobbyists registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.  This action is taken pursuant to Section 213 of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which requires the GAO to “audit [annually] the extent of compliance or noncompliance with the requirements of [the LDA] by lobbyists, lobbying firms, and registrants through a random sampling of publicly available lobbying registrations and reports.”                                                                                                               

HLOGA further provides that GAO “may, in carrying out this section, request information from and access to any relevant documents from [any registered lobbyist, organization with in-house lobbyistsor lobbying firm] if the material requested relates to the purposes of this section.”GAO “may notify the Congress in writing if a person from whom information has been requested under this subsection

refuses to comply with the request within 45 days after the request is made.”

According to this article in Roll Call, the failure to comply with a GAO request could then be referred to the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House, which are responsible under the LDA for notifying any lobbyist or lobbying firm that “may be in noncompliance” with the law.This in turn could lead to a referral to the U.S. Attorney for potential civil or even criminal enforcement.

This, I think, must be wrong.HLOGA gives GAO the authority to request information from certain individuals and organizations, but it does not require that the information be provided.If Congress had intended that registrants and lobbyists be required to provide information requested, it surely would have said so explicitly.To imply such a duty would seem particularly inappropriate given the possibility that requests might infringe on First Amendment rights or other privileges.

A more likely interpretation is that Congress intended that the GAO’s notification would be referred to the committees of jurisdiction, which could then choose to use their subpoena power to obtain the needed information.

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