The new ordinance specifies what constitutes lobbying activity, how lobbyist is defined, and how lobbyists must register and report their expenditures. The rules exempt most work done by lawyers, accountants and those who deal with City agencies on routine matters. If a lobbying effort exceeds 20 hours per quarter, or $2,500 in expenditures, the lobbyist must register and report the spending.
The Board’s efforts to implement the City’s new lobbying law were a major focus of our work in 2011. Several members of our staff of eight were constantly involved in this project and it had a tremendous impact on our other responsibilities.
To begin with, after months of drafting, Board staff presented a completely new Lobbying Regulation No. 9 to the Board in May. It was approved for public comment and a public hearing was held on June 15th. Comments received at the public hearing and in writing raised many significant issues about the scope of the lobbying law.
On June 30th, the Philadelphia Bar Association filed a Complaint for declaratory judgment and a Motion for a temporary restraining order against the City and the Ethics Board. The Bar Association asserted that the lobbying law may be unconstitutional if it is deemed to apply to lawyers engaged in the practice of law, because only the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can regulate the practice of law. The Bar Association sought to prevent the City’s lobbying ordinance from taking effect until the merits of its Complaint for declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction were determined.
The Bar Association withdrew its Complaint and Motion without prejudice on July 8th, in response to the Board’s Resolution approved in a special meeting on July 7th. The Resolution stated that the Board would not exercise its authority to enforce the lobbying law until 30 days after Regulation No. 9 became effective, and that it would exercise its enforcement authority only with respect to acts and omissions that occur after 30 days after Regulation No. 9 becomes effective. The result was that no one would be required to comply with the law until 30 days after the Board had clarified who must comply with the law and what activities are covered.
What followed during the summer was a series of collaborative and productive meetings with representatives of the Bar Association and other interested parties, including members of Council staff. Major changes were suggested and incorporated in the version of Regulation No. 9 that became effective on November 21st. These amendments were primarily intended to clarify that there are many communications with City officials and employees that are routine and do not constitute lobbying. Further legislation took effect October 26, 2011 modifying the Lobbying Code, and staff worked on amendments to conform Regulation No. 9 to the legislation. (The latter amendments became effective on February 3, 2012.)
In addition to work on Regulation No. 9, our staff began an outreach program to individuals and groups that might have an interest in lobbying in Philadelphia. Members of our staff spoke at meetings of many community groups to explain major features of the new Lobbying Law and differences between the City and State laws. We continue to accept invitations to present an overview of the Lobbying Code to groups, including many nonprofit agencies. In an extraordinary proactive effort, we established a running list of email addresses of “interested parties” who have asked questions, sought to be kept informed, or otherwise expressed interest in developments in the lobbying program. That list has been constantly growing. In mid-2011 there were 199 addresses on it; at the end of 2011, 240 addresses, and in May 2012, 357 addresses. As of the date of this writing, we have used the list to send three Lobbying Alerts and three email Announcements.
We expect to develop detailed training materials in the near future to provide mandatory lobbying training.