The Commission has issued new guidance related to the definition of “in the presence” lobbying in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. See the new Q&A below for more information.
The State Ethics Commission administers a lobbying regulatory program including registration, disclosure, reporting and standards of conduct for executive, legislative and grassroots lobbying. The lobbyist standards are comprehensive and address a multitude of issues including contingent fees, campaign finance activity, improper encouragement of legislation, improper gifts, prohibitions against loans, concealment of clients, referrals by officials or employees to obtain lobbying clients, intentional misstatement of fact, and other fraudulent or illegal activities. More than 3,000 lobbying registrations are filed each year identifying the name of the lobbyist, the employer, and the topics of the activity to be lobbied. Lobbying Activity Reports are filed twice a year, by May 31 for the period of 11/1 through 4/30,and by November 30 for the period of 5/1 through 10/31. Activity Reports include the lobbyist’s compensation and expenditures, gifts, and certain business relationships with officials. There are various other reports that lobbyists must file including lobbyist campaign contributions and meals or receptions for legislative units. These filings are public documents and can be viewed on the Commission’s website.
Lobbying Year – November 1 through October 31
Lobbying Registration – Registrations are accepted throughout the Lobbying Year; however, the effective dates for the registration may not exceed any given Lobbying Year. Additionally, a registration must be submitted to the Commission within five days after first performing an act that requires registration. For example, a registration with an effective date of November 1 must be submitted to the Commission no later than November 6. In another example, a lobbyist whose activities require registration by January 21 must submit a registration with an effective date of January 21, and the registration must be received by the Commission no later than January 26.
Activity Reports – Activity Reports are filed twice a year by May 31 for the period of November 1 through April 30 and by November 30 for the period of May 1 through October 31. If a lobbyist is registered during any portion of either time period, he/she must file an Activity Report for the respective period even if there is no activity to report.
Lobbying Audit Program
The Staff Counsel conducts a Lobbyist Activity Report Audit each year following the Legislative Session. The Public Ethics Law requires that lobbyists report compensation and other expenditures by filing Activity Reports. Gen’l. Prov. § 5-705. The Commission is required to review each report filed with it in accordance with the lobbying provisions of the Public Ethics Law. Gen’l. Prov. § 5-205(a)(5)(i). Lobbyists must retain each “…account, bill, receipt, book, paper, or other document[s] necessary to substantiate…” their Activity Reports and affiliated reports for 3 years after the reports are filed. Gen’l. Prov. § 5-409(a-b). Each lobbyist, with reasonable notice from the Commission, shall make those documents available to the Commission for inspection. Gen’l. Prov. § 5-409(c). This last section provides the Commission with the authority to audit Activity Reports and other associated reports by inspecting supporting documentation. Lobbyists will be advised when the audits will be occurring and of the documentation they will be required to provide if they are selected for an audit. Staff Counsel will then ask the Lobbyists to provide any necessary amendments. Lobbyists who fail to respond to the audit will be subject to enforcement action.
Question of the Day and other FAQs
Are virtual meetings with video ability, such as Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams, considered “in the presence” lobbying for the purposes of the Public Ethics Law?
The State Ethics Commission considers that “in the presence” lobbying is reserved for lobbying that occurs in the same physical presence, but lobbyists should be aware that all virtual meetings, whether they include video function or not, count toward the compensation and expense triggers of communication “not in the presence” of an official or employee and would require registration under Section 5-702 of the Public Ethics Law.
Do the limitations of the Public Ethics Law apply to contributions to State officials covered by the Law who are running for other offices?
They apply if the contributions are for the benefit of a current State official who is running for a State or local office. However, the State Ethics Commission recognizes that the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1981 supersedes and preempts any provision of State law with respect to election to federal office (52 U.S.C. § 30143; 11 CFR 108.7(a)). The Federal Election Commission has determined that Federal law preempts § 5-715 (d) of the Public Ethics Law and allows regulated lobbyists to fundraise for State officials running for federal office. The federal law (and its preemption of State law) applies to candidates for federal office only. Taken from the Commission’s Lobbyist Campaign Finance Activity Memo.
At the time of filing the six month lobbying activity report, a regulated lobbyist must, on a separate Personal Disclosure Report, disclose any political contributions made by the lobbyist, either directly or indirectly, during the reporting period, as required in the Election Law Article, for the benefit of the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, a member of the General Assembly or a candidate for election to any of those offices. The lobbyist must also report political contributions to a PAC or a slate in which an applicable candidate is a member, political contributions to a PAC created to support a specific candidate or a group of candidates, or political contributions to a PAC designated for transfer to a particular candidate or candidates. In addition, a political contribution to an independent expenditure entity (as defined in the Election Law Article) whose stated purpose is to elect an applicable candidate is considered to be for the benefit of that candidate and must be reported under this section of the Law.