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January 14, 2007

New Lobbying Disclosure Act Impacts Attorneys

Many people who never considered themselves lobbyists are now covered under Pennsylvania’s new Lobbying Disclosure Act.

The Act, which went into effect on Jan. 1, requires registration and reporting by people or organizations working to influence the actions of the General Assembly or the Executive Department of state government - and the Act specifically applies to lawyers.

“Perhaps the subtitle ought to be ‘lobbying isn’t just for traditional lobbyists any more.’ It’s going to effect lawyers who never thought they’d be lobbyists,” said Lawrence J. Beaser, counsel to the Bar Association’s Board of Governors and a partner at Blank Rome LLP. “The Supreme Court has made lawyers subject to the statute.”

Beaser said that the law applies to traditional lobbying activities, such as attempts to have a bill enacted by the General Assembly. However, its reach is much broader. As an example, Beaser said a banking lawyer who goes to the State Department of Banking of behalf of a client to get a regulation changed is now considered a lobbyist. “If public interest lawyers try to get a regulation changed, they’re considered lobbyists as well.”

He said the new legislation generally won’t apply to litigators, but will affect regulatory and transactional attorneys. The legislation applies to the state government level only.

“The idea was to make clear to the public who was working to influence government policy. The warning to lawyers is to be aware that it’s there. It will affect numerous people who would never think of themselves as lobbyists,” Beaser said. Help will be available from the State Ethics Commission, which will give advisory opinions for those with questions about the legislation.

“The Act is very technical and it’s very important that lawyers and their clients are aware that there are new requirements that have teeth. You have to register within 10 days once you begin lobbying,” said Beaser, who served as general counsel to Pennsylvania Governor Milton J. Shapp and Chancellor of the Bar Association in 1994.

"Lawyers should be aware that there are significant potential civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance with the act. It also is possible that violations of the Act could lead to disciplinary action by the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court." Beaser said.

The Act concentrates on three classes of individuals and entities. Lobbyists and lobbying firms have similar definitions, with the exception being that a lobbying firm must be an entity. Each require that the individual or entity be engaged in lobbying for economic consideration on behalf of a principal, an entity on whose behalf a lobbying firm or lobbyist engages.

Each lobbyist, lobbying firm and principal must register with the Pennsylvania Department of State within 10 days of acting in any capacity as a lobbyist or principal. The 10-day period is triggered as soon as a lobbyist begins work. There is a $100 biennial registration fee that is subject adjustment for inflation. Some limited exemptions are available. For example, if an attorney is not compensated for “lobbying” that attorney does not have to register. Also, registration is not required if the total aggregate economic consideration for lobbying is less than $2,500 per quarterly reporting period.

Principals must report lobbying expenses quarterly.

For an overview of the Act, click here, and for complete text of the Act click here.

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