SUMMARY OF KEY CHANGES TO THE STATE'S LOBBY LAWStaff Contact: Ken Pokalsky
This memo summarizes key changes to the state's Lobby Law, signed into law on December 30, 1999. Importantly, the bill established new requirements that are applicable to registration statements for 2000 and 1999 annual reports due January 15, 2000.
While this memo also discusses significant carry-over provisions from current law, it is not a comprehensive guide to all compliance requirements. The Lobby Commission has announced it will host workshops on the new Lobby Act in Albany during the month of February, with details to follow.
It is illegal for lobbyists to offer or give a "gift" with a value in excess of $75 to any public official. Lobbyists will be subject to bimonthly, semiannual and annual reporting requirements. The term "lobbying" would now include actions on municipal laws, ordinances, rules and rate-makings. All filings with the Commission will have to identify specific bills, rules and rate-makings on which the lobbyist expects to or has acted. Civil penalties are up to $25,000 for late filings (no more 15 day "grace period) and for offering or giving gifts of $75 or more, and $50,000 for making "false filings." The commission can also impose $25 per day late filing fees. Late and false filings can be prosecuted criminally, and are a Class A misdemeanor. A second criminal conviction for late filing or false statements within a five year period is a class E felony, worth up to 4 years in jail and $5,000 in penalties. The law was effective as of January 1, 2000, and the Lobby Commission was extended until March 31, 2008.
- It is illegal for a lobbyist or client to offer or give a gift valued at $75 or greater to a public official. To do so is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a jail term of up to 1 year and penalties of up to $1,000. It is also subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000.
- A lobbyist is required to inform the recipient of a gift the value and source of the gift if this information is not readily apparent from the gift itself. In a memo issued to registered lobbyists, the Lobby Commission drew special attention to this provision, and "strongly suggests that you provide [this notice] in writing and maintain a copy for our review for three years, should you be audited or investigated by this office."
- The term "gift" is defined as "anything of value given to a public official including, but not limited to, food, beverages, entertainment or tickets to events where the general public is charged for admission." The definition excludes complementary attendance, food and beverages at charitable, political and "widely attended" events; plaques and other ceremonial items; honorary degrees; promotional items offered to the general public; gifts from a family member of a lobbyist; and campaign contributions.
Definition of lobbying:
- The definition still includes attempts to influence the passage or defeat of, or gubernatorial action on, state legislation; attempts to influence action on a state regulation; and attempts to influence state rate making activities;
- It is expanded to also include attempts to influence the passage or defeat of any "local law, ordinance or regulation by an municipality or subdivision thereof;" and attempts to influence "any rule or regulation having the force and effect of a local law, ordinance or regulation" or any rate making activity by any municipality or subdivision thereof. This provision does not take effect until January 1, 2001.
- Procurement contracts are not addressed in the bill.
- The $2,000 expenditure threshold for the filing of lobbyists registrations and client reports still apply. However, there are no longer any thresholds for the filing of periodic reports. Once lobbyists are required to file a registration, they must file bimonthly and semiannual reports, regardless of their expenditures or compensation during the period covered by the report.
- Lobbyists would be required to file bimonthly reports and semiannual reports. The semiannual reports are due July 15 and January 15, respectively, and basically aggregate all information submitted to date for the calendar year in the lobbyists' bimonthly reports. A new $50 filing fee is imposed for semiannual reports.
- In addition to identifying general subject areas on which they will lobby, lobbyists are required to identify legislative bill numbers and the "rule, regulation and rate-making numbers" of bills, rules and rate-makings on which the lobbyist has or expects to lobby. This requirement applies to the annual registration statements and all bimonthly, semiannual and final reports. The requirement for updating the list of bills, rules, regulations and rate-making numbers" in registration statements is expected to be clarified by the Lobby Commission.
- Clients are now required to file semi-annual reports. These reports will also have to identify specific bills, regulations and rate-making that have been addressed by lobbyists retained by the client, in addition to information currently required in client annual reports.
- In addition to other penalties, the commission can impose a $25 per day late filing penalty.
Penalties and Enforcement:
- Failure to file a timely report or statement, and the filing of a false statement, are class A misdemeanors - which are punishable with a jail term of up to one year, and $1,000 in penalties. A second conviction within a five year period is a Class E felony, punishable with a jail term of up to four years, and up to $5,000 in penalties.
- Failure to file a timely report or statement is also subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000, to be assessed by the commission. Note that the existing 15 day "grace period" for late filings is be repealed.
- It would be illegal for a lobbyist or client to offer or give a gift valued at $75 or greater to a public official. To do so is a class A misdemeanor, punishable with a jail term of up to one year, and up to $1,000 in penalties. These violations are also subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000.
- All statements and reports required under the act are sworn to, under penalty of perjury. This would be perjury in 2nd degree, a Class E felonies. The filing of a "false statement or report" is also punishable by a civil fine of up to $50,000, imposed by the Lobby Commission. Importantly, there are no provisions in the bill for correcting information on bimonthly, semiannual or annual reports.
- The Commission would be empowered to conduct "random" audits of reports filed after January 1, 2000; the commission would have to contract with an outside accounting firm to oversee the "randomness" of such audits.