Gotham Gazette

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Unregistered Lobbyists May Get One-Year Amnesty

Lobbyists who have not registered with the city since December 2006 will have a year-long amnesty from financial penalties under a Council law passed on Tuesday.

The goal of the amnesty is to encourage unregistered lobbyists to register with the city's clerk's office. Intro 1172-A also expands the definition of lobbying while also clarifying what counts as lobbying activity.

Under the new law, which was passed Tuesday with the support of the mayor and with Speaker Quinn listed as a primary sponsor, any attempts at influencing bills or resolutions in the Council, executive orders or oversight hearings are classified as lobbying.

“For several years, the speaker’s office, the mayor’s office, and the city clerk have worked to come up with ways to expand the definition of lobbying, while reducing burdens on smaller organizations,” said Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who sponsored the bill. “With this bill, we will provide more information to the public about who is lobbying who in city government, while exempting certain activities and organizations from reporting requirements.”

Additionally the new law would raise the threshold for registering lobbyist activities to no more than $5,000 for nonprofits, from a previous $2,500. Some advocates previously argued that threshold should be the same as engineers and architects who make development presentations in front of city agencies and community boards — $10,000.

Brewer explained to the Gazette said that the bill now better identifies what actually counts as lobbying and thus needs to be reported as lobbying activity without interfering with different groups’ goals.

“We didn’t want to curtail presentations that often illuminate projects,” Brewer said, using development presentations in front of community boards as an example.

Ken Fisher, a former councilman currently with Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies, testified in front of the Council on behalf of the New York Advocacy Association in early November. Much like he said at the time, Fisher told the Gazette the bill is an improvement, but that it might still prove difficult for non-profits and small business to comply with the update.

“The defining principle should be recognizing that lobbying is protected under the same section of the Bill of Rights as speech, press and association, and that lobbying disclosure should be as least burdensome as possible,” Fisher wrote in an e-mail.

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