Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act


Tim Mooney, Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, Leslie Barnes


On this episode, we have issued ourselves a challenge . . . to make a relatively dry topic interesting for our listeners . . . What is that topic, you ask? The Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)! We’ll talk about what it is, why you may NOT need to worry about it (unless you do), strategies for compliance, and how it all fits into earlier episodes in our lobbying series, at least for you 501(c)(3)s.

Our attorneys for this episode:

Tim Mooney Natalie Ossenfort Leslie Barnes

Overview of the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act 

  • Lobbyists include advocacy nonprofits, working to improve access to healthcare, better water quality, and equitable laws 
  • Most nonprofits will not meet the three part threshold required to trigger registration as a federal lobbyist 
  • The LDA definition of lobbying is different than the IRS definition of lobbying 

Registration Thresholds for the LDA

Nonprofits need register as a federal lobbyist only if they meet all three of these threshold requirements: 

  • An employee makes 2+ lobbying contacts on behalf of the organization; 
  • An employee spends more than 20% of their time on lobbying over a calendar quarter; AND 
  • The organization spends more than $14,000 on lobbying in a calendar quarter 

Where and When to Register

  • Within 45 days of meeting the LDA threshold 
  • File LD-1online with House or Senate 

What Counts Toward the More Than 20% Quarterly Threshold?

  • Nominations before the US Senate 
  • Formulation of regulations and executive orders (we’ll come back to this for you 501(c)(3)s) 
  • Administration of federal programs (awards, contracts, grants, loans, permits, etc)(same pin for (c)(3)s) 
  • Emails, calls, meeting, tweets with covered officials (usually congressional staff and Members of Congress) 
  • Drafting, amending, writing, opposing any federal law 
  • Strategizing or preparation for direct lobbying contacts

What Counts as a Lobbying Expenditure Toward the More Than $14K Quarterly Threshold?

  • In-house employee compensation spent on direct lobbying of federal covered officials 
  • Portion of the organization’s overhead attributed to federal lobbying 
  • Payments to outside lobbying firms for federal lobbying 
  • Part of membership dues that goes toward federal lobbying 

What Does NOT Count for Anyone?

  • Grassroots lobbying* (pin in this) 
  • Testimony before Congress that is in the public record 
  • Comments on regulations that is part of the ordinary notice and comment procedure 

Pin Cushion – What About All These Pins for (c)(3)s?

  • These are exceptions for some 501(c)(3) organizations  
  • LDA refers to lobbying “covered officials”, which includes: 
    • Members of Congress and congressional staff 
    • President, VP, and Presidential staff 
    • Cabinet appointees through C-Suite executive branch staff (policy-making appointees, exempt from federal competitive service) 
    • Military Members, grade 0-7 
    • You can always ask and they must tell you if they are a “covered official” for LDA purposes 
  • SPECIAL RULE: If your 501(c)(3) has taken the (h) election, you can also elect to report your federal lobbyinusing the IRS definition of lobbying!
    • Generally, exclude contacts with military and executive branch officials unless they’d count under 501(h) (i.e. if executive branch official is “participating in formulation of a bill”) 
      • No work on regulations count 
      • Only contact with POTUS to sign/veto legislation counts 
      • All generalities, not legal advice! 
    • Generally, incl. expenditures for state, local lobbying on LD-2 
    • Generally, incl. expenditures for grassroots lobbying on LD-2 
    • Whether this option is best for your organization is fact specific for each organization 

I’m a 501(c)(4)… Can We Use This IRS Definition Exception Too?

NO. You have to use the broader definitions under the Federal LDA! This means counting your lobbying contacts with executive, administrative and military branch officials. 

Strategies To Remember

  • The $14,000+ threshold is organization wide in a calendar quarter 
  • The 20%+ threshold is per individual employee, but only direct lobbying counts toward threshold 
  • Once an employee registers as a federal lobbyistemployee must continue reporting quarterly until they no longer work at the organization or they delist 
  • Strategy: if it’s an unusual time for federal outreach, consider spreading out work among staff or spending among calendar quarters to stay under registration threshold. 

How Do We Register and Report?

  • All electronic! LD-1 to register within 45 days of first hitting the thresholds 
  • LD-2 and LD-203 for quarterly and semi-annual reports.  
  • The quarterly reports are all about those lobbying contact details 
  • Semi-annual reports – LD 203– registered lobbyists required to disclose a lot about which candidates they individually donate to.  
  • House and Senate LDA sites have reasonably decent instructions.  
  • Trivia: you report your lobbying to the nearest $20k – so it’s not a super precise report!