Limits and constraints on Interest Groups USA

Limitations and constraints

Controls over lobbying

Lobbyists are required to register with the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate and indicate what group they are representing, the amount of their salary or compensation, and what types of expenses are reimbursed to them. They also have to file quarterly financial statements. These controls, which admittedly have not been effective in limiting abuse, date from the 1946 Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act. In addition, lobbyists who represent foreign governments or corporations must register with the Justice Department as agents of those countries.

Congress has also attempted to slow down the so-called "revolving door" by which an official begins to lobby his or her colleagues immediately after leaving a government position. Under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, senior executive branch officials cannot lobby federal agencies on a matter that fell within their scope of responsibility for two years after leaving government service. In addition, they are prohibited from lobbying anyone in their former agency 1) on any issue for one year and 2) forever on matters that they were involved in.

Reforms adopted in 1995, banned all gifts to members of the House and put limits on the value of gifts to senators. The legislation also required lobbyists to disclose the issues and bills they worked on and the branches of government they contacted. Stricter rules regarding lobbying were also adopted by Congress in 2007 in response to highly publicized scandals. The Senate now bars all gifts from lobbyists, lobbyists are required to disclose payments to organizations controlled by or named for a member of Congress, and "bundled" contributions from lobbyists are more closely scrutinized.

Other commentators would further point out that the system works to limit existing barriers which stop full participation. In their view, the system of regulations and constraints placed on pressure groups prevents them from becoming too powerful or dominating the system. In particular, they would point towards the following examples:

· Federal Election Campaigns Act 1974: restricted the influence of wealth by setting limits on individual donations and establishing a system of federal funding for major party candidates.

· Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act 2002: tightened the restrictions from the previous act by regulating soft money and introducing advertising restrictions. However, most of its effect was overturned in Citizens United v FEC and SpeechNow.Org v FEC

· Lobbying Disclosure Act 1995: widened the requirements for lobbyists to register their activities while also banning the giving of gifts.

· Honest Leadership and Open Government Act 2007: attempted to close the revolving door by introducing a 'cooling-off' period after leaving office, while also extending the ban on gifts and requirements for full disclosure of lobbying activities.