President Obama ordered federal officials to disclose their contacts with lobbyists trying to influence how the government doles out money to jump-start the economy. Yet few such communications have been reported even though lobbyists say they are busier than ever with the multibillion-dollar stimulus.
Since the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February, federal agencies have reported 197 contacts with lobbyists about stimulus grants.
In August, the entire government reported only eight such lobbying contacts. The Pentagon, which controls about $7.4 billion in stimulus spending, reported only a single lobbying contact so far this year. The Homeland Security Department, with at least $3 billion to spend, reported none.
Yet the paucity of reporting masks activities by lobbyists and clients eager to obtain stimulus money for their projects. Lobbyists have separately reported work related to stimulus projects and in many cases have operated in new ways to skirt restrictions on their efforts to influence stimulus spending.
A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, Tom Gavin, said agencies are told regularly to disclose contacts with lobbyists on their Web sites.
“It's an ongoing process,” Gavin said. “This is the first time ever that these kinds of disclosures are being made.”
The lobbying rules apply to about $88 billion worth of competitive grants and loans, the White House said. Much of the $787 billion stimulus package is for spending on tax cuts, Medicaid or grants to states that wouldn't be subject to lobbying at the federal level.
When disclosures are made, the reports vary widely.
The Education Department described 19 encounters, including Secretary Arne Duncan's meetings with the NAACP and other groups, some with detailed descriptions of the discussions. Energy Department reports include barely legible scrawls as well as 159 pages of public comments on a transmission infrastructure program.
The departments of Homeland Security, State and Veterans Affairs and smaller agencies such as the Smithsonian Institution have made no such reports. The Pentagon confirmed there has only been one lobbying report filed, describing a query by a lobbyist for a real estate company about the military homeowners assistance program.
New White House rules issued late this summer were aimed at eliminating a loophole: Lobbyists had been sending their clients to do the pitching below the radar of public disclosure.