Two New Major Disclosure Requirements Take Effect for New York State Lobbyists and their Clients
In late 2011, the New York State Legislature passed, and Governor Cuomo signed, sweeping new ethics reform legislation, entitled the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 (“PIRA 2011” or “the Act”). The Act included a variety of new disclosure obligations for lobbyists, clients of lobbyists, and public officials alike. While some of the reporting obligations take effect in 2013, this Alert is a reminder to registered New York State lobbyists and their clients that there are two new major disclosure requirements that affect registrations and reports that are filed in 2012. Lobbyists and their clients should carefully review the new filing requirements to ensure compliance with the Lobbying Act.
1. Reportable Business Relationships: Are you doing business with public officials?
Pursuant to PIRA 2011, lobbyists and clients of lobbyists are required to disclose all “reportable business relationships.” A “reportable business relationship” is defined to include any relationship where a lobbyist or a client pays more than $1,000 “for any goods, services or anything of value,” to any state public officer, legislator, or employee, or “any entity in which the lobbyist or client of a lobbyist knows or has reason to know [that such government official] is a proprietor, partner, director, officer or manager, or owns or controls ten percent or more of the stock of such entity,” or one percent or more of stock in a publicly traded entity. Lobbyists are now required to report such relationships as part of their statement of registration. Clients are similarly required to disclose this business interaction on their semiannual reports. The first semi-annual report that will require the client to disclose this relationship will cover the period of January through June 2012, and must be filed with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“JCOPE”) no later than July 15, 2012.
2. Funding Sources of Lobbying Activity: Do the sources of your organization’s funding have to be reported?
Beginning on June 1, 2012, certain lobbying entities and clients of lobbyists will be required to disclose the names of persons and entities that financially contribute to the lobbying effort. Any entity that: (i) engages in lobbying on its own behalf (as opposed to a lobbying firm that represents clients); (ii) spends more than $50,000 in lobbying compensation and expenditures during the prior calendar year or in the 12 months proceeding the relevant bimonthly reporting period; and (iii) devotes at least 3% of its total expenditures during the same period towards lobbying activity in New York State, will be required to identify the names of all sources that provided more than $5,000 to support the entity’s lobbying activities, and the exact amount that each source provided. The lobbying entity will first have to report this information on the bi-monthly reports due on July 15. Clients of lobbyists filing semi-annual reports on that same date will also have to disclose the name and amount of funding provided if the client spent more than $50,000 in lobbying compensation and expenditures during prior calendar year or in 12 months proceeding the relevant bimonthly reporting period; and devoted at least 3% of its total expenditures during the same 12 month period towards lobbying activity. This client report obligation exists even for those entities that did not engage in any lobbying on its own behalf, but raised funds to pay an outside consultant for the lobbying effort.
The law provides for only a very narrow exception to the new obligation to disclose the sources that provide funding for the covered entity's lobbying effort. Charitable organizations that are registered with the New York State Attorney General and exempt from taxation pursuant to Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3); organizations that are registered with the New York State Attorney General and exempt from taxation pursuant to Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(4), if the entity can establish that disclosure of the contributors would “lead to harm, threats, harassment, or reprisals” to the donor; and governmental entities, are excluded from this new reporting. JCOPE is required to promulgate regulations to further explain the application of these exemptions.
Ensuring compliance with the reportable business relationship and source of lobbying funding disclosure obligations may be difficult for filers. Thus, it may be necessary for lobbyists and clients to establish internal reporting systems. Although JCOPE is expected to issue guidelines to clarify some of these requirements, questions will remain. Greenberg Traurig’s Government Law Compliance Practice is available to assist lobbyists and clients that may have concerns about these new obligations. GT has a broad range of experience in New York State and provides advice to some of the world’s leading corporations, lobbying firms, public officials, and others who seek to navigate New York’s complex compliance requirements.