Reprinted from Roll Call (July 26, 2011)
Q: I am a former staffer now working as a lobbyist for a lobbying firm
with a question regarding ethics training. When I was on the Hill, I remember
that, ever since the big ethics act bill in 2007, we were all required to
receive formal ethics training on an annual basis. Now that I am working for a
lobbying firm, I presumed that there would be similar requirement for lobbyists.
The gift rules apply to lobbyists, too, so I figured lobbyists would also need
education regarding the rules. But, my firm tells me this not the case. Is this
right? Is there really no ethics training requirement for lobbyists?
A: The “big ethics bill” I presume that you are referring to is the
Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. When it was passed in the fall of
2007, it brought about many changes in the world of Congressional ethics. It was
the biggest ethics bill in years.
It imposed tougher restrictions on giving gifts to Members and staffers. It
exposed people outside of Congress to liability for violations of the
Congressional gift rules — most significantly lobbyists and the organizations
that employ them. And, as you note, it required that Senate and House staffers
receive formal ethics training. In the Senate, the act requires new Members and
staff to receive a one-time ethics training session after joining the Senate. In
the House, there is an annual ethics training requirement for Members and staff.
Your question is whether the act includes similar training requirements for
lobbyists. Technically, the answer is no. But, that is not the end of the story.
Although the law imposes no formal legal requirement that lobbyists receive
ethics training, it does include other provisions that could make training a
One thing the law requires lobbyists to do twice a year is certify that they
have read and are familiar with the House and Senate gift rules. Specifically,
lobbyists must sign their name to the following statement: “I certify that I
have read and am familiar with the provisions of the Standing Rules of the
Senate and the Standing rules of the House of Representatives relating to the
provision of gifts and travel....”
This requirement applies not only to lobbyists but also to organizations that
employ lobbyists. So, twice a year, your firm, along with all other businesses
employing lobbyists, must certify that the firm has read and is familiar with
the House and Senate gift rules.
What does this have to do with training? Consider the fact that these
biannual certifications must be true under penalty of law. False certifications
are considered false statements to the government and could plausibly result in
criminal penalties, including jail time.
Suppose the truthfulness of your certification was called into question and
the government commenced an investigation. In the event of such investigation,
you should expect to face tough questions regarding whether you really did read
the gift rules and whether you were familiar with them at the time of your
certification. How might you go about proving that? What could you point to in
order to prove that you really were familiar with the gift rules when you made
the certification? One possible answer is training. Although training is by no
means required by the law, it could go a long way toward demonstrating to the
government that you were familiar with the gift rules when you certified that
The same is true of an organization, but on a broader scale. For
organizations that employ in-house lobbyists, someone must certify on behalf of
the organization that the organization itself has read and is familiar with the
gift rules. Again, that person should be prepared to demonstrate that the
organization has indeed read and is familiar with the gift rules. Organizations
whose employees receive regular training in the rules might have an easier time
making this demonstration than those whose do not.
One might ask whether there is any real danger that a lobbyist or
organization would really face a government investigation focused solely on
whether the lobbyist or organization truthfully certified a familiarity with the
gift rules. Are there not more worthy causes for the allocation of law
Maybe. But for lobbyists and organizations that make these certifications
under penalty of law, that should come as cold comfort. Alleged violations of
law are often discovered during government investigations that were focused on
conduct largely unrelated to those violations.
For example, during the Justice Department’s investigation of ex-Sen. John
Ensign (R-Nev.) relating to his affair with a former campaign staffer,
investigators discovered evidence of a crime largely unrelated to the initial
focus of the investigation. Specifically, Ensign’s former staffer, Doug Hampton,
allegedly violated restrictions on what staffers can do after leaving the Hill.
Hampton faces criminal charges.
So, while federal law does not require ethics training for lobbyists, they
and their organizations can never know if their conduct might at some point be
subject to government scrutiny. The safest approach is to assume that one day it
will and to plan accordingly.
© Copyright 2011, Roll Call Inc. Reprinted with permission. Widely regarded as the leading publication for Congressional news and information, Roll Call has been the newspaper of Capitol Hill since 1955. For more information, visit