The Government Accountability Office this week issued its sixth annual report summarizing the results of its audit of approximately one hundred federal Lobbying Disclosure Act registrants. As we previously explained when the audits began, federal law requires the GAO to select LDA registrants on a “random” basis for an audit to assess their compliance with the Act. The result of the audit is this week’s report. As is typical, the report does not single out individual firms, but focuses largely on providing aggregate data regarding registrants’ compliance with the Act.
This year’s report is significant, however, because it highlights a developing trend: a slow but steady increase in enforcement actions brought against lobbying registrants by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Between the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act’s passage in 2007 and 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not bring any enforcement actions against lobbying registrants. In 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office settled its first post-HLOGA case against a lobbying firm for $45,000. According to this year’s report, in 2012, that number of enforcement cases doubled, with one settling for $50,000 and another for $30,000. The report further notes that, already in 2013, the Office is preparing to seek civil or criminal penalties against two additional registrants.
Registrants should expect the number of enforcement cases to continue to climb. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. faces a significant backlog of hundreds of instances of potential non-compliance that have been referred to it by the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House. According to the report, the Office has not even started sending out non-compliance letters for 2012 because it is still working through the many referrals from prior years. As the Office wades through these referrals, it will likely find new targets for potential litigation.