Did I just lobby?
This year has seen an uptick in grassroots activity surrounding politics and public policy. And you may have been a participant.
For example, you may have made phone calls to your state representative or senator. If your employer is part of a trade association, you may have participated in a lobbying day, traveling to the Statehouse or to Congress, spending the day with legislators and advocating for policy issues that are important to your business. Maybe you’re an executive who employs a lobbyist, and you joined your paid lobbyist to directly advocate on an issue. Maybe you even participated in a rally or a march.
If this is you, congratulations! You made a direct and worthy contribution to our system of government. We should never take for granted the ability to directly lobby our elected representatives.
However, the real question is did you just become a lobbyist? This is an important distinction that has vast repercussions from a regulatory compliance standpoint.
The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee (JLEC) provides guidance with a three-part test to determine if you have triggered the obligation to register as a lobbyist.
- Compensation: Are you receiving compensation to lobby?
- Direct communication: Did you communicate directly with a “reportable person?”
- Amount of time: How much time did you spend on lobbying activity?
The third point regarding timing has a subtle nuance and is often the linchpin on whether someone needs to register as a lobbyist. If you’re lobbying members of the legislature (or legislative staff), the time threshold is crossed when you spend 5 percent or more of your compensated time conducting lobbying activity. If you’re talking to the executive branch of government (the governor and other statewide elected officials, the staff of statewide elected officials, or state agency directors and employees), 25 percent or more of your compensated time spent engaging in lobbying activity triggers the registration requirement.
There are similar requirements at the federal level and, in some instances, the municipal level. It’s best to always review the rules if you are unsure of your obligation to register.