If a lobbyist in the US is simply an unelected person who advocates for legislation, what is the purpose in registering them? And with whom do they register? Are registered lobbyists given special consideration that unregistered lobbyists (or average citizens) are not?
Some countries have a register of lobbyists, some do not and some have talked about it. Some suggest it to be compulsory, some it is optional.
In the US people paid to lobby must register with the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives within 45 days of contacting a legislator for the first time, or 45 days after being employed.
An exception is that lobbyists who earn less than $3,000 per client for each quarter, or whose total lobbying expenses are less than $11,500 each quarter, do not need to register.
Part-time lobbyists are exempt from registering unless they spend more than 20% of their working hours doing lobbying activities in any quarter. If lobbyists have two or more contacts with a legislator as a lobbyist, then they must register.
Requirements for registering also apply to companies that specialize in lobbying, or ones that have an in-house lobbyist, particularly if they spend more than $11,500 on lobbying.
A registered lobbyist has to comply with disclosure requirements regarding his or her lobbying activity. As a paid professional, doing this more or less full-time, the decision has been made that people have a right to know what they are doing to influence Members.
The paperwork involved, however, could also have a chilling effect on free speech. Inherently, the right to make one's views known and to advocate for them is pretty much the essence of freedom of assembly and speech. For the casual person who has a life outside of lobbying, this could be considered an onerous burden. As such, "unregistered" lobbying is thus permitted, up to a point. It is essentially an extension of de minimis, saying that for low levels of activity, the accounting cost is not worth the benefit.