Per the Hill, the White House is asking for tougher restrictions on lobbyists just as the President said in the State of the Union speech the other night. Which is a very good thing:

The Obama administration wants to close a “loophole” in the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) that allows individuals to avoid registering as lobbyists if they spend less than 20 percent of their time lobbying.

Such a proposal could force Washington heavyweights, such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), to register as lobbyists.

Unfortunately, Daschle doesn’t use the “20%” excuse. Rather, he slides under the wire by not communicating requests specifically on behalf of clients:

Lobbyists, after all, are required to register with Congress and file quarterly reports disclosing their actions on behalf of clients. The South Dakota Democrat, like a growing number of people in his line of work, has made sure he doesn’t have to do that.

“I’ve not made a call nor made a visit since I left the Senate on behalf of a client. And I don’t have any expectation that I’ll do that in the future,” Daschle told the New York Times recently.

By claiming that he never picks up the phone on his clients’ behalf, Daschle is not legally obliged to declare himself a lobbyist, even if all his work for those clients falls under the general definition of “lobbying activity.” That means he can keep his clients’ identities and how much they pay him entirely secret.

How do we know? Because he says so. But Daschle’s a choir boy compared to Newt, who is writing legislation along with members of Congress on behalf of his clients. But Newt’s not a registered lobbyist. Neither is Dick Gephardt, who runs a “PR firm.”

Lobbying isn’t an inherently evil activity. Unfortunately, what often happens is that the rules put in place to limit the influence of lobbyists get used against those like Tom Malinowski, a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch who was denied a job at the White House on that basis. But a waiver was given to William Lynn III, a lobbyist for Raytheon, who got a top deputy job at the Pentagon.

There have been a rash of lobbyists canceling their registrations after the administration requested they no longer serve on advisory committees, restricted them from lobbying on the stimulus package and issued the executive order limiting their ability to be hired for administration jobs. And because it’s really hard to monitor whether someone spends 20% of their time doing something or not, it’s also difficult to enforce compliance.

As Craig Holman of Public Citizen notes, the best way to be able to collect that data is to make policymakers disclose who they meet with, something Obama called for in his speech. To his credit, Max Baucus posts his schedule every day, though there is no archive on the site. OpenCongress has an archive of those members of the House and Senate who post their schedules, but because it’s done manually there’s always a lag in reporting.

If members of Congress and the administration and posted their schedules as well, it would be a lot harder for the Daschles and the Newts to slide under the wire and claim they weren’t “lobbying” when they show up inserting themselves into deliberation on issues that their clients have an interest in.

A recent report by the IMF showed that there’s a direct correlation between lobbying and the financial crisis. Organizations who spent a lot of money lobbying Congress for weaker lending restrictions went on to practice “horrible underwriting. As shown in the map above, they conclude that many of these firms “did near collapse and needed to be bailed out by taxpayers.”

Lobbying has had a serious impact on our disfunctional Congress. It’s good to see the President taking the lead on much-needed transparency, because Congress doesn’t want their future gravy train messed with and will fight reform every step of the way.