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July 07, 2011

Philadelphia Bar Association Praises Board of Ethics Decision to Put City Lobbying Ordinance on Hold Pending Revised Regulations

Calling it a “major step toward correcting fundamental problems” with the city’s new lobbying Ordinance, Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Rudolph Garcia praised today’s decision by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics to put all of the requirements of the Ordinance on hold until revised regulations can be finalized.

“The Resolution adopted today by the Board of Ethics relieves everyone of the obligation to retroactively report activities between July 1 and the new effective date,” said Garcia. “This means that no one will be at risk of non-compliance until after the requirements are clarified.”

The adoption of the Resolution comes on the heels of a civil lawsuit filed by the Philadelphia Bar Association on June 30 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court against the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, seeking an injunction to prevent the Ordinance from taking effect. As a result of today’s action by the Board, the Association plans to withdraw its petition for injunctive relief. The full text of the civil action, Philadelphia Bar Association v. City of Philadelphia and Board of Ethics, can be found at here. In response to the filing, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert W. Sheppard Jr. stayed the Ordinance on June 30 pending a court hearing scheduled for July 5 and subsequently postponed to July 8 -- preventing it from taking effect.

The Association has maintained that the Ordinance violates the state constitution and would detrimentally impact the city’s practicing lawyers and the public. As presently drafted, the Ordinance and the previously proposed regulations “intrude upon the exclusive authority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law,” the Chancellor said.

“The Bar does not oppose regulation of lobbying by lawyers or anyone else,” Garcia said. “However, this Ordinance goes much further than it should by covering things that are not really lobbying. For example, requesting a zoning permit, responding to a tax notice, or settling a potential dispute would constitute ‘lobbying’ under the Ordinance.”

“That is particularly problematic,” Garcia said, “because the regulations require disclosures that may violate the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers.”

Garcia also pointed to the potential burden to smaller nonprofit organizations that, under the Ordinance, would be subject to a $500 annual registration fee that must be paid by the organization as well as each of its “lobbyists.” “Those funds would not be available to help the organization fulfill its charitable mission and the burden may stifle the organization’s ability to speak out on current community issues,” Garcia said.

On June 14, the Philadelphia Bar Association submitted a 24-page letter to the Ethics Board with extensive comments and suggested revisions to the proposed regulations interpreting the Ordinance. Chancellor Garcia and attorney Lawrence J. Beaser, co-chair of the Association’s Philadelphia Lobbying Ordinance Task Force, provided testimony to the Board at its hearing on June 15, urging changes to the regulations. In the letter (available at, the Chancellor requested that the Board urge City Council to “rethink these rules in a way that reflects the underlying goals they are hoping to achieve.”

“The Association appreciates the ongoing efforts of the Ethics Board and its staff in preparing to implement this complicated Ordinance under significant time pressure and with a limited budget,” Garcia said today. “We look forward to assisting the Board and City Council in their work in whatever way they deem appropriate.”
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