Federal Lobbying

Overview of Federal Lobbying and Ethics Rules and Regulations

Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) in September 2007. The goal of this law is to shed more light on the role of lobbyists in influencing federal legislation.

This federal law and new Congressional Ethics Rules set by the House and Senate impose new requirements on private organizations, lobbyists, and lobbyist employers. For many years IU has maintained an active government relations program and has carefully complied with all required reporting and regulations. Because some of the changes now require more detailed reporting by IU of Federal lobbying efforts and expenditures, it is essential that members of the IU community understand and advise IU if their activities with the Federal government should be taken into account when IU files its required reports. Additionally, the new reports require IU to certify that affected members of its community are familiar with these new rules.

How do these new standards apply to your federal government–related activities?

IU is now required to report in more detail about federal lobbying activities. If you are contacting any congressional Member or staff or political appointees in federal agencies on behalf of IU, then your contact may be reportable as a lobbying contact by IU, and the cost of that contact must be reported as a lobbying expenditure. IU is therefore requiring any member of the community, before making a lobbying contact on behalf of IU, to receive approval from the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations in accordance with the IU Federal Official Contact Policy.

The IU Federal Official Contact Policy and the new law and regulations do not impact your ability to lobby Members of Congress on matters of personal or professional association interest. IU is not required to report information on contacts that you make on behalf of your professional associations as long as you make it clear that you are not representing the interests of Indiana University. (For example, you travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in your professional association’s “Capitol Hill Day” advocacy program. You speak to your Representative and Senators about the organization’s federal agenda for that year. As this visit is not conducted on behalf of IU, your participation in this advocacy does not require reporting or approval from the University.)

These regulations relate to lobbying contacts with any Member of Congress and congressional staff. Many contacts with executive branch agencies will not trigger the reporting requirements because only contacts with political appointees (Schedule C employees) need to be reported. (For example, an IU researcher dealing with a career agency grant official on the details of a grant to IU would not be reportable. If the researcher lobbies Congress for the earmarked grant, that would be reportable.)

If you have any questions regarding whether this legislation applies to your activities or whether you are acting in a personal or official capacity, please contact Becca Polcz at rpolcz@iu.edu or (317) 231-2115, or Doug Wasitis at dwasitis@iu.edu or (202) 434-8012.

Summary of HLOGA and Ethics Rule Changes

The HLOGA and the new Ethics Rules modified rules already in place that require lobbyists to follow certain regulations and, where appropriate, to disclose and certify compliance with those provisions. The major changes imposed by this legislation are:

Lobbying Disclosure Act Registration and Reporting: As a lobbyist employer, the university must file quarterly lobbying disclosure reports identifying their lobbyists and detailing issues lobbied and congressional and executive branch agencies contacted. (This had previously been a semiannual requirement.) Additional changes to this requirement include more detailed reporting on coalitions and associations in which IU may be a participant. The definition of what a lobbying contact is—essentially a request to a covered official to take or not take some action—is unchanged from prior law. It is important to understand that your contact and expenses related to it will need to be reported even though you may not meet the threshold for being listed as a lobbyist for IU. Any individual representing the interests of Indiana University to Members of Congress, congressional staff, and political appointees in the executive branch will need to comply with the IU Federal Official Contact Policy and the required reporting under HLOGA and ethics rules.

Semiannual Disclosure: Lobbyists and lobbyist employers file semiannual reports detailing their political contributions made to, or for the benefit of, covered legislative and executive branch officials. The reports must also include certifications of compliance with the House and Senate gift rules. If you are not a lobbyist, you do not have to file a report. Unless you work in government affairs, even if you make a lobbying contact on behalf of IU, you are not likely to be considered a lobbyist (since you will not meet the threshold) and thus will not be required to file this report yourself. As a registered lobbying organization, IU will have to report on your lobbying contact.

Gifts, Events, and Travel Reform: The HLOGA also amended the rules relative to gift-giving, event attendance, and travel by Members of Congress, officers, and employees. As a general rule, under the new law a Member, officer, or employee may not knowingly accept a gift from a registered lobbyist or a private entity that retains or employs a registered lobbyist unless the gift falls under one of the enumerated exceptions. There is an exception for gifts paid for by government, and as a public university, IU is within that exception. IU may make gifts and sponsor travel of Members and congressional staff. Executive branch agencies may have stricter gift limits.

New Travel Restrictions: The new legislation imposed new restrictions for privately sponsored travel. The law also prohibits lobbyists from planning, organizing, arranging, or requesting travel or accompanying House Members or staff on a trip unless the trip is sponsored by a university. House Members are prohibited from accepting air trips on private aircraft. Senate Members and employees may fly on a private jet if they pay a pro rata share of the charter fee.

Stricter Penalties: The new legislation imposed stricter penalties on organizations and individuals that fail to comply with these laws and regulations. The civil penalties have increased to $200,000, and criminal penalties of up to five years have been added.

Congressional Process Changes: Under the new law, there are additional disclosure requirements for organizations seeking congressional earmarks through the appropriations process.

Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) Compliance Tips

  1. Do I intend to lobby congressional or federal agency officials? If yes, proceed to #2. If no, the HLOGA does not apply—state and local officials are not covered by this legislation.
  2. Is my visit to discuss a personal or professional association issue unrelated to IU? If yes, there are no HLOGA ramifications, as long as you make it clear that you are not contacting them on behalf of IU. Enjoy your visit! If no (the visit is as an agent for IU), proceed to #3.
  3. Have I received approval to lobby/represent IU’s interests on this matter? Am I complying with the IU policy on federal contacts and reporting my practices? If yes, enjoy the trip! If no, please contact Becca Polcz at rpolcz@iu.edu or (317) 231-2115, or Doug Wasitis at dwasitis@iu.edu or (202) 434-8012.

More Information

Please also read the Policy on Contacts with Federal and State Government Officials and Agencies.