Summary of Federal Lobbying and Gift Rules

Who lobbies on behalf of the U-M?:

Executive officers, deans, senior directors, federal relations staff, and any designated faculty or staff are individuals authorized to lobbying on behalf of the University

Lobbying activities include:

Contacts (in person, written or by phone) with covered executive branch and legislative branch officials made on behalf of the University of Michigan regarding the creation of legislation; existing legislative proposals; rules; regulations; executive orders; programs, policies or positions of the government; administration or execution of federal programs or policies (including federal contracts and grants – grants officers are not covered executive branch officials); and, nomination or confirmation of a person for a position subject to confirmation by the Senate; preparation time.

It is not considered a lobbying activity if you respond to a request for public comment in the Federal Register or were asked by a Member of Congress or Congressional Committee to testify or respond to a request for information.

Reporting lobbying activities:

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Quarterly reports to Congress include information on issues lobbied and good faith estimate of lobbying expenses for all lobbying activity on behalf of the University.

The Lobbying Disclosure Act:

Background and Application to the University of Michigan


The Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) of 1995 was signed by President Clinton on December 19, 1995, and amended in 2007. The LDA requires the disclosure of efforts by paid lobbyists to affect decisions in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.

Registration and Reporting:

The University of Michigan registered as a lobbying entity with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in 1996, and is required to file four reports each year detailing lobbying activities.

The quarterly reports contain the name of the employing organization, the names of its lobbyists, and any changes or updates to the initial registration. For each general issue area in which lobbying activities took place during the three month period, the report will include: a list of specific issues lobbied, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a list of bill numbers and references to specific executive branch actions; a listing of the houses of Congress and federal agencies contacted by lobbyists; a list of employees who acted as lobbyists; a description of any interest of any foreign entity in the issues for which lobbying activity occurred; and a good faith estimate of total expenses incurred in connection with lobbying activity during the three month period.

The LDA requires universities to keep records and report on all lobbying on behalf of the institution. Therefore, the university does not need to consider contacts to government officials made by faculty on their own behalf as lobbying contacts. If a faculty member makes a lobbying contact, at the direction of the university, however, or at the suggestion of the university’s lobbyist, then that contact would be reported as a lobbying contact for purposes of estimating total lobbying expenditures of the university.

Who is a “lobbyist?”:

The LDA defines a lobbyist as any individual employed or retained by a client (employer) for financial or other compensation for services that include more than one lobbying contact, and whose lobbying activities constitute more than twenty percent of the time engaged in the services provided to that client (employer) over a three month period.

What is “lobbying?”:

The LDA defines lobbying activities as lobbying contacts and any efforts in support of such contact, including preparation and planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time of its preparation, for use in contacts, and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.

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The LDA defines “lobbying contacts” as any oral or written communications to covered executive or legislative branch officials with regard to formulation, modification, or adoption of Federal legislation (including legislative proposals); Federal rules, regulations, Executive Orders, or any other program, policy, or position of the United States Government; the administration or execution of a Federal program or policy (including the negotiation, award, or administration of a Federal contract, grant, loan, permit, or license); and the nomination or confirmation of a person for a position subject to confirmation by the Senate.

The LDA specifies that the following types of contacts are not considered “lobbying contacts”: communications made in speeches, articles, or through any medium of mass communication; routine requests for meetings or for the status of an action as long as there is no attempt to influence covered executive or legislative branch officials; communications made In the course of participation in an advisory committee subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act; testimony given before a congressional committee or submitted for the public record of a congressional hearing; information provided in writing at the request of a covered legislative or executive branch official, as long as it is provided to the federal official who made the request; communications required by subpoena, investigation or otherwise compelled by law or congressional or agency action; communications made in response to a notice in the Federal Register, Commerce Business Daily, or other similar publication soliciting public communications; and communications made on behalf of an individual concerning his or her own benefits, employment or other personal matters involving that individual.

Tracking Federal Lobbying Activity at University of Michigan:

The University of Michigan needs to keep records of lobbying on behalf of the institution. Accordingly, it is recommended that anyone who lobbies on behalf of UM, whether or not they spend 20 percent or more of their time doing so, keep a federal lobbying record including:

  • 1. Issue(s) discussed, including bill numbers and sections of bills, if known;
  • 2. Lobbying expenditures which include travel costs, lodging expenses, administrative costs and salary associated with time spend preparing, planning, researching, coordinating lobbying efforts and lobbying;
  • 3. Institution(s) contacted – US House of Representatives, Senate, or Executive Branch agency

Covered Legislative Branch and Executive Officials:

Covered legislative branch officials include all members of Congress and their staffs, as well as committee staffs.

