Ask The Expert - What is the "Bubble Rule" and Does it Apply to Me? - State and Federal Communications

June 25, 2024  •  

Ask The Expert – What is the “Bubble Rule” and Does it Apply to Me?

Q: I’m travelling to a new state to have lobbying meetings with legislators and staffers. My outside counsel will be with me and has told me I don’t need to register as a lobbyist because we will be together. Is this true?

A: This is a question I get routinely and I refer to it as the “bubble rule.” The basic idea is if I am with a registered lobbyist while engaging in lobbying, I will not have to register myself. The majority of states do not have such a rule. When you engage in lobbying, you must evaluate whether you need to register independently of the fact that a registered lobbyist is with you during your communications.

Some states do have a version of the “bubble rule”. In California, an individual does not engage in a direct lobbying communication if he or she is an employee of a lobbyist employer, meets or speaks with a qualifying official in the company of a registered lobbyist retained by the individual’s employer, and participates as a subject matter expert. Idaho will not require registration for employees of a corporate entity if the entity itself has registered as a lobbyist, has appointed one or more of its employees or contractors as its official designated lobbyist, and the person so appointed by the entity has registered. Finally, Utah might have the best version of the rule. In short, an individual representing an entity who interacts with a public official, while accompanied by a registered lobbyist who is lobbying in relation to the subject of the interaction, is not required to register so long as the person does not make an expenditure on a public official.

Please keep in mind the nature of the interaction and why you are accompanying your outside counsel may itself be an exemption to lobbyist registration. You may be serving as a subject matter expert, which is referenced in the above California example. You may be testifying before a legislative committee, which is often seen as an exemption from lobbyist registration. Remember if using a testifying exemption from registration, you often cannot engage in any other lobbying communications.

In summary, do not believe that you are exempt from lobbyist registration simply because you are lobbying with someone who is already registered. Know the laws in the state and evaluate your need to register independently of who is with you during your meetings.

The information from this response can easily be found on our website in the Lobbying Compliance section of the United States Lobbying Compliance Guidebook.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions.

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