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So much money, so few lobbyists in D.C. How does that math work?

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File

(Read caption) David Wenhold, formerly head of the American League of Lobbyists, meets in 2009 with client Elizabeth Hurst, with the National Court Reporters Association, at the Willard Intercontinental Washington hotel. About 12,600 registered lobbyists work in Washington, a number that hasn't jumped all that much since 1998 – even as spending on lobbying has grown exponentially.

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When is a lobbyist not a lobbyist? We ask that because apparently a lot of influence-peddling in Washington is done by robots, ghosts, vampires, or other nonhumans. Total spending on lobbying the federal government has almost tripled since 1998, to $3.3 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Yet the number of registered lobbyists has jumped only about 20 percent, from 10,407 to 12,633.

It’s possible those official lobbyists are just doing a lot more business. But we don’t think that’s it. As presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich has demonstrated via his past work for Freddie Mac, it’s easy to do work that appears lobbyesque yet avoid the scarlet ‘L’ of lobbyist registration. 

One way is to claim that in essence you’re a part-timer. Here’s how this works: Say you’re a Washington consultant and your client is a government-backed mortgage entity. If less than 20 percent of your work time for that client is spent on lobbying activities over a three-month period, then you don’t have to register as a lobbyist, according to the Lobbying Disclosure Act

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