The definition of covered executive branch officials does not encompass all executive branch employees. Instead, it is drawn fairly narrowly to include only those in the highest or most politically sensitive positions, specifically:

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Officers or employees of the Executive Office of the President, including all employees of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy;
  • Any official serving at levels I-V of the Executive Schedule;
  • Any member of the uniformed services whose pay grade is at or above 0-7;
  • Schedule C employees (generally employees that are responsible for determining policies and are appointed by presidential appointment positions)

For example, the only employees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) who would qualify as “covered executive branch officials” would be the NIH Director and the NSF Director and Deputy Director.

In the Department of Education, the Secretary, the special assistant to the Secretary, the Chief or Staff, the Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff, the Deputy Chief of Staff, the Counselor to the Secretary, the Confidential Assistant to the Senior Advisor on Education Reform, the Scheduling and Advance Staff Director, Special Assistants, White House Liaison, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary and all Assistant Secretaries and most of their special and confidential assistants would be covered.

Grant administrators and program officers are not covered.

Congressional Gift & Travel Rules:

Gifts include meals, entertainment, and anything else of value. Members of Congress and their staff may never solicit a gift from any person who has interests before Congress; accept a gift that is linked to any official action that the individual has taken, or is being asked to take; or accept any other gift, unless specifically permitted by one of the provisions of the rules.

General Rule – A Member of Congress or their staff may not accept gifts from organizations, associations or businesses that employ lobbyists, but there are exceptions.

As a public university (considered a state government entity), the University of Michigan and its employees have a broad exemption from the rules when giving a gift or providing travel when acting on behalf of the U-M. There are other exemptions under the gift rules when an individual is giving on their own behalf or in a capacity other than as a university employee.

Items of nominal value such as baseball caps, t-shirts, plaques, ‘nominal’ food and informational materials (books, dvds), are permitted gifts.

Members of Congress and their staff may not accept a gift from a government agency (the University) where the gift was donated to the agency by a third party, and the agency is merely acting a conduit. In addition, Members and staff may not accept a meal or other gift that is paid for by an outside consultant or lobbyist for a government agency.

Members of Congress and their staff may attend widely attended events:

A widely attended event has in attendance at least 25 people other than Members of Congress and their staff, and is open to individuals from throughout a given industry or profession. The invitation must come from the event’s sponsor (contributors are not sponsors); and the attendance must be related to the person’s official duties. A widely attended event includes a reception, convention, conference or briefing. There is no limit on the cost of the meal as long as it is not lavish, unsolicited and from the sponsor of the event. They may also attend receptions offering “food or refreshments of nominal value.”

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Travel rules:

Each participant (Members of Congress and staff) in officially-connected travel paid for by a private source must get approval in advance from the appropriate ethics committee. Trips sponsored by public universities are not subject to this approval. All travel is subjected to public disclosure. The trip must be connected to a meeting, speaking engagement, fact-finding, or similar official event, and funding cannot include recreational activities. Institutions of higher education and any entity that does not employ or retain a federally-registered lobbyist or foreign agent (House Rules) and any qualifying charitable institution (Senate Rules) may sponsor short-term travel (up to four days for domestic) to attend conferences and events.

There is a general exemption from travel restrictions for travel provided by public universities. However, if a public university joins with a private university to sponsor a trip, all trip sponsors must follow the private university rules that include Ethics Committee approval.

Executive Branch Gift & Travel Rules:

General gift rule:

Unless an exception applies, executive branch employees may not accept gifts that are given because of their official positions or come from “prohibited sources”.

A prohibited source is any person or organization seeking official action by, is doing business or seeking to do business with, or is regulated by the employee’s agency.

Exceptions to the Gift Rule:

  • A gift motivated by a family or personal relationship
  • Gifts of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings sponsored by 501(c)(3) organizations, provided that the agency has determined that attendance is in the interest of the agency
  • Modest refreshments

An employee can never solicit or coerce the offering of a gift, or accept a gift in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act

Executive branch travel rules:

Executive branch employees may accept payment of travel, meals, and related expenses from a non-Federal source for an employee’s official travel away from the employee’s official station to attend a meeting or similar function related to their job responsibilities.