GAO has released its audit of lobbying disclosure filings (Lobbying Disclosure: Observations on Lobbyists’ Compliance with New Disclosure Requirements). The audit was required by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA). GAO randomly selected 100 lobbying disclosure reports and then asked the lobbyists to provide support for eight “key elements” of the reports, to wit:
1. The amount of money received for lobbying activities
2. The amount of money spent on lobbying activities
3. The specific issues on which they lobbies
4. The Houses of Congress and agencies which they lobbied
5. The names of individuals who acted as lobbyists for the client
6. The names of foreign entities with interest in the client
7. The names of lobbyists no longer acting for the client
8. The names of any member organizations of a coalition or association that actively participated in lobbying activities on behalf of the client
The audit uncovered no earthshaking revelations. This should not be surprising, given the limited scope of GAO’s work. As GAO explained, “our work to examine lobbyists’ compliance was limited to reviewing support provided by the lobbyists, which included both documentation and oral explanations.” Moreover, “our work did not include identifying lobbyists that failed to register and report in accordance with HLOGA requirements, or whether for those lobbyists that did register and report, all lobbying activity was disclosed.”
One cannot escape the impression that the Lobbying Disclosure Act works largely on the honor system. Given that the information presented to GAO was limited to documentation and verbal explanations that the lobbyists chose to present, and that GAO did not do any investigation to determine whether lobbyists were disclosing all lobbying activity, it is somewhat difficult to see how GAO could have uncovered anything that the lobbyists did not want it to see.
Even so, GAO did determine that in one case the documentation provided was inconsistent with the amount of lobbying expenses reported. As a result of discussions with GAO these lobbyists realized that they had been reporting their lobbying expenses incorrectly and filed an amended report. GAO did not identify the lobbyists in question, but the Clerk’s database shows that one of the audited lobbyists, Intuit, filed an amended disclosure in August that increased the amount of reported lobbying expenses for the first quarter of 2008 by approximately $250,000.