Jack Abramoff

Penalty against lobbying firm sends message to an industry unfamiliar with prosecution

It was the biggest settlement since lobbying reforms were passed two decades ago.

The Justice Department announced that one of Washington's top lobbying firms would pay a fine after being charged with repeatedly failing to disclose its activities.

The $125,000 civil penalty the Carmen Group agreed to this summer was not Earth-shattering in its sum. But it reverberated through an industry in which no one has been prosecuted for failing to comply with a disclosure law passed in 1995 that lobbyists routinely flout.

Lobbying, once seen as a way to ply lawmakers with steak dinners and cigars in exchange for favors or at least consideration, has evolved into a vast,...