Lobbyist Compensation: Impossible to Compare

Annual disclosures yield no definitive answers

Each year, lobbyists are required to report how much they were paid. But it’s hard to compare one client to the next because a lack of specific guidelines from the Virginia Ethics Council allows lobbyists to calculate “compensation” in a variety of ways.

Various options to measure compensation

Let’s say a lobbying firm is paid $84,000 a year by a client: $42,000 in monthly retainers and $42,000 in services billed. The lobbying firm could report compensation in a number of ways:

Various Ways to Define "Lobbying"

How much compensation a lobbyist reports depends on how he or she defines “lobbying.” Some use a broad definition that encompasses all their year-round government affairs duties. Others simply make a general estimate to attribute, say, one-quarter of their salary to lobbying. Finally there are those who divide their workday into 12-minute segments and count only time spent in activities that fit the literal legal definition of lobbying — that is meeting with an executive or legislative official to influence the outcome of a specific action. By following this last approach, a 12-hour day at the General Assembly can be reduced in disclosure reports to a mere 24 minutes of “lobbying.”

Difficult to Compare Compensation

The chart below provides two different ways to look at the 50 clients whose lobbyists reported the most compensation from May 2020-April 2021. Those with a relatively high number of lobbyists and relatively low average compensation rank are more likely to have reported pay based on a strict reading of the state’s legal definition of lobbying. Those with fewer lobbyists but higher compensation rank are more likely to have reported the full amount of a lobbyist's pay.

Source: Lobbyist Disclosure statements filed with the Virginia Ethics Council. § 2.2-419 of Virginia State Code

Sept. 9, 2021