February 28, 2013 •
Ask the Experts – Deciding Whether a Communication Counts as Lobbying
Q. I have been asked to testify before a committee of the state legislature regarding a pending or potential bill. Is this considered lobbying activity?
A. As is usually the case, the answer will vary drastically depending on the state in question. In this specific situation, there are at least three variables to consider when evaluating this question:
1. Is testimony excluded from the definition of lobbying? In many states, providing information, participating in a meeting, or otherwise communicating at the request of a public official is specifically excluded from the definition of lobbying. This is true even if the information will potentially influence legislation, as long as the contact was initiated by the state. In these jurisdictions, a person may be asked to testify about a topic as an industry expert without being subject to lobbying laws. For instance, in Colorado, a person who is not otherwise registered as a lobbyist, but provides information at the request of public officials is not required to register and report. Iowa has a similar exception for people providing testimony or information at the request of a public official.
2. Is the communication before a public committee? Often, participation at a public meeting or proceeding or otherwise testifying on the public record is excluded from lobbying laws. Delaware’s exemption is a good example of a state allowing for testimony at a public hearing without lobbyist registration. Likewise, Connecticut has an exception from its definition of lobbyist for those who are not hired specifically to lobby and whose appearances are limited to public testimony.
3. Is there a pending bill before the legislature? Finally, it may be important to determine whether there is an actual bill pending before the legislative body in question, or if the putative lobbying communication is only regarding potential legislation. Certain states only regulate attempts to influence legislation that has already been introduced. North Dakota is a good example of this point. In order to be considered a lobbyist, a person must be attempting to influence a live bill. An individual does not need to register as a lobbyist for attempting to influence a potential bill.
There are very few concepts, rules, or guideless applicable to all states, and accordingly, situations like this must be examined on a case-by-case basis. For specific guidance, please contact a member of the State and Federal Communications compliance department.
(We are always available to answer questions from clients that are specific to your needs, and we encourage you to continue to call or e-mail us with questions about your particular company or organization. As always, we will confidentially and directly provide answers or information you need.) Our replies to your questions are not legal advice. Instead, these replies represent our analysis of laws, rules, and regulations.
State and Federal Communications, Inc. provides research and consulting services for government relations professionals on lobbying laws, procurement lobbying laws, political contribution laws in the United States and Canada. Learn more by visiting stateandfed.com.