Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

A Lobbyist Might Not Be a ‘Lobbyist,’ but Needs to Be Careful

Q: I am president of a trade association with a question about my need to continue registering as a lobbyist. I read recently that Andy Stern, the president of Service Employees International Union, no longer registers. I presume this is because he does not meet the criteria triggering the need to register. This made me wonder whether I meet the criteria, too. While I do lobby government officials on behalf of my association, my job also involves lots of activities other than lobbying. Stern is a pretty big power player, and if someone like him does not qualify as a “lobbyist” under the law, maybe I don’t either. What do you think?

A: The issue of terminating lobbying registrations seems to be one that will not go away. As the restrictions on registered lobbyists continued to pile up last year, so did the number of lobbyists who terminated their registrations. Record numbers of lobbyists de-registered, freeing themselves of the restrictions and obligations that go along with registration. Many who, like yourself, are still registering find themselves wondering why.

In the case of SEIU President Andy Stern, he stopped registering as a lobbyist in 2007. Two advocacy groups have requested an investigation regarding whether Stern should have resumed registering as a lobbyist last year. In a November 2009 letter to federal prosecutors and Congressional officials, the groups Americans for Tax Reform and the Alliance for Worker Freedom allege that Stern lobbied extensively in 2009. The letter cites 22 visits by Stern to the White House between January and August 2009, more often than anyone else who visited the White House during that time period. It also includes news reports of Stern’s lobbying, as well as quotes from Stern’s Twitter account that appear to reveal instances of lobbying. For example, Stern wrote: “Lobbying with Mayor Bloomberg on health care. Leaving Senator Snowe.”

Yet, lobbying contacts alone would not have been enough to require Stern to register as a lobbyist. No matter how many such contacts Stern may have made in 2009, the Lobbying Disclosure Act would not have required him to register unless “lobbying activities” consumed at least 20 percent of Stern’s time at SEIU during a relevant registration period. Presumably, Stern’s duties as president of SEIU involve much more than just lobbying. From the advocacy groups’ letter, it is impossible to discern whether Stern’s lobbying activities consumed 20 percent of his time.

Thus, not all lobbyists are “lobbyists.” Put another way, not everyone who lobbies government officials qualifies as a “lobbyist” under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. To determine whether you qualify as a lobbyist and therefore still need to register, each quarter you must assess how much time you spend on “lobbying activities.” If you spent at least 20 percent of your time on such activities in the prior quarter or you expect to spend at least 20 percent of your time on such activities in the upcoming quarter, then you must register as a lobbyist for your trade association.

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