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  • Writer's pictureNILE

TikTok - the Clock is Ticking: Time to Ban Shadow Lobbying

Fairfax, VA – The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of free speech, free press, petition, and assembly. These rights assure that all political parties, interest groups, and individuals can influence the making of laws and governmental policies. Alongside our constitutional liberties, we need to embrace the virtues of honesty, integrity, and transparency.


Today the House of Representatives voted on legislation that seeks to potentially ban TikTok within six months unless congressional-ordered requirements are met. It’s been an issue that has been debated for the past several years here in Washington. Millions of dollars have been spent and voices on both sides of the issue have been deployed. As Congress tackles this issue, one thing is clear, a glaring lack of transparency. This goes against the fundamental purpose of the LDA. This is just the most recent high-profile example of the widespread corruptive influence of shadow lobbying.

The National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics (NILE) is calling on Congress to work with NILE and the lobbying industry to implement changes to the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). In light of what we are seeing in the debate surrounding TikTok, it’s time to act.


It’s been reported in the press that at least one former high-ranking official who worked in the Trump White House staff has been hired to advocate (or lobby) on behalf of TikTok. According to reports, this individual has been in at least 10 meetings with members of Congress to discuss TikTok. Yet, when you search the LDA database, there is no filing. This is not an outlier case. If someone took a hard look at this issue, they’d see this is a widespread problem. A problem the lobbying profession would like to correct. We owe the American public – honesty, integrity, and transparency! 


Americans should know who is being paid to speak on behalf of or against TikTok. If some in Congress believe TikTok poses a national security threat, they should be equally concerned about how shadow lobbying is being leveraged in this case.


While the Bill of Rights provides the Freedom to Petition government, today there are too many people and groups working in the shadows to subvert public policy.  This is called shadow lobbying and it poses a risk to our democracy and the Constitution.


Shadow lobbying casts an ugly stain on our country and the lobbying profession. Some will argue they aren’t lobbying; they are simply educating members of Congress and providing information. We also hear the argument that some do not spend the required 20% of their time lobbying on an issue so they are not required to register.  If they were registered to lobby, the LDA requires disclosing who your clients are and how much money is paid to them.  Avoiding lobbying registration is a gimmicky trick from fraudsters who seek to undermine the LDA and avoid transparency.


There is no better time to act. The issue of whether to ban TikTok has cast a bright light on the need to rein in shadow lobbying. It’s time for Congress to require those “hiding from lobbying registration” on both sides of this issue to report their activities as required by the LDA.


NILE has a reform package urging Congress to adopt. If transparency and ethics are at the core of why the current LDA exists, then it’s time for Congress to finally address these issues. It’s time for Congress to redefine what is defined as lobbying in the modern world. Those named commodities who pick up the phone and talk about an issue with elected officials and their staff are lobbying. They may not consider it lobbying, but they are doing the same thing those of us who are registered to lobby do for our clients.


NILE urges Congress to re-evaluate the LDA and its mission. NILE urges Congress to work with the profession – to ban shadow lobbyists.


About NILE

The National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics (NILE) is a leading non-partisan organization representing lobbying, public policy, and government affairs professionals. Our mission is to promote and foster ethical lobbying practices, professionalism, and competence through education. NILE provides a unified voice for the profession and the Constitution’s First Amendment right to petition the government. Our organization prescribes a strong Code of Ethics for its members to follow, as well as a rigorous Public Policy Certificate Program that assures lobbyists have a complete knowledge of the legislative, regulatory, and compliance processes.


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