California’s Fair Political Practices Commission has unanimously approved new guidelines aimed at shining a bright light on so called ‘Shadow Lobbyists’.
‘Shadow Lobbyists’ are contract lobbyists who interact directly with elected officials but do not register as lobbyists because they claim to be paid for other services other than lobbying. The claimed services which exempt them from having to register as lobbyists include such activities as research, public relations, grassroots organizing, etc.
The newly approved Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) rules will identify a person as a lobbyist any time he or she is paid a minimum of $2,000 a month to communicate with elected officials—unless, they can prove otherwise. Such proof can be provided in the form of testimony and/or written statements. The commission also approved a contribution laundering fine in the amount of $100,000. The commission felt the changes were warranted in light of the ever more sophisticated strategies, tactics and techniques of ‘shadow lobbyists’ who continuously strive to evade or obstruct the law.
In 2013, the FPPC levied its first fine for ‘shadow lobbying’ against a political consulting firm and three of its principles for failing to register and file lobbyist reports.
Those who oppose the new rule like the California Political Attorneys Association, have claimed it goes too far. In a letter to the commission the organization claimed, “The FPPC is effectively proposing a reverse record keeping requirement mandating that individuals who do not fall under the provisions of the act maintain records to prove they do not meet the registration/reporting thresholds under the act.”
The commission, however, held the new rule merely affects the burden of production and as a result, does not violate any standards or protocol as defined in existing regulations.