Number of Registered Lobbyists Plunges as Spending Declines Yet Again

The lobbying industry may start arguing for its own bailout bill, given the relentless decline in reported spending for its services.

The first quarter of 2016 was sluggish, the second similarly so. And with it came a pronounced dive in the number of active registered lobbyists.

With 325 fewer lobbyists registered in the second quarter of 2016 than in the first, this marks the biggest single-quarter drop in four years and puts the number of registered lobbyists at the lowest point OpenSecrets has ever recorded. Since 1998, the total number of lobbyists has never dipped below 10,000, but that figure has been falling ever since it peaked at nearly 15,000 in 2007 and this quarter’s decrease puts it at just more than 9,700.

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Several factors could be behind the drop, including the set of policies designed to curb lobbying put in place by President Obama, or gridlock in Congress. The most likely scenario, however, isn’t that there are fewer people engaging in lobbying work — it’s simply that there are fewer people registering as lobbyists. It isn’t uncommon for individuals to maneuver around the reporting thresholds and continue lobbying “part-time” — a practice sometimes referred to as “shadow lobbying.”

Maybe that bailout bill isn’t needed, after all.

“Pure and simple, the trend continues to be that people aren’t considering themselves lobbyists,” said Paul Miller, president of the National Institute of Lobbying and Ethics, a trade group. “Some of that is retirement — a small number, I think — but for the most part, people are unregistering and not calling themselves lobbyists.”

Now, more and more people are deciding that they don’t meet the registration threshold triggered by the law when individuals spend more than 20 percent of their time lobbying.

“This profession has changed dramatically in the last five years,” said Miller, of the lobbying firm Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies. “You have a whole lot of people having an impact on public policy not registering [as…

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